The NHL salary cap went through some changes with the new CBA. It dropped to $64.3 million for this season and looks to be at the same level next season. The Stars desperate financial situation during the ownership crisis kept them from handing out cap-impacting long term deals for the most part. The drop did very little to impact the Stars initially, and given where they are on the winning curve, it might not make much of a difference to them at all.
Next season is going to present different challenges, but the Stars are still in pretty good shape. Given that we are a quarter of the way through this season, now seems like a good time to see what next season looks like.
When these posts pop up, we're going to use James Mirtle's optimistic projections for the future salary cap. They will eventually diverge, but they should hold strong for the time frame we are going to be viewing. The Stars salary commitments for this season and next season are shown in the table below (including, in italics, salary projections for Ryan Garbutt, Antoine Roussel, and the projected contract for Brenden Dillon):
Ray Whitney, Vernon Fiddler, Dustin Jeffrey, and Stephane Robidas are the Stars pending unrestricted free agents. Cody Eakin, Brenden Dillon, Antoine Roussel, and Ryan Garbutt will be the restricted free agents to watch. I put projected salaries in for the last three. We'll get to Eakin later.
With those projections, the Stars have $9,341,667 in available cap space, and they need to fill out the roster with four forwards. They need four forwards because it isn't reasonable to assume that they are going to carry eight defensemen again. If they lose Robidas, they technically don't have to acquire a replacement for him. Technically.
The defense poses an interesting problem. The Stars are locked in with Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, and presumably Dillon. Sergei Gonchar, Kevin Connauton, and Aaron Rome are under contract. Jamie Oleksiak, Jyrki Jokipakka, and Patrik Nemeth are sitting in the AHL. They have the depth to fill the vacated Robidas spot, but do they have the talent to do so without taking a step backwards?
Oleksiak is a fine prospect. But do the Stars, a team trying to push into the playoffs, want to hand over the heavy defensive responsibilities of Robidas to a rookie? If they do decide to give those minutes to Oleksiak, they would be sitting with eight defensemen on the roster again. They will need to make a move or two for any prospect to push into the roster. One move that seems likely before next season is waiving Aaron Rome.
The forward situation is less complex. The biggest losses are Whitney and Fiddler. The Stars can reroute Fiddler's money elsewhere by using a cheaper alternative like Scott Glennie, Radek Faksa, or Colton Sceviour. Glennie would appear to be the most likely. It would make sense to see what they have with him rather soon.
Replacing Whitney up front is going to be the Stars number one priority after they get Dillon and Eakin under contract. We will explore some of the possibilities at a later date, but given the cap room and trade assets available to them, they could go any number of routes.
The moves described above aim at maintaining the status quo though. The Stars need to find improvement wherever they can. They can expect some internal improvement as the young guys mature. One big development will be when Valeri Nichushkin puts everything together. They are going to need to find other ways to make changes if they want to make some noise in the West.
To fully utilize their assets, the Stars may need to look at some of the salary cap tools made available to them by the new CBA. Each club has two compliance buyouts available to them. The salary cap also allows teams to cover the cap hit of players they trade up to 50 percent, but no more than three at a time. If the Stars need some wiggle room, tools are available to them.
Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole, and Sergei Gonchar will have one year remaining on their deals when next offseason gets here. The three have a combined 16 points in 66 combined games. Combined, they will be paid $15 million next year, or 23 percent of the salary cap. If the Stars are going to look for wiggle room, these are the three players who will be in trouble.
This would be a crippling situation for a team near the cap. For the Stars, it is merely a minor inconvenience which might not even matter if the Stars don't pursue outside roster help. Compliance buyouts seem unlikely avenues for the Stars to pursue. Dealing Gonchar or Cole while covering half of their cap hits would free up an extra five million dollars, allowing the Stars the opportunity to acquire another key piece.
As roster moves are made in the future, this will continue to be updated to show how the situation has changed. The Stars situation is currently pretty nice, but they will definitely need to make it a little "uglier" to see real improvement next season.