Over the next few months, Defending Big D will take a look at each Dallas Star scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st. Here is a preview look at the Stars outlook heading into this summer.
Potential Dallas Stars free agents:
This will be a crucial offseason for the Dallas Stars, and some tough decisions will have to be made when it comes to free agents. Several long-time Stars players are scheduled to become free agents this summer, and the team has to decide which direction they want this franchise to go.
This past season, the Stars were locked between separate team outlooks: a rebuilding team focused on developing young talent and contending down the road, and a team that's built to win immediately. In the late 1990's when the Stars won the President's Trophy, several division titles and ultimately the Stanley Cup, the team was built around hard working veterans, homegrown talent and was offset by several flashy free agent signings. The team worked hard to continue the success in the early 2000's but found that buying a team through free agency harmed the franchise more than it helped.
Under Les Jackson and Brett Hull, the Stars are looking to return to the mentality of championship days. This past season we saw young and talented players grown in the Stars' system prove themselves at the NHL level. They also have several exciting prospects ready to break out as early as next season. The General Managers have worked to make this team younger and cheaper without comprimising the team's ability to compete at the highest level. This past season, we experienced what happens when a team without it's top veterans is forced to try and win with young players learning on the job. With several key players due to return next season from injury, there's a good chance this team will find itself back on top of the conference again next year.
The trick is to decide which free agents the Stars need next year, who can help the team without stumping the development of the young players in the system. More importantly, the Stars need to decide just how much money they are willing to spend on their own free agents, and just how much they need to spend on the open market.
This team, when healthy, is one top defenseman away from really taking the next step. Whether the Stars try to find that player through the draft (who might not help until 2010) or whether they look elsewhere will depend on how they handle their own free agents.
The salary cap for the 2008-2009 season was $56.7 million and that is expected to drop for the coming year, although the exact number is still to be determined. Last season, the Stars had a total payroll of $58.5 million and were able to go over the cap due to injury allowances. As it stands right now, the Dallas Stars payroll for the 2009-2010 season is $42.1 million. The salary cap is expected to drop to around $52 million. Don't expect the Stars payroll to even approach that.
Brett Hull has stated that the budget next season will be around $50 million, and could even be lower than that. That doesn't leave the team a lot of room to sign it's own free agents and go after help on the market. The budget, set by owner Tom Hicks, is what is going to really hamper the team from spending money.
Tom Hicks has shown in the past that he is willing to spend money on big name free agents (Eddie Belfour, Brett Hull, Bill Guerin) and knows the importance of keeping it's key veterans. But this will be a tough summer for the Stars as far as their salary numbers are concerned and the decisions made now will have a big impact on this franchise for several years to come.