The New Jersey Devils may have escaped elimination for another 72 hours last night, but either way the meat of the NHL's off-season is fast approaching just a quick 24 days from now when free agency begins on July 1. We continue to profile young prospects for the NHL draft but must also turn an eye toward the free agent class, where the Stars must spend at least $15 million to get to the new (temporary) cap-floor, and likely beyond if the targets suit them.
Who, though, will the Stars go after?
Last year we wrote profiles for Scottie Upshall, Tim Connolly, Joel Ward, Brent Sopel, and more. The Stars signed none of them, showing how far apart we can be in our thinking compared to people that actually work in this business - Or rather how many players there are out there to be had in any given summer.
Michael Ryder seems to be perfectly illustrative of this point. He scored gobs of goals, is without a doubt considered one of this team's top four forwards entering the 2012-2013 season (or the 2013 season) and yet it seems we didn't mention him once here last June.
So we'll try to more closely examine what options there exist this off-season, and as we do so we'll tuck what Stars President Jim Lites said last month in our back pocket:
"We need two top-six forwards. We need to add two in our current set, or create them from the minor league system. We have candidates for that but it's a little early... you cannot assume that you're going to get there with the people that we have that our now coming into the system."
Mike Ribeiro and Jamie Benn are here. Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder are here. Steve Ott and Brenden Morrow's respective places in that top grouping seem to be in doubt. The inescapable conclusion is that the Stars desire to find two wingers in the free agent heap.
How big is that heap, however, and who is available? The answer may surprise you, and we'll take a look at the potential pool of wingers after the jump...
Here is the list of UFA wingers this off-season. For brevity I included only wingers who scored more than 10 goals in the 2011-2012 season.
The first thing that stands out about this list is the age of those we should most quickly eliminate. Teemu Selanne is a Duck or he's retired. Tomas Holmstrom is a Red Wing, or he's retired. Andrew Brunette is signing with someone that gives him a chance to win a Stanley Cup, like last year with the Blackhawks, or he's retired. Shane Doan will stay with the Coyotes. We don't know where Jaromir Jagr will be, exactly, but it won't be here. Steve Sullivan and Ryan Smyth are both candidates to return to their respective teams, yet are old enough that they probably don't want to start fresh with a young group. Same thing with Sykora and the 40-year old Whitney, who will probably keep playing, though more probably with someone that gives him a shot at winning.
So there goes half of the list right there.
Many of the remaining names just don't have very impressive numbers and are included only to illustrate the weak nature of this free agent class. Joey Crabb and Tim Stapleton are not the answer anyone is looking for on the wing.
Shoppers are left to look at barren shelves this summer with an extraordinarily limited selection. Zach Parise and P-A Parenteau remain the big names on the list, with Jiri Hudler and Alex Semin rounding out the group of guys who will be fielding the truly lucrative offers in the early hours of July 1.
A lesser tier of Andrei Kostitsyn, Lee Stempniak, Samuelsson and Alex Ponikarovsky will get phone calls, but aren't going to force their way in to many top-six situations with those goal totals. A couple are hopeful "change of scenery" candidates, but unless signed by already deep teams they'll be presented to potential new fanbases with the distinct air of "lipstick on a pig."
I have failed to mention David Jones to this point, you might have noticed. The 27 year old cracked 20 goals this year and could be a fairly attractive option, but reports out of Colorado indicate that they very much want to keep him and are in negotiations as you read this. Which leads us to the even more depressing fact about this list - A lot of these guys will be re-signed before the calendar turns to July. The Islanders want to lock up Parenteau long term and will try hard to do so, and though the Devils will not win the Stanley Cup, their success and cap space make Parise staying there all the more likely in this man's opinion.
Cap space is not a problem for the Devils or Islanders. It's not a problem for the Red Wings or the Rangers. It's not a problem for much of the league because of the temporary increase to $70.3 million. Teams are free to collect talent up to $77 million, even, this summer, as long as they're down to whatever the new cap is on opening night. That makes July 1st more about destination (and winning) than it does about money.
The great equalizer could also be term, as teams attempt to use the CBA for proverbial toilet paper one last time before something is done about cap circumvention via decade long contracts. Would the Stars be willing to attempt such a deal, such as Brad Richards' nine-year contract with the Rangers? The guess here is no. Aside from all of that, where does Dallas rank as a destination right now in the minds of free agents?
We hope to receive a very positive answer to that question around lunch time on the 1st, but in the mean time it's important to temper expectations with the harsh reality that there just isn't much out there to add to the top-six on the wing, as the Stars have stated they'd like to do.
Time to start cooking up some trade proposals?