The Dallas Stars are barely recognizable this morning, a mere three hours prior to free agency officially opening. The Stars were busy yesterday completing the blockbuster trade involving Loui Eriksson and Tyler Seguin, and nearing a deal to acquire Shawn Horcoff from Edmonton in exchange for Philip Larsen. As of this writing that deal is not yet official, but it appears almost complete.
They still have holes though. Jim Nill has done a lot of good in his brief time, but there is still work to do to turn this roster into a team that can fully expect to play into May. Before we look at the players the Stars could turn to to fill those holes let's identify some general needs. The Stars forward commitments are tabled below:
I estimated 700000 as MacDermid's cap hit. He made 600000 last year, and it seems unlikely that he got much of a raise. For Nichushkin the cap hit is going to be somewhere in the 1450000 area. Number ten picks the past four years have had hits from 1.3 million up to 1.6 million. I went right down the middle with the estimate.
That gives the Stars 13 forwards on the NHL roster. They need 14. The Stars have options in the minors they can use for the final forward spot. The most likely options would be Scott Glennie or Colton Sceviour. Glennie could make it out of the gate over MacDermid which would add about a million in salary to the projection.
At the moment we can project Whitney and Benn as top six left wings. Seguin and Peverley slot in as the top six centers. The right wingers at this point appear to be Chiasson and Nichushkin. Right wing is definitely an area to watch when free agency opens. It would be a giant leap of faith for the Stars to assume that both Chiasson and Nichushkin are ready for the NHL. They cant leave their flank open like that. At some point this summer they are going to acquire another right winger.
Horcoff projects as the #3C with Eakin on his wing. When the Stars acquire another right wing the player would ideally be a fit here if the two rookies are ready to roll from day one unless they make a decent-sized splash.
Cole and Fiddler are two forwards to keep an eye on. Cole in particular has a tenuous hold on a roster spot. Perhaps he is on the third line at right wing, but it would appear that he is on the outs if the Stars can make an upgrade. The duo is going to make 6.3 million dollars to play way down the lineup. That doesn't really matter if the Stars are done making moves. If they want to acquire a top six right wing one or both of these two could be gone.
Cole does have a no trade clause, however.
Need: Top Six Right Wing
The defensive situation is a bit different. The Stars have said Kevin Connauton will be on the roster. Assuming that to be true, the Stars have eight NHL defensemen under contract. This group isn't much different from the group that finished the 2013 season at the moment.
This list doesn't include Jamie Oleksiak, Cameron Gaunce, or Patrik Nemeth either. The Stars have options on the blueline. One thing that seems likely is that Lindy Ruff is going to want to put a shutdown defensive pair together based on his defensive usage patterns from the recent past.
Robidas is definitely going to be a part of that pair unless he is inexplicably traded. Dillon played a large portion of those minutes last year too, but near the end of the year he was playing with Goligoski. Both were playing very well as a pair. The biggest decision facing NIll on the back end is whether or not to pursue someone to play with Robidas as part of a shutdown pair.
It seems like a formality that Rome is gone at some point given that Benn can do a close approximation of his job for half of the price. If the Stars do acquire another defenseman, or want to see a young player like Oleksiak make the roster, Daley's roster spot looks to be the one most on the hot seat.
In Rome and Daley the Stars will have the ability to free up another 4.8 million dollars in trade if they choose to do so. The only stumbling block would be Daley's no trade clause.
Need: Shutdown defenseman and/or #1 defenseman
In goal the Stars have Kari Lehtonen. Still. Richard Bachman is a possibility as a backup, but the Stars didn't tender him a qualifying offer. The Stars could turn to Christopher Nilstorp. They could also turn to a veteran free agent. The veteran free agent route seems to be the way they are leaning.
Need: Veteran backup
In total the Stars are currently sitting at around 61208611 in salary commitments to the NHL roster for the 2014 season.
This leaves them with about 3.1 million in cap space once Nichushkin is under contract. They will likely want to conserve some space for mid-season trades and bonus payments. Given the needs still facing the pro roster and the composition of the roster it still seems like a near certainty that the Stars will be involved in trade talks.
With Cole, Fiddler, Rome, and Daley the Stars have 11.1 million dollars to play with, plus the 3.1 million of actual cap space. The Stars have nearly 14 million dollars in space that they could realistically play with. The main idea is that they can do just about whatever they want in free agency.
The free agent market isn't particularly pretty. Teemu Selanne and Daniel Alfredsson are both in the right wing group. They aren't coming here. The right wing list does still include some interesting talent though.
- Damien Brunner - Brunner is the most interesting name on the market. He was dominant for the Wings out of the gate. He then slumped for 20 or so games. During the playoffs Brunner led the Wings in goal scoring. He played in 91 games last year so there is no question about his durability. He is a highly skilled right shot right wing. He's only 27 years old. He fits everything the Stars need from a right winger, and has a connection to Jim Nill. I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Brunner is the Stars top free agent target at this point.
- Jaromir Jagr - Jagr made a lasting impact on the Stars organization by netting them a first round pick at the trade deadline. He showed that he still has some gas left in the tank last season and routinely looked like the best player on the ice for the Stars last year. Would he be willing to return to Dallas to take another shot at the playoffs? Maybe, but at his 2013 salary of five million dollars the Stars would likely have to pass.
- Jarome Iginla - Iginla is going to be the hot name available on the market, but he isn't the player he once was. That isn't to say that he can't play anymore, but the days of him scoring 90 points are likely over. He is a right shot right wing like Brunner, so it would be hard to rule him out. He is definitely the type of player going after a Cup given his age so Dallas seems like a bad fit.
- Nathan Horton - The Stars have cornered the market on ex-Bruins, so why stop now? Horton hits the market seeking a big deal. Reports have suggested that he is looking for a lower-key market than the one he is leaving in Boston. He recently met with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and is going to need shoulder surgery soon. He plays a physical game and brings a little bit of offense. The shoulder injury, described as chronic in several places, and his concussion history make this a risky contract for whomever signs him. The Stars will undoubtedly be interested, but the risk seems to outweigh the reward.
- Michael Ryder - The Stars traded Ryder last season for Cole. Ryder continued to do nothing but score, He is hitting the market looking for a long term deal, and he should see a raise from the 3.5 million dollar contract he signed with the Stars. Again, as a right shot right wing he would be a good fit.
- David Clarkson - Darren Dreger thinks Clarkson will receive a six year contract at around 6.5 million per year. Clarkson has a career high of 46 points. He will not be a Dallas Star at those demands.
- Pierre-Marc Bouchard - The Wild's former center, now right wing, could provide the Stars with an interesting element up front. As a left handed playmaking right winger he could find some early chemistry playing with the right handed Seguin. He routinely drops 40-50 points and is entering his age 29 season.
- Chad LaRose - LaRose made a decent little career for himself playing somewhat difficult minutes for the Hurricanes. Prior to last season LaRose has been a 30-40 point pace player over a five year stretch. The Kirk Muller regime cut his ice time to under 13 minutes per game and his offense struggled significantly. He obviously isn't a prime option, but if the other bidding gets out of hand he could be a solid third line option.
The defensive crop is fairly limited. At this point it is either headlined by Ron Hainsey or, maybe, Tom Gilbert. Gilbert isn't really a fit for the Stars unless someone like Daley is moved, but really if the Stars sign any defenseman it is probably a signal that Daley is on the way out.
- Ron Hainsey - In this weak free agent class Hainsey is the best defensive defender on the market. He played the tough minutes for the Jets last year and performed admirably. He plays 21-22 minutes a night and will chip in 20-30 points.
- Rob Scuderi - Scuderi fits the shutdown mold the Stars could be seeking, but without the offensive ability Hainsey can provide. He could be a reliable bottom pairing/penalty killing defender for the Stars should they choose to go that route.
- Toni Lydman - The Ducks didn't rely on Lydman to face tough competition last year, but in Buffalo Lindy Ruff has used Lydman in that role. At 35 he should have some good hockey left in the tank. He provides a middle ground between Hainsey and Scuderi both in terms of talent and likely in terms of contract commitment.
- Marek Zidlicky - Zidlicky is a strong offensive defenseman known for making creative plays. The Devils acquired him after a brief unsuccessful run in Minnesota that ended with Zidlicky calling coach Mike Yeo out in the media. He has fit in perfectly in New Jersey and still brings offense from the blueline. He is older, but he would be an unquestionable upgrade as a right shot offensive defenseman. .
Veteran Back Up
The Stars want a goalie capable of playing a significant number of games. The benefits of this would be to allow Lehtonen more rest, and serve as a security blanket in case of an injury. Several names could make sense.
- Tim Thomas - It is hard to imagine Thomas as the Stars back up, but Mike Heika threw his name out there a few weeks back. The former Vezina Trophy winner took last season off, and he appears to be looking to make a triumphant return, He has already checked in with the Philadelphia Flyers about their needs which suggests he still wants to start. If that fails, he easily becomes the most enticing option to back up Lehtonen.
- Evgeni Nabokov - Nabokov has a .912 save percentage the past two years with the New York Islanders after they claimed him on re-entry waivers when he tried to return from the KHL. He could provide another Russian mentor for Nichushkin, and spell Lehtonen routinely if he needs the rest. Nabokov, at this point, doesn't appear to be a candidate for a starting job.
- Jose Theodore - The 36 year old former Vezina winner could be in line for one of the open starting jobs. After a rough end to his time in Florida, which featured an ugly .893 save percentage, chances are that he is moving on. He has the experience and the pedigree that the Stars apparently seek.
- Anton Khudobin - Khudobin has a limited NHL track record, but in his NHL career he has been stellar. In 21 career games Khudobin has a .933 save percentage. He has a strong AHL track record, and given his age he could be a candidate for a few starting jobs. If not, he would be an excellent backup to Lehtonen.
Essentially that is the free agent market for the Stars in a nutshell. They have a number of ways available to them to attack the holes still on the roster. If the Stars do anything my guess is a heavy pursuit of Damian Brunner, Toni Lydman, and Jose Theodore. They have already done a lot so it could be slow unless the Stars have other trades lined up.
The madness begins at 11. Enjoy.