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The Cliff Lee Trade And How It Reflects On The State of The Stars

I know many Dallas Stars fans are Texas Rangers fans as well and that being the case, a fair amount of you are thrilled with the trade yesterday for all star pitcher Cliff Lee.  And as if getting  - as I heard from some of you yesterday - arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now wasn't enough, the Rangers were able to clinch this trade by out bidding the vaunted New York Yankees.  Not an easy task by any means but it was made even more so astonishing by the fact that... well... the Rangers are bankrupt and in ownership limbo.

So there are the Texas Rangers, bankrupt and in the same ownership boat with the Dallas Stars - if not maybe in worse shape because technically Major League Baseball owns the Rangers right now - and yet the Rangers now add a nine million dollar pitcher to put their overall team salary to over 65 million  while the franchise brother Dallas Stars are pinching pennies to get Andrew Raycroft and Adam Burish and with worries that they might not want to go over the 50 million dollar team salary mark just to hold on to their RFAs.

As a Rangers fan you may be giddy with excitement over the deal, but as a Stars fan you may be (and as I heard from some of you yesterday, you already are) wondering "What the heck, how is this fair?" and some who are still stinging from the whole Mike Modano thing are ready to nail this one on Joe Nieuwendyk yet again as an example of how one GM - that being Rangers GM Jon Daniels - can smoothly manage a limited team budget while GM Joe seems to be dropping the ball repeatedly under the same situation.

Only that line of thinking is flawed, because while at first glance the Rangers and Stars seem to be in the same situation in terms of budget restraints and financial issues, a closer look reveals that the two situations - especially when it comes to trading for a superstar player like Cliff Lee in the middle of a baseball season - are nothing alike.

Apples To Oranges (or: Baseballs To Hockey Pucks)

The Rangers are a first place ball club at the half way point of the season.  It was pretty obvious that getting a player like Lee would be exactly what the Rangers need to keep a firm hold on the AL West division, provide an extra weapon in October when pitching staffs are shortened and keep generating more fan interest and thus more dollars flowing into the team as the club because while the team has had decent average attendance numbers this year at just a little under 27,000 per game, they are only playing at about 54% capacity at the Ballpark.  Certainly getting a player like Lee shows a level of commitment to winning now by the Rangers and more fans will come out to see that.  Not to mention the extra revenue generated by home playoff dates and league bonuses.

If the Rangers were any kind of distance away from contending for a playoff spot, this deal doesn't get done.  That kind of goes without saying, but the other key part of this deal and maybe the biggest reason it got made despite the fact that the Rangers are bankrupt is that the Seattle Mariners are footing most of the bill for what is remaining on Lee's salary this season and thus while the Rangers are adding a nine million dollar all-star to the roster, they in reality are playing less than half of that to have him join the team for the next four months.  When Lee becomes a free agent in the winter, there is a possibility that the Rangers sale is done and that new ownership may be able to retain his services at what is sure to be a price tag of over 10 million.

Which brings us to the NHL and the Dallas Stars.

GM Joe doesn't have the luxury that his baseball counterpart Jon Daniels has.  Even if an NHL GM was willing to trade a high priced star to Dallas and keep some of the salary, the current CBA prohibits a team from doing so.  If the Stars are looking to trade for a high priced defenseman, they simply can't go to a bigger budget team and pull off the kind of trade the Rangers made where an extra top tier prospect is thrown into the deal as a form of payment for the other team to keep some of that d-man's salary.

If the Stars want Tomas Kaberle, they they can't ask the Maple Leafs to keep paying some of his 4.25 million dollar wage.  Even if the Edmonton Oilers were willing to deal Sheldon Souray from the Stars for a bag of pucks, Edmonton can't sweeten the deal by agreeing to pay a portion of his 5.5 million dollar salary.

It's the main reason why Mike Ribeiro's name has been thrown around in so many trade rumors, not because the Stars are unhappy with him, but because if the Stars are going to take care of a weakness like they have on defense via a trade, they need to be ready to send salary back for salary gained.  The catch being that most teams that would make for good trade partners for the Stars are looking to dump salary in order to give themselves room under the salary cap.

In reality, for the Stars to convince a team to trade a much harder to find top 4 defenseman in exchange for a top 6 forward that isn't in as high a demand league wise, they will have to overpay for that player and and the way Nieuwendyk does that is by offering an extra prospect or two.  Now while the Texas Rangers are able to do such a move and still be well supplied with blue chip prospects, the Stars are not in a position to give up an up-and-comer from an already thin lineup of prospect talent.

Now come trade deadline time in the NHL, if the Stars are doing better than expected and there is still a need to fill a hole at defense, then it's very possible the Stars could easily do what the Rangers did today and bring in a high priced talent to take care of that need. Remember that this past season, there were suggestions and thoughts that if the Stars had been closer to a playoff spot, they would have been buyers despite the budget restraints.

What happened with the Rangers on Friday can easily happen with the Stars, but only if the Stars are in a similar position as the Rangers were and looking to make a run in the playoffs.  You can be certain the Rangers don't add any kind of salary if they are not in a position to win a division and the same can be expected of the Stars. 

It still remains to be seen this summer on how GM Joe will handle the Stars RFA situations facing him and if he can pull off a trade to get a much needed top 4 defenseman before the season starts.  There was already pressure on him due to the Crawford hiring of last year and the Modano departure this summer, but now with the Rangers/Lee trade and the fact that Texas will be most likely be playing playoff baseball as the hockey season starts there may be even more pressure put on the Nieuwy and the comparisons some have made to Jon Daniels and how he's been able to mold and run a first place team despite the financial issues will grow in numbers.

It'll be an unfair comparison though and one that shouldn't be made then or even now because they totally different situations.