The Dallas Stars have many needs. Arguably the top need is the need to acquire a top pairing defenseman.
Two players with very different playing styles could be available as we approach the draft. Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf could inexplicably be available according to both Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie. Pittsburgh Penguins #1 defenseman Kris Letang could be moved as early as this weekend if contract negotiations go poorly.
The Stars would very likely have interest in both players if they hit the market. What price can we expect to see, and is it one the Stars should be willing to meet?
What are they?
Letang and Phaneuf are both no question number one defensemen in the NHL. They play very different styles. Letang is average-sized defenseman with good wheels. Phaneuf has him by three inches and 20 pounds. Letang is an offensive-oriented blueliner. Phaneuf is generally considered more of a two-way guy.
Surprisingly both fit statistical profiles much closer than you would expect at first glance.
Despite his reputation, Dan Bylsma used Letang against roughly second line competition this season defensively. He didn't try to keep him away from his own net or shield him from top competition. Phaneuf saw some of the top competition in the league in his role as a shutdown guy. Letang was the top defenseman in terms of possession for the Penguins. Phaneuf did about what you would expect someone playing his difficult minutes to do.
Letang was the more proficient point producer with 38 in just 35 games played. Phaneuf produced 28 in 48 games. Both would bring needed offensive punch to the Stars D corps, but Phaneuf is likely a better fit given his full profile. The Stars could use his size and defensive ability more than the extreme upside of Letang's offensive ability. The idea of Letang bringing some extra thump the the Stars power play is very enticing as well, though.
Letang is making 3.5 million dollars going into the last year of his deal. Phaneuf is scheduled to make 6.5 million dollars going into the final year of his contract. The fact that both are nearing the end of their deals is likely the only reason either are up for discussion.
Letang is expected to double, or close to double, his salary on his next contract. Phaneuf isn't going to see much, if any, increase. However, the Leafs might not be willing to give him a long term extension, or they think dealing Phaneuf will help them more efficiently use the salary cap to address their myriad needs.
The reasons for Letang's potential availability are cap driven, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, and James Neal are making a ton of cash. If the Penguins can dump Fleury they would have the cash available to re-sign Letang for sure, but as is the situation is murky.
Top defensemen are rarely traded so pinpointing a value is going to be a little tricky. The most recent examples of defensemen at the top of their game being traded are Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Pronger, and Phaneuf himself.
- Bouwmeester - In return for Bouwmeester the Flames picked up a first round pick and two non-prospects.
- Pronger - In 2006 Pronger was dealt for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two first round picks and a second round pick. In 2009 Pronger was dealt for Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and two first round picks.
- Phaneuf - In 2010 Phaneuf was traded for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White.
Those four trades have relatively little in common. Both packages for Pronger dwarf the other two trades. The Phaneuf trade was a joke at the time, and as the years have gone on the punchline has continued to get funnier. The price for both Phaneuf and Letang will easily be more than the original Phaneuf trade. Both should be a good deal more than the Blues paid for Bouwmeester, but likely not approaching the prices paid for Pronger.
Pay the Piper
Should the Stars have interest in either player? Absolutely, but their contract situations complicate matters significantly. The Stars can't afford to trade a large bounty for a player who can leave on his own in one year's time. For the Stars to make a move for either player they would likely need to get an extension in place beforehand unless the price is too good to pass up.
It seems unlikely that the Stars are going to move the #10 pick in a deal for a veteran on an expiring contract, particularly in a draft as universally praised as this one. Could the Stars afford to move #29/30 in a deal? Absolutely. They also have a wealth of depth on defense, and some young wingers who could be valuable to either team.
Letang is likely to cost more, and the better fit is Phaneuf. If the Stars were to pursue Phaneuf they could expect to deal the Boston first round pick, Trevor Daley, and a prospect of some repute. Given the price paid recently for Bouwmeester this seems like a reasonable approximation.
For the Stars to acquire Letang any deal is going to involve NHL help and probably the #10 pick. GIven the fit with Phaneuf and the Stars reluctance to move #10, if the Stars are going to pursue a #1 defenseman via trade it makes sense for them to see what happens with Phaneuf before even considering something more drastic.
It's certainly possible that neither player is moved. If either player is moved, and the Maple Leafs seem motivated to make sweeping changes, the Stars will undoubtedly have made contact at some point in the process.