When evaluating offseason moves by an NHL team, and especially this summer with the Dallas Stars, it's important to take a step back and look at the situation beyond the simple stats, numbers and contracts. Heading into this offseason, change was expected and desired by Dallas Stars fans -- especially after four straight years of non-playoff hockey in Dallas -- yet now that the change is being exacted by General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk, there's frustration at attempting to determine just what this offseason plan entails.
On Monday morning, the day after the Stars had signed Ray Whitney and Aaron Rome and allowed Sheldon Souray and Adam Burish to depart for other teams, the consensus was that this was a team that was not improving and in-fact was going sideways -- preparing for a season in which the Stars might compete for a top three pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Just a day later, however, and the offseason plan is becoming that much clearer. The Dallas Stars made the biggest transaction for the organization since the 2008 trade for Brad Richards on Tuesday, shipping Steve Ott and Adam Pardy to Buffalo for center Derek Roy, an immensely talented forward who comes to the Stars with plenty to prove after a disappointing season.
Suddenly, with one trade, the Stars have drastically changed the look and feel of this team from one season to the next. The changes from two years ago to now are even more drastic. Joe Nieuwendyk is obviously attempting to exact a culture change in Dallas and is moving on from the core group of players that failed to make the postseason four years in a row.
And that's just the start.
While it's impossibly to lay all of the blame at the feet of the players alone, on a team with a rock-bottom payroll, the way the past three seasons played out and how the team wilted with the stakes were highest certainly didn't sit well with the Dallas Stars General Manager -- and possibly new owner Tom Gaglardi and CEO Jim Lites. While it was certainly possible for the Stars to attempt to add to what the Stars had last season, the Stars have already seen how short-term fixes from one season to the next does little for the long-term health of the franchise -- especially if that short-term solution doesn't work.
Instead, the Stars are obviously embracing their push for youth and the future -- a commitment to players like Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski, Philip Larsen and the multitude of promising prospects on the cusp of the NHL. At the same time, Nieuwendyk understands that it is imperative for this hockey team to remain competitive and for that culture change to be exacted now instead of the in the future, and the team has now moved half of it's core group of players in favor of stop-gap options that in theory could make this team better in 2012-13 than it was this past sesaon.
Joe Nieuwendyk, who rarely allows himself to be revealing publicly about his future plans and motivations, hinted that this culture change was needed while discussing the trade for Roy and the signing of Whitney. On Sunday, he told the media that center was certainly a position of concern and one they would be looking to address -- and not 24 hours later the Stars and Buffalo pull the trigger on a move that solidifies the position, at least for this next season.
Yet there is still the prevailing opinion that this was a useless move, that the Stars have essentially flipped Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott for Derek Roy -- a player coming off an extremely disappointing season and has work ethic questions -- and Cody Eakin, a center with just 30 games in the NHL under his belt. When you look at these moves from a pure numbers standpoint it's tough to make sense of it all, how the Stars weakened themselves at a position of need and then addressed that position with a player that is only under contract for one more season.
Nieuwendyk addressed this process with the media yesterday after the Roy trade.
"I think it's that the situation with Buffalo," said Nieuwendyk. "I've had numerous discussions with Darcy over several months. We've always kept in touch. He knows my needs and I've known his needs and I knew that eventually we were going to be able to work out the right fit. It's not easy. When you're talking about centers of Derek Roy's abilities it has to be the right fit for both teams, and I think we found that here."
When Mike Ribeiro was traded, there were upset fans wondering what the plan was -- how could the Stars trade Ribeiro if they weren't going to attempt to replace his production and more importantly, that second-line center position. As always, it's important to remember that this is a process and now it's clear that when the Stars traded Ribeiro, they had this trade for Roy firmly in the front of their minds based on months of negotiating with the Sabres.
The Sabres admitted as much as well after the trade and when it becomes clear that such a trade has been in the works for a few months now, it's tough to say that the Stars are just flying by the seat of their pants this offseason. Instead, the Stars are in the middle of what is looking to be an calculated transition from the past core group of players to the future, while in fact setting themselves up to be an improved team next season as well.\
"We've been depleted at that position, organizationally and in our minors system," said Nieuwendyk when asked about addressing the need for a center. "We've made steps to correct that over the last month, drafting the players that we did and adding Cody Eakin and now adding Derek Roy. You see it at the draft. Centermen and defensemen get drafted high, they're a high priority. They're just hard to find around the league."
If the Stars were so depleted at that position, why trade away a talented player in Mike Ribeiro and a very useful utility center in Steve Ott? The short answer is ridiculously simple: because change was needed. The longer answer is more complicated yet one that is becoming clearer with each move the Stars make: that Ribeiro, in particular, did not fit the sort of team the Stars are trying to build.
"This trade kind of puts everyone in their proper spots," said Nieuwendyk after the Roy trade. "Roy will be on our top two lines, along with Jamie Benn, and we don't have to put all that much pressure on Cody Eakin. We think he's a bright, up and coming star in this league but now those kids can kind of play behind those guys that we've added and it makes their development much more sensible that way."
We'll cover this in more detail later today, but Derek Roy fits this team and the rest of the roster much better than what we witnessed last season with Mike Ribeiro. While their numbers may look similar and their ages aren't far off, the simple fact is that Roy gives the Stars more flexibility in unleashing Jamie Benn and provides for much better balance between all four lines.
While Roy is only under contract for next season, there's always the chance that the Stars extend him if both sides are happy with the other. What the movement of Ott and Ribeiro really accomplishes, however, is flexibility for the future with Radek Faksa and Cody Eakin likely becoming the future of the team at second and third-line center, respectively. Mike Ribeiro was not part of the future of this team and the Stars were able to flip him for a vital piece of the future and while Steve Ott was still in his prime, he was valuable in adding an asset that drastically improves this team in the short term.
The important thing here is that the Stars are moving forward, exacting change from a group of players that have disappointed the past few seasons. Nieuwendyk said when Marc Crawford was fired that the lack of an ability to face and overcome adversity was a big reason for the coaching change, and the same reasons could be applied to this shift in on-ice personnel as well.
"We've changed the look of our hockey club," Nieuwendyk said simply.
Yesterday we asked for patience and it paid off. The Stars showed us that they indeed have a plan in place and it's likely that plan is far from complete. The Stars are attempting to move on from the past and embrace the future and while the short term results may not be as promising as one might hope, it's apparent that Nieuwendyk is at the very least attempting to not only put a competitive team on the ice for next season, but a team that won't repeat the same mistakes of the past few seasons.
The Stars likely aren't done either. The defense still needs to be addressed and there are still some free agents on the market that could help solidify scoring options for the Stars. For now, this is a team that is moving on to a new era in Stars hockey under a new owner -- and it's tough to ask for more than that.