Yesterday morning TSN reported that teams and players have been informed that the NHL's salary cap will increase nearly $5 million and put the ceiling at or near $64 million, up from $59.4 million last season. As you already know, the cap ceiling has not been much of a concern for the Dallas Stars in nearly four years now. Other teams have conversations about cap numbers while we tarry with actual salary numbers to fit the teams small, self-imposed internal budget.
This time, however, the salary cap news is actually relevant to Stars fans because it means the cap floor has now moved above the Stars internal budget of about $45 million. Translation: payroll will increase next year whether the lenders, Tom Hicks, or whoever likes it or not.
The cap floor will be about $48 million. Dallas has 16 players and a "cap payroll" of over $38 million, meaning they will be required to spend about another ten via free agency or trade just to reach league minimum.
Money to spend sounds like a good thing but one must remember how many other teams also need to reach the cap floor, most of them begrudgingly. Look at the Panthers for instance. They have to spend a staggering $30 million just to get to the floor.
With such an enormous disparity between clubs that are in big hockey markets wanting to spend to this new high cap and teams that will lose tens of millions of dollars while being forced to spend to the new floor, one wonders what that pesky lockout actually accomplished because the league is turning into the haves and have-nots again, but that's a discussion for another team. (Or if you like here's a good piece about it on SBNation.com)
It's been my experience that most people want nothing to do with the above blathering and would rather read about potential free agent targets or trade possibilities, and with $10 million to burn and only 6-7 players needed the hope is that a big chunk of that can go to one guy. A "big name", so to speak.
Is that what's really going to happen?
Media will call it $10 million, but it's really something closer to $9.3 million if they want to be technical, and with the lenders still paying for things for the foreseeable future we're betting they do.
The Stars have 10 forwards (that's counting Vincour, which is speculation), 5 defensemen and both of the necessary goaltenders.
The need then is three forwards, and two defensemen, but could be more depending on the feelings about depth in Cedar Park, which from a call up standpoint is "ok" on forwards and probably "not great" on defense, ranging to "quite poor" if Philip Larsen makes the NHL squad out of training camp, which could be part of the plan if for no other reason than because it's cheap.
To dumb it down more succinctly, the need is a top six forward and a top four defenseman, preferably a top-two defenseman but let's not get our hopes up. Everything else will be filler and cheap parts, high quality teammates though they may be, and knowing GM Joe Nieuwendyk's premium on "team", they will be.
The talk from Frisco since the day Joe Nieuwendyk took over has been about drafting. He puts a premium on draft picks, something the Doug Armstrong regime did not. The Stars built through free agency back then and it is a way of life that is no longer sustainable. Draft picks are the way to go and with James Neal, Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Steve Ott, etc... Fans are starting to rediscover the value of developing your own talent.
I mention all of this because I believe that Joe is understandably loath to give up picks in a trade for a significant piece, BUT he characterizes July 1st and the derby taking place there as wholly undesirable and not the way they would choose to spend what precious funds they have allotted. So which rule can you see him breaking to acquire an upgrade? To seal off any other avenue of escaping this conundrum, the Stars don't have much in the way of roster players they can afford to give up now that the glut-of-left-wings situation was alleviated with the trading of James Neal and the stellar addition of Alex Goligoski.
Market conditions further cloud the next several weeks. The free agent class, once you take away Brad Richards, is pretty weak, top to bottom, and new UFA's are signing deals every day leading up to July 1st. You have the Red Wings, who yesterday publicly declared that they will pursue a "defenseman or two", you have teams like Florida who have gobs of cash to wave around at guys, you have Columbus, who is looking for the same things Dallas is (a center, a defenseman) and it was rumored they nearly pried Jeff Carter away from the Flyers yesterday, etc... in short, it's a mess, and it's competitive, and it will lead precisely to the kind of overspending Nieuwendyk speaks of when July 1st is mentioned.
This is 800+ words already of me telling you basically "I have no idea how the Stars are going to spend this money."
Nieuwendyk told the Morning News after yesterday's press conference:
"I know there are teams out there who are hoping to move money, and we could be in the position to help them out. We're trying to study every option and we're trying to be creative. Bottom line is we have to spend some money, but we still want to spend it wisely." [DMN]
Outside of Philadelphia there aren't many other obvious teams that come to mind, but that's one avenue they'll give a good hard look because a deal might be had out there if someone is looking to dump salary.
He continued on with Mike Heika...
"We have to be in the game on July 1. We understand there are players who are going to be made available, and we have to study what their contracts might be and whether they might be a fit for us long-term, because we do believe we will eventually have strong ownership. But, we're not going to be stupid. You have to overpay on July 1, but we still would want to be smart with our overpayments, if that's the case. If the right player is there at that cost and it fits what we can do, we would jump at that.'' [DMN]
If we're taking bets, my wager is that the Stars will be active on the phones, but stingy, and that's in reference to the trade market leading up to free agency as well as free agency itself. My own personal opinion is that he'll continue to protect those picks, and that could make for a boring July, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, because I also believe his patience with the draft/developmental process will pay off down the road.
Either way, there's still $10 million that MUST be spend. How do you think they'll handle it?