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NHL Free Agency: Dallas Stars Watching From Sidelines Again

July 1st: Canada Day. Hockey fans on both sides of the border salivate every year at it's arrival. It's the beginning of Free Agency, a yearly ritual where general managers act like drunk sailors, passing out long contracts and big bucks haphazardly in an attempt to take their club to the next level.

The Dallas Stars used to participate in this annual debauchery. Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon, Bill Guerin...Dallas used to be in on all of the big fish out there; Casting a line and usually getting at least a good hard listen. My, how times have changed. And by times, I mean Tom Hicks.

Just like last year, the Stars will be quiet. The deals will be announced throughout the day, some big, some small, and you will see the tweets and perhaps watch the coverage on TSN and you will feel like the fat chick at the prom sitting at a table by herself while everyone else is out there dancing and going to the cool parties afterward. He of the "sloppy seconds" was the last big free agent strike by the Dallas Stars. Not exactly ending on a high, is it?

I hold out hope, however. I hold out hope that this ownership transfer will be completed by the end of the 2010 calendar year, and that after a trade deadline and another draft this franchise will have an idea of where it's headed and what kind of give the purse strings have, and then July 1st, 2011 will be a better day. Hopefully not a silly contract day, but a better one nonetheless.

As for what you can expect today? My guess would be nothing. Not a single thing. The only logical possibility at this point would seem to be the backup goaltender position, and even that's no sure thing. Maybe Matt Climie signs an extension. As a further cost cutting measure, Brent Krahn could very well be your backup goaltender next year. It's really hard to say at this point what the Neal and Grossman contracts will leave leftover in the budget. "Not much" is a good guess though.

Nieuwendyk told the Dallas Morning News "It's safe to say we're not going to be a big player in free agency, just as we weren't last year. But even though July 1 is the deadline, if we can do something that makes sense (later), we'll do it.''

The best news possible regarding free agents of any kind would be about restricted free agents James Neal and Nicklas Grossman. The two most pressing contract situations of the off-season have yet be settled as both are in negotiations and neither are bringing any good news to the table.

The Dallas Mornings News has this quote from Joe Nieuwendyk "We're continuing talking to Neal and Grossman's agents. Those are important issues. But again, it has to make sense, and certainly you don't want to overpay. James Neal, we feel is going to be a big part of it, but we want to make sure we do the right thing, much like Loui Eriksson where we did a bridge contract. And with Grossi, as well, we view him as an important part and we have to find common ground.''

Make sure you visit the DMN blog post for more quotes.

You certainly don't want to overpay, he says. "It has to make sense." We are not exactly enthused by these kinds of sentiments, but what else can Joe say? He's involved in delicate talks and he has $14 million in cap space tied behind his back (more like locked away in a bank vault somewhere he can't get to). Tom Hicks' financial situation continues to make every single decision a hard one for GM Joe.

How do you convince your free agents to take deals that make sense for a $45 million payroll in a world where teams are making deals that fit $59 million payrolls? You can't force them into it. You're not making fantasy trades and signings in some video game where everything always works out. Expecting Joe to force the market to bend to his flaccid checkbook is an unrealistic and unreasonable stance.

I was talking to Brandon Worley at Pro Hockey Talk about this and he pointed out that this year might actually be a good season to NOT be able to spend in free agency. The best defensive free agents out there are the rotting corpse of Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis and Anton Volchenkov. If these names are making your pants go crazy, it's probably because you haven't gotten any in a while. (Defense, I mean...)

It would be a huge lift to everyone's spirits if the Stars were able to make a big strike and bring in the help they so desperately need after the tough PR week with the Modano decision and the gut punch that is to we the fans, but it appears as though such a move will have to wait. Still, there is a chance that as teams who are looking for a center see the UFA list dwindle, the proposed Mike Ribeiro dealings could be put back on the table, Yes, even with Modano gone.

For now we'll have to trust that the front office has the long term health of the franchise as it's #1 priority as we ALL wait out this frustrating financial quagmire. At the conclusion of the season I remarked that the Stars were essentially trying to grill a steak with an EZ-Bake Oven. The longer the ownership stays the same, the more times they'll have to change out that light bulb.