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2012 NHL Trade Deadline: Rumors, Playoff Chances & The Dallas Stars

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This is going to be an interesting month for the Dallas Stars and GM Joe Nieuwendyk. For the first time since he was named the General Manager for the Stars, Nieuwendyk has freedom to make moves that aren't tied to keeping this team at a rock-bottom salary. Always before, the Stars were handcuffed from making significant additions to the team because of the required additional salary; with a new owner in place, it's believed there's finally a bit more flexibility for Nieuwendyk to finally make some bold decisions.

Last year's trade deadline was dominated by talk of the Brad Richards situation. The Stars offered him a decent extension offer, which he refused, and the refusal of Richards to waive his NTC -- along with his concussion issues at the time -- made trading the soon-to-depart center nearly impossible. The Stars also made a significant move for the future, trading for defenseman Alex Goligoski. While the price was steep, the Stars acquired a defenseman who will be the cornerstone for this team for at least the next four years.

The question, of course, is what path the Stars will be taking. Tom Gaglardi has mentioned several times that he doesn't believe in making rash decisions in the middle of the season and that most team building is done through the draft and free agency. Given the exorbitant prices required to trade for any significant player at this time of year, and it's understandable why the Stars would be hesitant to make a trade that might only have an actual effect on this current season.

Yet, with the new owner in place and the Dallas Stars sitting on the precipice of missing the playoffs yet again, rumors are starting to swirl. It's been mentioned lately that Brenden Morrow and Nicklas Grossman could be targets for other teams, ones that are hoping to make an actual deep playoff run. The fans are hoping for the Dallas Stars to make a big move and the local media is saying a failure to do so would be catastrophic. Zach Parise is off the table but what about Cody Hodgson?

It's February, folks, and the silly season is just beginning.

Right now, it's unclear just what the plan Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk have for this team. While Gaglardi has said he won't hesitate to spend money to rebuild this team, it's prudent to be careful with how you're spending that money. Take the Buffalo Sabres for example, or the Columbus Blue Jackets. It takes more than just an open wallet to build a successful team.

We just don't know what Nieuwendyk is trying to do. The offseason acquisitions of last summer were made with short-term thinking, not knowing what the actual financial future of this team would be. Since becoming a GM, he's had to play it safe and in the meantime he's generally done a good job of attempting to maintain this hockey team competitive despite a basement-dwelling payroll. He's also managed to start the rebuild of the farm system, with several prospects making the jump to the AHL next season.

What we don't know is how Nieuwendyk and Gaglardi plan to not only approach this rebuilding process and what sort of team they're hoping to build, but how they'll approach their first trade deadline. Nieuwendyk shed some light on the situation, talking to the Dallas Morning News yesterday.

"I definitely think you have to be smart, and we feel we have been," Nieuwendyk said. "We have looked for younger players [in trades], and have tried to look at things long term, and I don't think that's going to change."

Nieuwendyk admits he has been cautious over the previous two seasons because he really didn't have the ability to spend money when the team was owned by lenders operating on a low payroll. Now he has the ability to take some chances, and he said that will create opportunities.

"What I'm finding now is I can get in on more conversations and at least test the waters more, and we're doing that," he said.

Whereas before we never would have expected the Stars to be involved in major trade talks, now the Stars at least have the ability to jump in on those conversations.

The problem is that the Stars have limited resources, as well as the problem of determining just how important making the postseason this year is. For many, missing the playoffs this year after a new owner has purchased the team would be sports suicide in Dallas. For others, it's not so much about making the postseason this year -- which is far from a guarantee -- it's about setting this team up, finally, to actually improve season to season heading into next year.

The Stars sit in one in a tough spot in the standings and once again it's going to be tough for Nieuwendyk to justify going in sell mode with the Stars still within reach of the postseason. It's a discussion we've had several times the past few years and once again, how the Stars play throughout the month of February might have a direct impact on the strategy of Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk.

The Stars have several veterans that would allow the Stars to free up roster space as well as net some relatively decent future assets in the process. It's been mentioned before how the contract status of a number of those players will make trading them easier, although it's tough to say just what the market would be for those players. Certainly, we shouldn't expect anything tremendous in return -- unless it's a major package deal.

Then there's the fact that the Stars have a couple of players that are seen as incredibly valuable for teams making that playoff push. Brenden Morrow is someone that has been mentioned as a perfect fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks. Nicklas Grossman, set to be a UFA this summer, has been linked to the Philadelphia Flyers several times over the past few weeks.

As far as acquiring a significant prospect or top-six forward this spring, who would also be a significant piece for the future -- there's just not many within reach of the Stars. The need for a center, or at the very least a top-six player, is significant. Not just for this season but for the future as well. It's just not as easy as saying "the Stars MUST get one", and teams are certainly going to demand a high price for such a player.

Cody Hodgson has been the target of speculation for Stars fans, especially considering how Morrow is being mentioned in trade talks. Hodgson, however, is a bona fide center prospect and you better believe it's going to take more than just Morrow to land him, especially considering that it's left wing Mason Raymond who is being mentioned as a trade piece -- not Hodgson.

With Grossman being talked about as a possible target for the Flyers, immediately Brayden Schenn is mentioned. Schenn, who just made his NHL debut this season, has fought injuries and now has three goals and two assists in 20 games. He certainly wouldn't be the "quick fix", but possibly could be another asset for the future.

Once again, whether a player like Grossman, with an expiring contract, can get a return like Schenn is incredibly unlikely. So, would it be worth it for the Stars to make a package deal for such a player -- Hodgson or Schenn -- when both have unknown potential at the NHL level?

Then there's Morrow's NTC, which something that is rarely mentioned anyway. So...oh well? There's also the issue of the idea of trading Morrow's salary, and how that would affect the cap situation. We'll get into that a bit deeper next week.

So, the Dallas Stars once again find themselves sitting on the fence as they head to the deadline. There's no public plan in place, so it's tough to really determine just what path the Stars are looking to take. It's likely that, once again, their approach will be determined by the team's play leading up to the deadline -- which probably isn't exactly the best choice, but you can understand it.

This season, making the postseason is something that would be great for this franchise moving forward. Passing up on several opportunities to build for the future just to take advantage of a chance on this season would be a mistake, however. The Stars must weight their options and realize that if the right trade is there, it needs to be made. This season is important, but it's the future that matters most.