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Analyzing the Dallas Stars' Shoestring Budget

Everyone's hoping for more smiles from Nick Grossman once he signs his RFA contract extension.
Everyone's hoping for more smiles from Nick Grossman once he signs his RFA contract extension.

Yesterday morning I sat here and told you that the Stars weren't going to do a single thing in free agency. About an hour after that they started signing European free agents and an undrafted guy out of the CHL, then to add further insult to what I thought, they went ahead and signed two NHL free agents in the afternoon. So much for trying to guess what they can and cannot do with this supposed $45 million budget.

The Adam Burish signing caused a little bit of a stir, or rather, the same stir as the dual Barch/Wathier extensions. We keep talking about how they can't afford to give James Neal what he wants and how Nick Grossman needs a raise too, and the Stars keep giving money to players who will make them grittier and "harder to play against." If they can't go out and get the skill they need on the back end, "they might as well muck things up a little bit with these hard nosed guys", seems to be the sentiment here. How that jives with what Marc Crawford preaches, we'll find out in September.

The Raycroft signing was met with a little more enthusiasm, and rightfully so. It's being called a genius move by some. By negotiating a two-way deal in the first year, Nieuwendyk can still give Brent Krahn a try at the job and have Raycroft go down to Cedar Park if need be, and best of all the salary hit is only about $700k. That's a budget friendly backup goaltender if I've ever heard of one. Being affordable isn't Raycrofts only bullet point. He's made a career out of being a backup and at 30 years old is capable of giving you 30 starts and not killing you. Will Lehtonen need that much rest? With 12 back to backs, it's hard to say, but clearly Joe thinks this is the year that Kari stays healthy and fulfills his potential.

These are prudent signings at affordable prices to fill out the roster. The $45 million question is: How do they affect James Neal and Nick Grossman, and did the team just price themselves out of their own RFA's?

Let's take a look at the payroll...

As of Thursday night, July 1st, 11:00pm CDT...

These are actual salaries. Not cap hits.

Player 2010-2011 Season
Brad Richards $7,800,000
Mike Ribeiro $5,000,000
Loui Eriksson $3,200,000
Brenden Morrow $4,100,000
Steve Ott $2,100,000
Adam Burish $1,000,000
Krys Barch $825,000
Jamie Benn $635,000
Brian Sutherby $812,500
Tom Wandell $700,000
Toby Petersen $745,000
Brandon Segal $550,000
James Neal $?,???,???
Stephane Robidas $3,250,000
Trevor Daley $2,500,000
Karlis Skrastins $1,650,000
Mark Fistric $1,000,000
Jeff Woywitka $700,000
Nicklas Grossman $?,???,???
Matt Niskanen $0,000,000.0?
G Kari Lehtonen $2,700,000
G Andrew Raycroft $700,000


19 Players. 12 Forwards, 5 Defensemen, 2 goaltenders

Grand Total: $39,967,500

The good news is they haven't even hit the cap floor yet! The bad news is that they must extend James Neal, Nick Grossman, and most likely Matt Niskanen, and they have to make it happen for about $5 million dollars. We don't know exactly how hard that $45 million number is. Is it exact to the dollar? I would think not, but with the way things are now, would it really surprise if you if Tom Hicks were counting every penny? One might even say they're lucky he didn't cut spending to the cap floor as soon as he started the sale process. The cap floor is about $43 million (I think...)

3 players in $5,032,500. How do you do it? The wild card is James Neal. Whatever they end up agreeing on will likely be heavily back loaded to get this one year of hockey in. 11 players already have escalating salaries in 2011-2012. Grossman and Neal will likely make it 13. You remember we said this when the new owner shows up and the Stars don't have this uber amazing cap space you think they should. This roster is more expensive than the salaries say this season, and we'll pay for it next year and the year after. It's the price of trying to keep the band together.

Mike Heika had the chance to talk to GM Joe about his unexpected signings yesterday and the budget as a whole. Here is a snippet...

I honestly think the Stars are cheating a little bit, knowing full well that the checks don't have to be written until October and that there could be new ownership in place by then. At the very least, they are pushing the envelope to the max.

When I asked Joe Nieuwendyk about another team making an offer sheet to James Neal, he said: ``We're not afraid of an offer sheet. We can't conduct how we want to put our team together worried about that.''

I truly think if an offer sheet is made, the Stars will match and find a way for the new owners to pay for it. I think that's the mindset right now. [DMN]

There is a wealth of information in those three paragraphs. The notion that they are "cheating a little bit" is an interesting one because they might still get this done THIS YEAR at or near the budget, in which case they won't be cheating at all. The cheating might come into play in the Neal deal. I suspect the numbers may add up to $46.5 or so by the time it's all said and done, but we'll see.

We haven't mentioned Fabian Brunnstrom. They own his rights still. Could they sign him up real cheap and trade him for a 7th rounder maybe? Can they sneak him down to the minors? Would they mind if anyone claimed him?

And That Brings us To Jere Lehtinen

I'm getting that "uh-oh" feeling again just writing this sentence. Do the Stars have room in their budget or their lineup for Jere Lehtinen? Was the Adam Burish signing made with some greater knowledge in Joe's mind? Wouldn't Jere Lehtinen be looking for something in the $2 million dollar range if he were going to come back? Maybe a nice $1.5 million home discount? That's still too much. Would Hicks make an exception for Jere Lehtinen, or would they try to move Sutherby and/or Segal?

I will join the protest against the Krys Barch deal pretty hardcore if we get another Modano situation on our hands with this one. Jere Lehtinen is not as old as Mike Modano and the right wing position on this team is not jammed up like center. The Stars had a role for Jere Lehtinen out of need, more so than Mike. Is that still true?

Meet the New Defense. Same as the Old Defense

I will be the first to applaud when Joe gets the RFA signings done within the budgetary constraints placed on him. He was handed an impossible task and he's very nearly to the finish line. There's just one problem: The roster is a little too close to last years, and on the blue line, it's EXACTLY last years roster. You saw the signings yesterday. Was there a defenseman that the Stars could afford? Would they have even talked to the Stars? Would any of them had made a significant long term difference? We said it all day yesterday: It might have been a good July 1st to NOT have money, but that's little consolation.

There is still a chance that the Stars could swing a trade for cap room or a d-man, but Joe Nieuwendyks comments combined with the vibe we're getting from the traditional media suggests that this is the roster they're planning on moving forward with.

When you weigh the success of the Coyotes, the movement of the Ducks, the continued dominance of the Sharks and the surging Los Angeles Kings (watch out for the Kings, seriously) against a Dallas team that brings back the same lacking blue-line, it's tough to see where there's a playoff spot in their immediate future.

But there's still time.

"It's delicate moving forward," Nieuwendyk told the Morning News, "but we wouldn't have done this if we didn't think we could do it on a budget.''