This afternoon my intention was to post a writeup on Jere Lehtinen and his chances of returning to the Dallas Stars, but I as I delved into that story I started to realize I haven't addressed exactly where the Stars stand roster-wise if they don't re-sign any of their free agents.
Once again, here is the full list of potential free agents after July 1st:
Joel Lundqvist has already gone on the record as saying that the Stars will not make him on offer this summer.
So of course, the question for the Stars front office is to determine just how important signing these players is. Contracts and budgets are the main concern, but it also becomes an issue of how many veterans should the Stars try to keep at the expense of playing time for the younger guys?
If the team decides to let each unrestricted free agent test the open market once free agency starts, offers a contract to each restricted free agent (with the exception of Tobias Stephan) and keeps the rest of the current players on the roster, then the depth chart will look like this: (after the jump)
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Brenden Morrow||Brad Richards||Steve Ott|
|Fabian Brunnstrom||Mike Ribeiro||Brian Sutherby|
|James Neal||Mike Modano||Krys Barch|
|Loui Eriksson||Toby Petersen|
|Trevor Daley||Stephane Robidas|
|Nicklas Grossman||Matt Niskanen|
|Mark Fistric||Andrew Hutchinson|
The Stars have a number of versatile, hard working forwards but are still not very deep in true scoring wingers, especially on the right wing. James Neal, Fabian Brunnstrom and Loui Eriksson all established themselves as legitimate offensive threats this past year and their play next season will be vital to the success of the team. But the Stars are significantly lacking scoring balance in their roster.
We've also seen what happens to this team when you take away the puck-moving, offensive defensemen. The Stars have a solid group of blue-collar blue-liners, but are without that "wow" defensemen that is usually key to putting a group over the edge from an average team to a great one.
And I think every single Stars fan is on the same page when it comes to backup goaltender. Either sign Jonas Gustavsson, or get a veteran in free agency.
So before turning towards our own free agents or looking towards the open market for help, the economical choice would be to promote from within the system (such as Eriksson two seasons ago). Here is who I think is in the Stars system that could make a push for time in the NHL this season (and a few who have already had significant time with the Stars):
Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, 21
Jamie Benn, LW, 19
Colton Sceviour, C, 20
Ray Sawada, RW, 24
John Lammers, LW, 23
Tom Wandell, C, 22
Chris Conner, RW, 25
Maxime Fortunus, D, 25
Tyler Shelast, RW, 24
Francis Wathier, LW, 24
While I wholeheartedly believe that Jamie Benn is going to be a great player for the Dallas Stars for a long time, don't count on him being the Stars offensive savior in 2009. He needs time with the Texas Stars of the AHL to get accustomed to the level of play in the NHL. Beyond Benn and Colton Sceviour, the Stars don't have any other true scoring forwards in the system. They have plenty of high-character, hard working young players that fit the mold of the Dallas Stars player of the past decade, but it's doubtful there is one that can step up next season and have the same impact as James Neal or Fabian Brunnstrom did in 2008-2009.
As far as an offensively-gifted defenseman, there is hope among the Stars faithful that Ivan Vishnevskiy can have a great summer and force his way onto the NHL team next season. After watching him for three games at the end of the season, there is definitely a high level of excitement around the gifted young player. He has the potential to be the next Sergei Zubov for the Stars; a defensive quarterback with great vision and dangerous a shot from the point. I would contend that Vishnevskiy already has the hardest shot in the entire Stars system. But the question that needs to be answered is whether he has the maturity and humility to take on the challenge of being "the next big thing" for the Dallas Stars, and take the lumps that will inevitiably come with the growing pains for a rookie season.
As I stated yesterday, don't expect the Stars to make a big splash in free agency. While we would all love for Les Jackson and Brett Hull to somehow nab Jay Bouwmeester on July 1st, I'm not holding my breath. The front office has stated several times that the team's budget will be under the salary cap, and Bouwmeester will be getting a pretty significant contract from whomever signs him.
Jere Lehtinen is most likely returning, he has stated he wants to, but it's all based on how much of salary cut he's willing to take. The same with Sergei Zubov. The rest of the free agents? Brendan Morrison is the only one I'd be willing to keep, especially with how he really started to make a difference later in the season.
It will be interesting to see what the Stars' plan is this summer when it comes to various free agents on their table. We'd all like to see a high-impact, big-name move, but it's just as likely that the Stars are willing to be patient and use the players that are already available to them in the system to fill the various holes on the roster.
So now I turn to you, the Dallas Stars fan. What would you like to see the Stars do this offseason with their free agents?