2011 NHL Free Agency: Dallas Stars Finally Back In The Game

This is finally it; the time has arrived. The Dallas Stars will be financially prepared and able to take part in the major aspects of free agency, unlike in past years when Nieuwendyk was forced to wait and look more for depth than for firepower.

This summer brings more intrigue than normal with the addition of league-wide salary cap implications and a less-than-stellar free agent market. The negative aspects of the financial implications across the league and how this will affect the Stars have taken the luster off an exciting time for fans in Dallas and we now approach the start of free agency with mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and wary.

Forget, for a moment, all of the frustration over the early free agent signings, the lack of big names on the market and the inflated salaries that will inevitably be handed out. Instead, be thankful that for the first time in nearly three years the Dallas Stars are active hunters in free agency and in the trade market.

It's amazing how much more hopeful we can feel as fans when Joe Nieuwendyk has the ability to actually do something, rather than be forced to sit and wait because of the financial restrictions he's been forced to work under. This will be the first chance Nieuwendyk has had as a GM to attempt to out-fox and outwork other teams that are fighting over the same pool of players and I'm very interested to see just how he's able to handle it.

Nieuwendyk has done a good job so far with calculated trades (Goligoski, Lehtonen) and finding good value in the latter stages of free agency (Burish), but this is now the true test of his complete skills as a general manager and the decisions he makes over the next few days will have some very serious and lasting implications on the long-term future of this hockey team. This isn't about building a team for now; this is about making the Stars competitive while setting the team up for a very promising future.

Let the games begin, I say.

After the jump, a few more points about the start of free agency and an overview of our coverage so far.

Ignore any and all talk about Brad Richards

If you're planning on following all of the free agency coverage on TSN or NHL Network tomorrow, the best suggestion I can give is to tell you to do your best and ignore all of the Brad Richards coverage. There's going to be plenty of mentions about how "the Stars let him get away" or how "he chose not to return" and a lot of talk about his status as the top free agent on the market. Well, here's how I feel about the situation:

So what.

Brad Richards is gone and the Stars are moving on. The future is much different without Richards and there's just no sense on dwelling on what happened. No matter how it's spun, the simple fact is that this isn't Richards' fault, it's not Nieuwendyk's fault -- the only person on which we can place the blame is Tom Hicks. There's nothing left to say.

All we can hope is that he goes to Toronto or New York and stays far, far away from the Western Conference.

Good luck, Brad.

The Dallas Stars are not being "forced" to spend money.

With all of the talk about the cap floor and how teams are being forced to overspend just to get above the cap floor, I wanted to clear up the thought that the Stars are one of those teams.

The Dallas Stars were going to spend $10-$12 million no matter what, in all likelihood. With just 16 players under contract and plenty of salary room available with Richards' departure, the Stars had room in the budget to spend and a very real need to add firepower and depth to the team for next season -- and beyond.  Nieuwendyk has stated a few times over the past few weeks that the Stars' budget will extend past the cap floor, showing that the Stars are prepared and ready to go beyond the minimum needed to be spent.

Unfortunately, the Stars are getting caught up in the league-wide fiasco that is the cap floor and increased free agent salaries. The Stars need to add salary and they need to add talent, but Nieuwendyk doesn't want to be forced to overspend -- which is going to make his strategy today very interesting to follow.

Brandon Worley's Best Free Agents For The Stars:

Here's who I feel, after a very detailed scientific analysis which consisted of turkey sandwiches and clips on NHL.tv, are the best options for the Stars in free agency:

Forwards:
Scottie Upshall - Could shine if given more minutes and bigger role on the team. Great character & work ethic.
Joel Ward - Physical center/right wing with a scoring touch.
Tim Connolly - A playmaking center that could compliment Ribeiro...if he's healthy.
Radim Vrbata - Great all-around player who produces and could be very affordable.
Ville Leino - Might stay with Philly and is looking for a big payday. But his potential is outrageous.
Simon Gagne - Possibly past his prime, possibly too expensive, possibly very intriguing.

Defensemen:
James Wisniewski - Puck-moving defenseman who plays with a physical edge and knows how to protect the net.
Ed Jovanovski - Stars need a big, physical presence -- and he could teach Grossman how to hit someone.
Bryan McCabe - Short-term contract and could be stop-gap signing...but exactly what Stars need for now.
Ian White - Young defenseman with offensive ability who hasn't reached full potential just yet.
Anton Babchuk - See: James Wisniewski.

If we're talking solely about free agents, then my ideal additions would be Wisniewski, Leino and Ward. But that's just a wild dream.

Be prepared for a trade.

To avoid being forced to overspend, even if the Stars are prepared to take on significant salary, we need to be prepared for a trade to take place. As part of that, there's a good chance a few significant prospects are traded away -- or a player already in the NHL. It's going to be tough to see any young player leave the organization but that's just how progress must be made.

I'm not even going to begin to speculate who the Stars could trade for since there's really no telling who's truly available.

Free Agents to keep away from:

Chris Drury.
Andy Greene.
Shane O'Brien
Antti Miettinen.
Jason Arnott.
Cam Barker.

The fact that there's been discussions about a player with a degenerative knee condition who scored just one goal last season has rendered me dumbfounded.

Further Reading:

An overview of our coverage so far:

For Dallas Stars, Free Agency About More Than Just 2011-2012 Roster
2011 NHL Free Agency: Is Philip Larsen A Potential Trade Piece?
NHL's Economic Climate Complicated By Rapidly Shrinking Free Agent Pool
2011 NHL Free Agency: Analyzing the Needs of the Dallas Stars
Stargazing: Agent: Jamie Langenbrunner 'Likely' Will Explore Free Agency
2011 NHL Free Agency: The Salary Cap Situation & the Dallas Stars
2011 NHL Free Agency: What Options Exist For The Dallas Stars?
2011 NHL Free Agency: A Look at Ville Leino
2011 NHL Free Agency: A Look at Ryan Jones
2011 NHL Free Agency: A Look at Brooks Laich
2011 Free Agency Profile: Brent Sopel
2011 Free Agency Profile: Joel Ward
2011 NHL Free Agency Profile: Tim Connolly
2011 NHL Free Agency Profile: Scottie Upshall

If nothing else, at least we know something will happen.

And for that...I'm excited. Something will happen, the Stars will do something, there will be new players on this team next year.

Fun times.

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