dé·jà vu \ˌdā-ˌzhä-ˈvü, -ˈvue\ : noun : the feeling that you have already experienced something that is actually happening for the first time : something that is very familiar : something that has happened many times before
There is something oddly familiar about this spot that we, the fans, and the Dallas Stars find ourselves in with just under a week before the trade deadline and just 24 games remaining in the regular season. The Stars sit in the final wild card spot -- well, they did before last night -- and essentially control their destiny for a berth into the postseason, while once again we're debating the right strategy to take heading into a critical trade deadline.
The Stars have some players on expiring contracts and it's important to get value for them if at all possible. There's also the possibility of adding offensive firepower or better yet -- help on defense -- in a trade that brings talent back to Dallas; after all, the Stars have been acquiring assets the past few years and cashed in on that investment once. Why not try the same strategy again?
The mystery, of course, is whether another streaky Dallas Stars team has what it takes to actually make it into the postseason. The roster has been vivisected and rebuilt the past few years specifically because the teams of the recent past essentially choked when everything was on the line. This hasn't been a team that has been in the basement of the NHL every season; the Stars have had a chance the past three years and always fell flat when it mattered most.
That is what is most concerning.
So now, heading into the deadline, the question is what strategy best works for the Stars this year and for the long term? Endless debates rage over the value of potential targets and the price to be paid, or whether it's better to bring value back to the team and not go out on a foolhardy mission just for the hope of making the playoffs -- especially given the recent track record.
I could probably re-post an article from around this time in 2012 or 2013, change a few names, and the message would still work today. We've been here before and this is all familiar territory, right? Not exactly.
The coaching staff and the front office have changed, and this is just the very beginning of what is hoped to be a very long and successful relationship between Lindy Ruff and general manager Jim Nill as they set out to build a perennially contending team. This is Nill's first time through this particular gauntlet, and the big question on everyone's mind is just what his strategy might be during his first NHL trade deadline.
Appearing on BaDD Radio on 1310 The Ticket on Wednesday, Nill was once again fairly forthcoming with his -- supposed -- approach:
"I know Lindy and I, and our staff, we're very happy with where our team is at," said Nill. "Everyday we come to work, we're trying to make the team better. If there's something there, I'll do it, but I won't mortgage the future for something that's just going to help us for the next six weeks. If there's something there that makes sense for the long term, then I'd obviously do it. I'd do that anytime."
Sounds like Nill picked up his talking points from the DBD comment threads.
Nill's approach is the only logical one, especially for a team that is in this current stage of development. The rosters of years' past were of a different build and now the Stars are on a new and different trajectory, that only truly began last summer.
The Dallas Stars general manager also mentioned the success of the Texas Stars this season and the rapid development of some of the top prospects in Austin, and has hinted that a call up from Austin could be counted upon as a boost heading into the playoffs. As Stephen Meserve told me yesterday, you almost have to call up the leading scorer in the AHL if you're making a serious run at the playoffs, right?
So, the Stars will be careful and not try and "mortgage the future" for a short term solution, but Nill did acknowledge that the deadline is one of the few realistic options remaining when trying to add key pieces to your roster. When asked about the slim and uninspiring free agent market, Nill went on to explain how the new CBA has created a system where options are becoming more and more limited.
"Like I said if there's a trade there that's going to help you for the next three years and you're going to give up a pick or something to get it, then definitely," Nill told Bob Sturm. "You've analyzed it right on. What's happening in this new CBA....players used to become free agents at 31, 32-years old. Now they're free agents at 25 and 26. When these guys are coming off their entry-level contracts, we're signing them to six- and seven-year deals. And there's nobody free anymore. By the time guys get to 30 years of age, they're locked up for the next six and seven years. There's no players available. We're locking up our players at a young age and the free agent market is drying up.
"That's why I get back to: draft picks are so important, drafting is so important and development is so important. You have to have that."
One issue that's also at play is the current trade market. How many players that are supposedly available fit the mold the Stars are seeking? Not too many teams are looking to trade good and young-ish players under contract past this summer, unless something else is going on -- such as a Vancouver fire sale. But picking up pieces of that nature, especially during a season, is incredibly expensive and usually occurs around the draft or free agency.
At this point, it's fair to say the Stars won't be going all-in on the run on the playoffs this year -- matter their standing next week -- and try and immediately boost the roster just for the goal. Yet if the option presents itself to improve long-term, then that is a move Nill will make. It only makes sense, and it matches everything he's said in the past, as well as his commitment to building a long-term successful team.
"It's not about a short hop to get into the playoffs, win two games, and then not be seen for another three years," said Nill. "It's about getting into the playoffs, lets do it the right way, keep building, so you're in the playoffs for the next seven, eight and nine years."
Dan McDowell actually raised a very salient point in response to Nill's answers, echoing that fans have all heard this before from previous regimes at this time of year. While the Stars are obviously looking better for the long haul, the truth is that the fans are still hungry for the playoffs and want to see actual results instead of reassurances on the radio. So what's different?
"I see something special with this group of guys," said Nill. "I've been in a lot of dressing rooms, and there's something special with this dressing room. What's special about it is you have a core of young guys that are starting to figure it out. We just watched the Olympics, and you've got Jamie Benn went over there as a little bit of an add-on, and now people realize Benn is one of the top players in the game. When you start seeing these types of things -- Tyler Seguin was on the bubble for making the team, Valeri Nichushkin was 18 years old and playing in the Olympics -- you see start seeing these things happening in the dressing room, there's something special going on there."