The Dallas Stars have a number of decisions to make this summer, heading into an offseason where change is expected and the team should finally start the building process that has been put on hold the past three years. The Stars have done a commendable job to stay competitive over this time but with four straight seasons without a postseason appearance, the pressure is going to be at an all-time high to make the playoffs next season.
To do this, the Stars must improve as a team. With an NHL-low payroll this past season the Stars have plenty of room under the cap to make improvements, but before the team begins its free agency spending spree some important decisions must be made concerning the free agents from last year's team.
Joe Nieuwendyk has done a great job of not becoming handcuffed by lengthy contracts given to veteran players, a strategy that has allowed the Stars flexibility moving forward as the team attempts to improve the overall talent level. With several players on their way to the NHL over the next few seasons, and the Stars possessing the actual means to sign free agents and add salary, this flexibility is invaluable as the Stars try to balance between adding proven (and possibly expensive) talent to a team that will be getting younger over the next few seasons.
What about the free agents from last season? After the jump, let's take a look at our predictions at who should return...
As a reminder when discussing free agency: The Dallas Stars have 13 players under contract at the NHL level next season for a salary cap payroll of around $41 million or so already. The Stars are also limited to 50 total contracts in the system.
Adam Burish (2011 salary - $1.5 million)
Burish is a fan favorite who has played well during his time in Dallas, when actually playing a role in which his skills are best used. Burish actually set a career-high this past season with 19 points in 65 games, as well as a career high with a plus-six rating on the season. If the Stars are able to find better balance on the top two lines, Burish is a player who could re-team with Steve Ott and once again create a formidable checking line that specialized in defensive-zone draws. At around $1-1.5 million, that's a price the Stars should be willing to pay.
Wathier is now a seasoned AHL veteran and is exactly the sort of player the Texas Stars need to keep as they look to go on a rebuilding summer as well. He won't be too expensive, provides good depth at the AHL level and if the Texas team is much deeper than last season he should be much more effective in a more comfortable role.
Sheldon Souray (2011 salary - $1.65 million)
This was tough to not put in "will return" but the issue here is twofold: How much does Souray want from his next -- and likely final -- contract and how many defensemen do the Stars want signed heading into camp? Currently, the Stars have just four defensemen under contract for next season with Philip Larsen and Mark Fistric likely receiving offers. Does Souray want to stay and would he be worth the price? I'm guessing we'll have a detailed article on this soon.
Radek Dvorak (2011 salary - $1.5 million)
Dvorak was signed last summer as a player who could provide good depth, skill and speed and that what he did. The third line struggled more and more as the season progressed and it became obvious that Dvorak and Vernon Fiddler were struggling with defensive assignments on a game-to-game basis. Dvorak is 35 and the Stars are likely looking to get younger, but he's also a player who provided 21 points and could provide valuable depth on the fourth line.
Jake Dowell (2011 salary - $800k)
Dowell received the least ice time of all regulars for the Stars this season, although he was far from the liability that others were throughout the year. It was a bit of a disappointing season for Dowell, with just seven points in 54 games, but at a low price could continue to provide depth that the Stars need -- especially as one of the few players willing and able to drop the gloves.
Lukowich has been sort of a player/coach for the Texas Stars the past few seasons, the team captain and a mentor for the young defensemen on the team. He's a bit of an expensive option, however, earning $250k at the AHL lever last season. At 36 years old next season, he could be seeing the final days of his hockey career. However, the Stars could see the value in keeping a player like him around for what should be a transition to an even younger squad next season.
Likely to be let go: