Jim Nill has a plan.
Ten days ago no one knew exactly what that plan might be, although the Dallas Stars general manager was doing his best to quietly tell the world exactly what he was going to do. Nill wanted to address the depth of the Dallas Stars up the middle, to build a strong second line in the span of just 90 minutes—trading for Jason Spezza and then signing Ales Hemsky—in one of the more brilliant days in franchise front office history.
Suddenly, it all came together. Nill's plan, and the vision he had for this team moving forward—both short and long-term.
There was concern raised among the Stars faithful leading up to the draft and then the start of free agency that Nill's avoidance of signing players to longer-term contracts would keep the Stars from actually making any legitimate moves at all. The Stars were interested in Joe Thornton, who would have come with a friendly three-year contract, and eventually traded for Spezza—who is only under contract for one more year but will likely get an extension offer from the Stars.
Signing Hemsky was another move apparently in the works for quite some time, again signaling that none of this was just impulsive shopping—it was all a part of the plan. The Stars may have just accomplished the holy grail of rebuilds—build a deep prospect pool, improve the NHL roster and build a competitive team without compromising the organizational depth.
The Stars retain their first round pick next season and nearly all of their top prospects—and yet in the space of 12 months have found two top centers and suddenly have one of the better and more balanced forward lineups in the Western Conference.
What about the kids, though? The Stars were supposedly prepared and ready to start allowing some of those aforementioned top prospects make their way to the NHL over the next few seasons, but the signing of Vernon Fiddler and Patrick Eaves suddenly reduced the number of open spots on the NHL roster.
What about Curtis McKenzie, Scott Glennie, Brett Ritchie and Brendan Ranford—all players instrumental in the Calder Cup win for Texas, and all who some thought would get a shot at the NHL out of training camp, with the exception of perhaps Ranford. What about Travis Morin, the AHL MVP and scoring champion—who is likely facing his very last long shot at the NHL at age 30?
There is concern with immediately turning to young players and expecting them to produce at a level needed on a contending team—and as good as the prospect pool has become, there is only so much NHL-ready depth behind them.
The Dallas Stars are now openly committed to success and building off of last year's run to the postseason; last season was not a fluke year in the middle of the rebuild, it was a signal to Nill the time was now to be aggressive and quickly build what could become a very competitive team in very short order—and in the Western Conference, that grind becomes a war of attrition.
The Stars were lucky last season in that other than the loss of Rich Peverley, there were almost no significant injuries throughout the season—until Brenden Dillon was injured. However, that led to Patrik Nemeth proving he could compete in the NHL and shows why Nill wasn't so worried about making over the defense.
There will be injuries and the young guns in Cedar Park will get their shot. The Stars seem to be set with their forward group for now, which could still see the addition of Peverley depending on his health heading into training camp. The Stars have shown in the recent past that if a young player comes up and produces and makes an impact, he'll earn a spot—see Colton Sceviour.
The same goes for the defense. The Stars have four defensemen that will all likely get at least one shot at the NHL this next season, four deep in the AHL should the Stars face injuries—or just need a change.
After years of tracking these players' progress and seeing their development and success at each level, there's some impatience to finally see what they are capable of at the NHL level—especially Brett Ritchie. Perhaps the only true complaint is that on the ice, there are other players that can bring what Fiddler brings—yet it's likely he was re-signed because of his role in the locker and off the ice.
It was a quick strike, in just over a year, how drastically improved the Dallas Stars roster and depth has become.
It was all part of the plan.