As we approach the NHL Trade Deadline at the end of February, we find ourselves in a new situation as fans of the Dallas Stars. For the first time in three years there is no longer talk of limited budgets or assets, or how any move the Stars make cannot add a significant amount of salary -- or even add salary at all.
The horizontal nature of any discussions on this topic over the past few years has been frustrating beyond belief, with it painfully obvious that the Stars needed to add significant pieces to the team in order to make the push for the postseason. While our focus is always inevitably on the present and on what lies ahead at the end of this season, there is also the fact that certain trades can set up a team long term -- adding vital pieces of the future in the middle of a season.
The ability of the Dallas Stars to pull off such a trade hasn't existed since the waning years of Tom Hicks' ownership and over the course of the past few years has turned the Dallas Stars into a team fighting with mediocrity and blown chances at the postseason. While trades alone wouldn't have helped, the limitations placed on free agency and big trades is something we've become all to familiar with over the past few seasons.
Now, with Tom Gaglardi running this franchise and Joe Nieuwendyk finally given the ability to build this team like it needs to be, the Stars find themselves in some welcome but unfamiliar territory. Fans have been asking ever since the sale was finalized what trades the Stars could do in order to "make a splash", driving more interest into the team and setting the Stars up better for the postseason.
As with any long-lasting decision, caution should be exercised as the Stars prepare to once again play with the big boys in the NHL.
The limitations placed upon Nieuwendyk and this team over the past few years has had a very interesting effect on the team and it's system of prospects. With the Stars forced to abandon the "build through free agency" model that had existed throughout the 2000's, Nieuwendyk took a new approach -- one that has set up this franchise beautifully for the future.
Knowing just how important prospects and draft picks are, Nieuwendyk has transformed the Dallas Stars farm system from perhaps the worst in the NHL three years ago to
arguably one of the top 5 today a system that is much, much more promising than before (better?). While having a few top ten picks has helped, it's been the ability of the Stars to find significant prospects in the latter rounds that has really helped the most.
This spring, the Stars find themselves just a few months away from a significant number of those prospects turning pro and starting their journey to the NHL. The future of this team -- potentially -- is very, very bright. The Stars have a very solid core to build around and they have a number of prospects on the way to create a solid foundation for a very good hockey team.
Yet the Stars are still missing certain key pieces, ones that not only would help this team now -- this season -- but also for the future.
The Stars desperately need a proven scoring winger to compliment Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson. The Stars addressed this with the addition of Michael Ryder, but with the decline of Brenden Morrow and the limited offense of Steve Ott, the Stars still need more depth in the top two lines to truly take that "next step".
There is also a serious lack of depth at center, perhaps the biggest need for this team moving forward. Jamie Benn has improved dramatically this season in his transition to the position, but the addition of another top six center -- especially with Ribeiro's contract expiring after next season -- would go a long way towards helping build this team into a contender. Considering the fact that the Stars do not have a true center amongst their top prospects and it becomes clear that this is something of a dire need.
What about a trade, however? What value is available for the Stars by making a move this season at a time when the prices for big-name players are at their absolute highest point? The Stars are going to be fighting for the playoffs and making the postseason this year is incredibly important for the new ownership, but at what cost would it be worth it for the Stars to make that big move now?
Four years ago the Dallas Stars, led by GMs Les Jackson and Brett Hull, traded for Brad Richards. Giving up Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, Mike Smith and a 4th round pick, the Stars traded for one of the top centers in the NHL and someone who was supposed to be the cornerstone of this franchise for years to come.
Yet, as we all know, things didn't work out that way. While Richards was good with Dallas, they missed the postseason three years in a row and Richards left for the bright lights of the Big Apple. What's even more interesting is what remains of the assets Tampa Bay received after trading away such a vital piece of their organization.
Teddy Purcel and prospect Brock Beubeboom are all that is left from that trade for Tampa Bay. All three players are no longer with the organization, with Mike Smith finding new life in Phoenix and Jussi Jokinen enjoying a very good career in Carolina.
It's proof that no big trade, even one for the future, has the promise of working out for all involved. The prices at this time of year become ridiculously high, and you wonder what the price would be for the Stars to try and acquire a player that has that same potential Brad Richards did four years back.
What's interesting is that Nieuwendyk has proven he's not afraid of making trades mid-season, especially when you consider that two major assets on this team -- Kari Lehtonen and Alex Goligoski -- were both traded for in early February. The trade for Lehtonen was near-genius, while the price for Goligoski was certainly a hefty one to pay.
This year, the Stars have the assets and the financial ability to trade for a big name -- although there are only a few names really being mentioned right now that should interest the Stars. There's also the fact that most big-name players have expiring contracts at the end of this season; something that should worry a team that is so focused on building for the future, not just this season alone.
The Stars have the ability to make the trades, but not the absolute imperative need to do so. There will be more options in free agency this summer and with the Stars looking at all the cap room on the planet to work with, conventional wisdom says this team should wait until July to really make that big splash.
Yet making the postseason this year is vital to bringing back the fans; I wonder just how risky the Stars are willing to get in order to make the chances of that happening even better than they are now.