With all the uncertainty swirling around the Dallas Stars these days, Joe Nieuwendyk wanted to make it clear that his vision for the future of this team is still an attainable one, and one that he intends on pursuing every day, owner or no owner.
That's the message you get reading between the lines from comments made by the Stars General Manager yesterday in Frisco as he addressed a small group of media. The team will likely not have a new owner until sometime in August (best case scenario), does not have a head coach currently, just publicly declared signing Brad Richards a lost cause, and more importantly doesn't even know what it's budget is for next season, though they hope to soon; Despite all of that, Nieuwendyk sounds confident moving forward, and the tone is a different one from last summer.
The summer of 2010 was spent by Joe Nieuwendyk (and Marc Crawford) in the odd media appearance here or there defending the publicly maligned defense that was the topic of most off-season conversations. It seemed an indication that things weren't going to change, "so you might as well stop asking," even though no one ever said it.
Instead, this summer he says plainly "We'd like to improve our defense for sure [...] it may be through trade." That's a defense that just added 25 year old Alex Goligoski, a probable 50 point scorer, to it's ranks. That's the kind of talk fans like to hear. More.
He wasn't any more bashful about the forward group either, though the absence of numbers 18 and 91 from the roster from last summer to this one make that an easier thing to say.
"I think we need a top six forward," Nieuwendyk said. "Maybe we get there through trade, too. I think the opportunity through trade is probably a more likely scenario than overpaying through free agency."
The shopping list is sounding delicious so far, but what about the budget? Sure, they put Brad Richards back on the store shelf because they couldn't afford him, but the real-dollar salary bumps in other contracts this season eat up much of the savings.
He's equally sure that's the budget is going up, and that's even before ownership gets changed...
"...But by (the lenders) giving us the ability to go out and sign Brad, it says that our payroll will be higher, so we'll have some money to play with. Some of that will be allocated to the bumps in salaries that we have. We're looking at free agency, we have our list and the guys initially we want to target. There's money to be spent and players to go get."
The emphasis is mine, though the entire paragraph is worthy of study. "The ability to go out and sign Brad" meaning that they offered him a three year deal and a four year deal, each around $7 Million a season and he turned them down, not because of money, but because without an owner he just couldn't make himself do it.
That's a fair offer, and one his agent would have countered had the ownership situation been different. Contrast that with what we as a fan base knew a month ago or two months ago when it was assumed that they did have the financial wherewithal (or permission) to offer him anywhere near that kind of money. Maybe things weren't as bad as we thought all along.
So while he won't have the full $62~ million cap to play with, he has some wiggle room and can make some phone calls with realistic financial compensation available to those on the other end.
Will those listening want to come here, money aside? Is Brad Richards' attitude going to be the prevailing one in the free agent pool? Is this an unattractive destination for free agents?
That's where some of this optimism falters a little bit. The team is getting younger. Nieuwendyk hinted at hiring a younger coach, one that can grow with his young team. No one is using the word re-building, and as long as Morrow, Ribeiro, Benn, Eriksson, Robidas, Ott, Goligoski and Lehtonen, etc, remain it's not necessarily an apt description, but it's not that far off either. The Stars will have to battle that perception in the free agent market.
He kept mentioning the trade market as an avenue for finding these shiny new toys he'd like, and that's one way around the perception issue. What they would trade and to whom...for what? We're going to need another post for that discussion.
For now we can choose to see Joe Nieuwendyk's comments for what they are, and that at least is a whole different tone than last summer when no changes were on the horizon. Adam Burish was the extent of change the last summer.
"Our defense is not a defense that loses us games" - Marc Crawford, June 2010
"We'd like to improve our defense for sure" - Joe Nieuwendyk, June 2011
It's all just lip service until something gets done, right? Maybe so, but you have to like the attitude at least.