James Neal Extension Completes Complicated Stars Financial Puzzle

About 14 months ago last summer, as we looked ahead to the contract situations in the near future, we saw a gathering storm. The 2008-2009 season had ended and Stars had recieved more contribution from the low end of their pay scale than anyone could have seen coming. It was an injury plagued year that kept Brenden Morrow, Sergei Zubov and Brad Richards out for significant chunks, necessitating that the goals come from elsewhere. Four players in particular answered the call, and they all had something in common.

They didn't make any money.

The following is a table I constructed in August, 2009 to illustrate this point about the 2008-2009 season...

Player Age Goals Points Base Salary
Loui Eriksson 24 36 63 $1.7 million
James Neal 21 24 37 $720k
Steve Ott 27 19 46 $1.5 million
Fabian Brunnstrom 24 17 29


These were four of the Stars top five goal scorers that year. They contributed a collective 96 goals and 79 assists at a price tag of under $5 million. Wonderful value? Yes, but the harsh reality was that these guys were going to need raises. Big ones. And they all needed them in the summer of 2010.

One of these fellows made the process easy on his general manager by completely disappearing from the score sheet the next season. The other three obstinately persisted in their desire to better themselves and help this team.

We talked about it over and over and over again. How could Joe Nieuwendyk possibly keep the Stars on such a tight budget of $45 million while keeping these guys? We felt certain that one of them would have to be moved or lost to an offer sheet.

Yesterdays re-signing of James Neal (2 years, $5.75mm) was the culmination of a careful balancing act Frank Provenzano and Joe Nieuwendyk performed over the last year and a half. They managed to keep the band together, so to speak. Such that it is, and I would suggest to you that it was no small task.

They have done their part. They are ready for the replacement troops. The reinforcements. They are ready for Bill Gallacher or Tom Gaglardi to come along and help them out.

More after the jump...

They've held this team together the best they could with duct tape and glue, patching it here and there as they've gone along. They've (for now) got the goal tending situation back on track for the present (Lehtonen) and the future (Campbell), they've kept their very talented forward group together. They haven't made any hasty moves on defense (Souray, Kaberle).

Some of you will suggest that this team isn't worth keeping together. Some of you suggest that, regardless of the limiting internal budget, they could have done more. I don't know how we can categorically state that as fact. I have no idea what more they could have done with $45 and a host of players in line for raises that they earned. Let's not forget they've also had to negotiate with Robidas, Fistric and Grossman. They resisted making a trade for trades sake, and the defensive marketplace they stayed away from this summer was one of mediocrity and inflated salaries.

We've gone so long without talking about their CAP number that it's easy to forget such a thing exists, and that's where the little catch in all of this lies. They've built a team getting paid $45 million next season in real payroll dollars. It's a team that actually has a cap hit of about $49  million, or $51 million if you count Sean Avery. Unfortunately the NHL will indeed count him for two more seasons.

11 Stars this year will make less money than their cap hits. The back-loading of their deals is what makes this season possible. $50 million worth of talent on the ice for only $45 mm.
At the conclusion of the sale of the team, whenever that is, the new owner will have the option of adding approximately $8 million to the cap. Should Brad Richards prove un-signable, he'll have something akin to $16 million to play with.

The bottom line for me is this: Joe Nieuwendyk has held the thing together as best he could. He has prepped it such that a new owner can come in and add a couple of nice pieces to an already talented team, and put the Stars right back in contention.

I don't know how anyone could have asked for much more than that under the circumstances.

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