The Stars have struggled as of late, but overall they are exactly where many expected them to be - just outside the top eight in the Western Conference.
There have been some pleasant surprises this season (Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin, and Antoine Roussel), and some disappointments (Alex Goligoski, Jamie Benn for the past month, and discipline issues) too.
What should Joe Nieuwendyk do at the deadline and this summer? This year is so important for both the short and long term future of the Stars. The team isn't a contender yet. That much is obvious. But there has to be a balancing act - a fire sale would send the wrong message to fans, and it would suddenly place even more pressure on the young players, who have been performing really well this season all things considering.
Here are some of the important moves (and non-moves) that Nieuwendyk should consider over the next few months.
1) Sell on most of the veterans
This includes Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, and Eric Nystrom. It is looking more and more like it is time for Morrow to move on. Morrow will have a lot of value - his play has regressed in the past few weeks, but he would be a solid second or third line addition to most contending teams around the league. Dallas could probably fetch a late 1stround pick for him.
Roy would carry with him a lot of value, too. The Stars brought him in, they hoped that opting for surgery last summer would help with contract negotiations, but Roy is after the money (or at least that is what we are being told). You can't blame him, as it is within his rights as a free agent. However, it must be disappointing for the Stars that Roy isn't offering any sort of discount. Anyway, it sounds like he is looking for upwards of $6 million per on a long term deal. Without Roy, Dallas will be paper thin up the middle, but the Stars probably don't want to invest that sort of money in a 30-year-old center. How much does the motivation of a big pay day factor in to Roy's current performance?
Nystrom will be able to fetch a mid round pick. The Stars could easily call up an AHL farmhand (Colton Sceviour is well deserving of a shot) to fill in.
And what about Jaromir Jagr? I'd hold on to him unless he asks for a trade. He does so much for the team in terms of credibility, fan support, and from a leadership perspective on the younger players, too.
2) Figure out what to do with Goligoski
Dallas can't keep looking at the success of James Neal (and Matt Niskanen, too) and comparing that to Goligoski's play. On that note, Goligoski needs to move on from the trade, too. That was a lot of the problem early on this season - he was trying to do too much instead of relaxing and letting his natural ability take over.
Dallas lost the trade, and that needs to be accepted. However, where do they go with Goligoski? He has played a lot better since the healthy scratch, but he still needs to be contributing more offensively on a regular basis. I see two ways this situation unfolds:
Trade him. This may sound crazy, especially considering the fact he was considered a core piece of the organization as recently as January. And his value is probably a bit low because of his struggles this season. However, puck moving defensemen don't grow on trees, and Goligoski is a good one. And that would create a big hole on the Dallas back end, depending on what they are able to fetch in a trade.
Find a partner for him. To get the most out of Goligoski, the Stars need to put him in a position to excel. Give the PK minutes to Dillon, Stephane Robidas, and the other defensemen. Find a steady and reliable veteran to play with Goligoski, and give them a lot of offensive zone starts with the top Dallas forwards. Goligoski is a playmaker, and there is no good sense in wasting his talents with third or fourth liners or in defensive situations (he is averaging 1:01 on the PK in 2013).
3) Keep Stephane Robidas
Unless a team steps up to the plate with an incredible trade offer, I'd hold on to Robidas. You need to have some veterans, and Robidas is a terrific mentor for the young defensemen on the roster. He's a physical right-shooting defenseman, and there aren't many of those in the league. He is also signed through 2014, so the Stars could look to move him at the deadline next year (assuming they aren't in playoff contention at that time).
You don't want to be like Edmonton, where there is so much pressure on the young kids to produce and play a lot each night. Some veterans need to be kept to provide insulation and leadership.
4) Figure out the team's philosophy
What kind of team do the Stars want to be? Figure that out, and then go out and find players to fit that style. Forging an identity is a huge part of finding success. The New York Rangers landed Rick Nash in the summer, but they lost a lot of depth and grit in the process. Nash has been very good for them, but their grit and depth have been lacking. And this has affected their playing style/identity (and in turn on ice performance).
Do the Stars want to be a team known for great goaltending, an enigmatic offense, and a suspect defense? I doubt it, but that is the book on them right now. The team has a decent prospect pool - not amazing, but far from the worst.
Significant improvements won't come over night. There aren't many great centers available on the open market this summer. The Stars may have to make another hockey trade. The team needs to eventually get Benn back on the wing, but he will likely remain at center for another year or two until a center or two emerge.
Eakin has shown that he may have more upside than originally expected, but is he ready for play full-time second line minutes in 2013-14? Relying on young players to improve each summer is never a good thing to do. Development is nonlinear - players have ups and downs along the way.
The question of whether Nieuwendyk is the right man for the job is probably for another day, but the team better be 100% sure he is entering the deadline and offseason. Decisions made over the next few months are absolutely vital to the short and long-term success of the Stars as a hockey team.
I didn't go into great detail on some potentially interesting players who could be available (for example, Columbus' Brandon Dubinsky could be on the market, and he would fit in with the Stars like a glove). I'll save that for next week. The needs in Dallas are obvious - a top four defenseman, and a center (especially if Roy is traded). As mentioned above, it isn't as easy as trading away all veterans for future assets and giving their ice time to the likes of Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith.
It is a fine line between tanking and retooling, and it needs to be done correctly. The pressure is on Mr. Nieuwendyk to do just that.
Previous Posts from Jeff:
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