The past few days and even weeks, as July 1 loomed in the future, much of our focus has been on free agency and just whom -- and for how much -- the Dallas Stars would have to overpay to not only boost the team above the cap floor but also provide some much needed boosting on the ice. It's been frustrating, facing the reality that a limited amount of decent options in the market combined with many teams with need will create a very unfavorable market.
Joe Nieuwendyk has acknowledged this problem and has stated several times the past few weeks that he is not adverse to the idea of acquiring much-needed talent through a trade. This forgoes some of the issues surrounding the most assuredly overpayment of any potential free agent acquisition, and allows the Stars to take on salary while fulfilling their need on defense or offense while also adding to the cap total.
It's easy to say. "Just make a few trades and then sign a free agent."
The question becomes, however, just who on the Stars is available to be traded? The Stars have a few assets that are starting to build value for the future, and a combination of prospects and future draft picks could be used to steal away a good player from another team. When I start to look at the list of players that could possibly be used in such a trade, for some reason Philip Larsen keeps catching my eye again and again...
Joe Nieuwendyk has shown before that he won't hesitate to trade a top defensive prospect on the verge of making it to the NHL. In 2010, he traded away the top prospect in the entire organization to Atlanta in exchange for Kari Lehtonen -- who is now the stalwart force in net this team desperately needed. At first it was a bit of a shock to see Ivan Vishnevskiy leaving, since it was expected he could potentially be a pseudo-replacement for Sergei Zubov. What was even more alarming about the trade, at the time, was that Vishnevskiy was the only true defensive prospect the Stars had at the time -- at least someone being even close to ready to move up.
Of course, Vishnevskiy never made it to the NHL. That's another story altogether.
In this case, the circumstances are slightly different. The Stars, in just a few short years, have gone from having one of the worst defensive prospect pools in the NHL to enjoying a very healthy group of defensemen in the system. In fact, there are so many very promising defensemen (Brenden Dillon, Patrik Nemeth, John Klingberg, Troy Vance, Jamieson Oleksiak, Hubert Labrie) that it's not inconceivable to imagine a scenario where Larsen becomes expendable.
With the Stars trading for Alex Goligoski in February, the Stars also fulfilled a dire need at the NHL level that was supposedly soon to be filled by Larsen. Goligoski won't ever be the most physical defensemen, but he's decent enough in his own and proved with the Stars to be capable of being downright magical on offense. With Goligoski on the team and Karlis Skrastins departing to the KHL, there's now a need for a bigger, shutdown defensemen rather than one that can move the puck.
In fact, when I look at the defensemen currently on the roster, I have a hard time figuring out if Larsen even fits when the Stars do add a defensemen or two. He won't get more minutes than Nicklas Grossman, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Goligoski and certainly not the new addition. That would leave Larsen fighting for minutes with Mark Fistric as a healthy scratch, which isn't exactly the scenario you'd like for an up and coming top prospect. We'd all love for Larsen to be with the Stars for most of the season, but there's also a good chance he stays in Austin out of camp.
If Larsen had been tearing up the AHL this past season my tone might be a bit different. As much hope as I have for him, however, it's seemed that he has struggled with the physical nature of the NHL game and while he's shown good things during brief stops with Dallas -- the man loves to shoot the puck, at least -- there have also been some disappointments. That's not to say we should expect greatness right away, but you'd like to see positive progress.
There are a few other factors to consider as well.
Next summer, Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, Philip Larsen and Alex Goligoski will all be restricted free agents. The Stars will have Nemeth, and Klingberg one year closer to the NHL, along with Oleksiak. There's going to be a bottle neck forming at the defensive position for the Stars and while it's a great problem to have the team is going to have some very difficult decisions to make.
Now, to be fair, any one of these defensive prospects could be fair game in a trade as well. Larsen, however, is the closest to the NHL of all of them and if a team is going to trade away a defenseman -- or even a forward -- they're going to want a player in return that can help fill that void just a bit.
Larsen is due just $685,000 this season ($850,000 at the NHL level) so his presence on the roster won't make much of a difference on the salary cap figures. For a team wanting to unload some salary and pick up a decent prospect or two, Larsen could potentially become the bait that is set before other teams.
As with James Neal, it's would be very tough to see a young player set sail for other shores if he is traded. As always though, the team has needs and right now -- inexplicably -- the Stars are sitting with the defensive prospect pool as a position of strength; Larsen, as part of that pool, becomes expendable in order to serve the greater good of the team.
Stars fans: Would trading Philip Larsen be something you could fathom?