Over the next few days, leading up to the start of the 2011 NHL Free Agent Frenzy on July 1, we're going to dive deep into the exact situation the Dallas Stars are in. In all my years being a fan and covering this team, I don't think I've ever seen a scenario like we're about to face in the NHL with so many teams being forced to spend a lot of money to reach the cap floor -- along with a fairly underwhelming free agent market.
We'll be getting into the financial aspects of this situation tomorrow so to lead up to that I wanted to take a moment and really analyze just what the Stars need. Since we're in the midst of a situation where the Stars are going to be forced to look outside the organization for additions to the roster, we need to determine exactly what needs this team is facing not just in the immediate -- but in the future as well.
This is what makes this current situation so fascinating yet so frustrating at the same time. With the Stars being forced to make decisions and additions specifically for this season, the ramifications for the future are just as real and will have just as big an impact on this organization.
The Dallas Stars, as much as we'd like, are not on the verge of Stanley Cup contention. I think that with a few trades or signings they'll certainly be better than last season and have the potential to get to the playoffs, but if we're talking realistically the Stars are now looking a few years down the line before this team takes the shape of a serious contender. As it stands now, however, the Stars have some very important decisions to make and no matter what may happen in the future the most important is the here and now -- and what Joe Nieuwendyk will need to do to not only improve this team but just plain fill out this roster.
A look at the roster and the needs of the team, after the jump...
For now, we'll leave Tomas Vincour and Philip Larsen off the list. There's a good possibility both start the season in Dallas but it's far from a certainty. There's also a decent chance either would be part of a potential trade. As it is, together they'd only count for about $1.5 million against the cap, so we'll set them off to the side for now.
As it stands at this very moment, the Stars have 16 players under contract for a total cap hit of about $38 million. You can check out our Unofficial Dallas Stars Salary Cap Tracker here, which we'll be updating throughout the season.
Teams generally like to keep seven defensemen and 14 forwards on the roster, to fill out the required roster total of 23. Now, there's fluctuations between those numbers at times, but that's the general approach and that's the logic we're going to use.
It's tough to accurately break down the forwards by exact position, since the Stars have several players that can play either on the wing or at center and performed in this role at least satisfactorily last season. I'm going to make some assumptions based on this current roster and just go from there. Once again, I'm making assumptions and I'm sure some people have other ideas.
There are certainly some interchangeable parts in this roster. You could argue that Petersen would be more effective at center -- overall -- which would allow Steve Ott to slide over the wing. But that's all semantics and for the purpose of this analysis we'll keep like it is and extrapolate from there what the Stars need.
It's obvious that the Stars need a center -- and hopefully a true center. In a perfect world, there would be a realistic chance of signing a top six center which would take the pressure off Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Benn a bit, and would also not force Benn into the center position. He was at his absolute best last year when allowed to play between the wing and center. He improved at center as the season progressed, but it's not his most natural position.
There's also the aspect of the faceoff. Sure, Brad Richards wasn't exactly the best at faceoffs but he wasn't horrendous either. Jamie Benn is still learning and right now, only Steve Ott is the go-to faceoff man for the Stars.
Speaking of Brad Richards, I venture that the loss of his production is going to hurt but I get the feeling that the Stars could become more flexible as a team moving forward. Brad wasn't exactly the best two-way player in the NHL and despite his status as the top player on the team he couldn't be counted on to get the tough faceoffs at critical junctures in the game. He also wasn't the most physical player on the ice, something that was apparent more than a few times when the team struggled. The Stars aren't going to replace his production with just one player, but there's hope that as a team -- and the addition of the right center -- the Stars could become a more flexible, cohesive team. It's a thought, at least.
Adding some wingers is also an obvious need moving forward. Specifically right wing. Petersen and Barch can bounce around on the third and fourth lines, and Jamie Benn could likely slide over to the right wing if a center is signed to play on the first or second line.
Joe Nieuwendyk has gone on record that he wants a top six forward added to this team.
Now, there's always options in the minors to fill out the bottom half of the roster. The third and fourth line minutes that used to go to players like Brandon Segal and Brian Sutherby could potentially go to Tomas Vincour, Colton Sceviour, Aaron Gagnon or Travis Morin. The fact is, the Stars will need to go outside the organization to add some valuable pieces and they don't want to overpay for someone just to fill out the roster.
Verdict: The Stars will need an addition of three forwards, likely one center and two wingers. Preferably right-wingers.
I'm really not going to try and get into pairings right now on defense. We'll just look at what we have:
We all know the Stars are going to need to add a defenseman. In this climate, it's likely only going to be one major defenseman and the other roster spot will go to a prospect or another player along the lines of Karlis Skrastins.
What sort of defensemen do the Stars need, exactly?
The trade for Alex Goligoski changed things, significantly, in the needs for this team. His ability to move the puck, to make the passes in transition and score goals as well was something the Stars haven't had on the blue line in a very long time. Daley and Robidas were able to fill some of that need, but Goligoski was the answer to many hockey prayers for Stars fans.
Aside from Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric -- who doesn't get as much as time as he should --the Stars are not exactly a physical defensive group. Robidas will make his big hits at times, but his size also leads to Robidas getting knocked around.
The Stars don't need a defensemen that will always lay out big hits; the Stars need a defensemen that can take the hits, keep the puck and move it along. If that defenseman can make smart passes in transition, has the ability to be effective from the point and can protect the net -- then that is exactly what the Stars need.
We obviously know the Stars need that true "Number One Defenseman". For now, we'll have to settle for a top pairing guy who can play with Robidas or Goligoski and provide a good balance between physical presence in front of the net and a good ability to move the puck up the ice. This player would also be able to take some minutes from Robidas, who gets worn down throughout the season and is far from as effective as he's been in the past.
Verdict: The Dallas Stars need a top-four defenseman, nominally a top pairing player who can eat up minutes and play physical. Not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion, I know. But there it is.
Right now the Stars are good in goal. We all recognize that Andrew Raycroft got the short end of the stick last season. He played well most games and gave the Stars a chance to win -- exactly what you want from your backup.
Could Raycroft be used in a trade? Perhaps. The Stars have several up and coming goaltenders in the AHL who have the ability to step in and be a backup, although ideally both would continue to develop with regular minutes.
Verdict: No immediate need.
So there we have it. A top six center, a top pairing defenseman and a couple of wingers. Not exactly rocket science, but let's also remember the effect these signings will have in a few years. The Stars have just four forwards signed through the 2012-13 season and only two through 2013-14. Only two defensemen are currently signed for 2012-13.
Now, over the next few seasons the Stars will start to see prospects showing up and playing in the NHL. But whoever is signed to fill these immediate needs this year, they'll be here long-term as well.
What a crazy game we're about to play.