There are a few very interesting storylines surrounding the Dallas Stars this summer, as the team heads toward the NHL draft and free agency focused on vastly improving a roster that needs more than a few key pieces. The excitement and uncertainty of the future is centered on owner Tom Gaglardi, who represents hope and progress after so many years of stagnant mediocrity.
Part of this uncertainty is due to not knowing just what sort of approach the Stars will be taking this summer, even with a new owner. The Stars have been so financially strapped the past three years that the notion of being able to actually be proactive in free agency is one that is completely foreign to fans that follow the team.
Last week, Tom Gaglardi wason Sports Radio 13010 The Ticket and was asked about free agency and the Stars' strategy heading into a very vital and crucial period for the franchise. Both Gaglardi -- and later CEO Jim Lites -- would confirm that the Stars basically have no budget heading into the summer and are willing to spend whatever is needed to improve the team.
This notion instantly evokes thoughts of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres, two teams that went all-in last summer and had their high-spending ways blow up in their face. The team the Jackets put together has already been picked apart and might find more pieces moved this summer. The Sabres overvalued several players and with a sky-high payroll failed to make the playoffs.
The good news is that, according to Gaglardi, while the Dallas Stars are certainly willing and able to open up the checkbook this summer -- the team will be smart about how they spend their money.
Part of the Stars strategy and reason for being cautious this summer is due to the impending expiration and re-negotiation of the CBA between the NHL and the NHLPA. The last time this happened, in 2004, the NHL lost an entire season and has spend the past seven years rebuilding a fanbase that was severely damaged because of it. Tom Gaglardi, a new face among the owners but one that has been around the NHL for a while, is optimistic that a lost season won't happen.
"I hope, given the experience the league went through in '04, that we're not going to make the same mistake and miss a whole season," said Gaglardi. "I don't think that benefits anybody. It certainly doesn't benefit the players. I really don't know what to expect. The timing is interesting."
The timing, as Gaglardi mentions, is certainly interesting because the CBA likely won't be re-negotiated until after July 1 when NHL free agency is set to begin. This creates a scenario where teams will be hesitant to hand out monster contracts because of the uncertainty surrounding just what the new CBA will look like, especially when it comes to limits on contracts, salaries and most importantly -- the salary cap. There is talk that the cap will go down and while contracts will likely be reduced by a set ratio, there's certainly going to be some teams in tight situations because of the contracts on their payroll.
"I know there's a temperament around the other teams about this free agency and how crazy it's going to go because the rules might change and you might be in a spot you don't want to be in if you go a little crazy this year," Gaglardi told Bob Sturm on The Ticket. "So it will be interesting to see what happens."
The Stars must be careful not to fall into the trap of becoming too aggressive in free agency, not just because of the impending CBA negotiations. The Stars, while certainly willing and capable of spending money, cannot fall victim to spend money just because they can -- especially on players that are worth such high value. The good news is, Tom Gaglardi is well aware of these dangers.
"The flip side of that," says Gaglardi, "is it's not a terribly deep free agency market with a lot of high end guys. I don't think you're going to see a lot of high end contracts. This is a pretty lame year in that regard."
This is the biggest issue with free agency this year; the Dallas Stars finally have the means to freely spend and there is a dearth of players valuable enough to actually spend that money on. That Gaglardi and the Stars have acknowledged this and are already approaching this summer with caution should be a great sign for fans, who worry about the possibility of the Stars finding themselves in the same situation as the Sabres and Blue Jackets, just because they could spend money over the summer.
This doesn't mean the Stars won't be willing to go after some big names. Gaglardi and Lites have both stated that this team needs two top-six forwards and at least one top-pair defensemen -- and ideally would be able to find a center if possible. With the list of players fitting these qualifications -- and actually worth the money -- being small, the Stars will have to be aggressive in identifying and pursuing the few top-end players that are going to be available.
When asked if the Stars had already focused on specific players, Gaglardi was up front with his answer.
"We've identified some guys we're going to pursue hard, so we expect to be in the mix."
The owner of the Dallas Stars has come out and stated that not only will he be willing to spend as much as is needed to improve the team, but that they are well aware of the dangers of spending just to appear as if progress is being made. This is about as good as news as Stars fans can ever expect; an owner that wants to spend but only on the players that actually deserve such monetary adulation.
"Hopefully we can emerge from free agency as a better team and not make the mistakes that you see made in free agency sometimes where teams can really strap themselves if they do a bad deal," said Gaglardi. "So you have to be mindful of that and careful of that, but there are some key guys there that we've identified and if they're available July 1 we intend to pursue them pretty hard."
Who are these players the Stars are so focused on? We'll dive into that mystery next week.