The Dallas Stars are headed into a summer of excitement and extreme uncertainty. For the first time in four years the team has a realistic ability to be active in free agency (and possibly trades) in an attempt to build a long-term competitive team and to improve on the teams of the past.
There are some who believe a full-scale rebuild is needed and while there is a chance that major change occurs this summer, the first step in any offseason plan is to determine what pieces of the last season's team should return -- and for how much. The Dallas Stars have 12 players from the NHL roster hitting free agency this summer, with 12 other players in the system becoming free agents as well.
There is a chance we could see some significant turnover this summer on the NHL roster, especially if the Stars are looking to make some of the widespread changes we've seen hinted at since the season ended. One reason for the uncertainty of such a proposition is the fact that the current CBA expires in September and no one knows just what the financial landscape of the NHL will look like on the other side.
This makes decisions on free agents difficult, and the likelihood of the Stars suddenly spending all the way to the cap, extremely low. There is also the long-term ramifications of free agent contracts to deal with, especially when we consider how hampered some teams are by lengthy contracts handed out to players that ultimately under-perform.
The first step in this process is to identify the players that are likely to come back, the ones who deserve contract offers and the ones the Stars are likely to let go. After the jump, we look at just the restricted free agents on the team and in the system -- and who is most likely to get an offer from the Stars.
First, a quick note on Restricted Free Agency:
A player is a Restricted Free Agent after their entry-level contract has expired but before they meet the requirements for Unrestricted Free Agency. A team can extend a "qualifying offer" to a RFA, in order to retain exclusive negotiating rights with a player. The qualifying offer must meet the following parameters:
Players who earned less than $660,000 in the previous season must be offered 110 percent of last season's salary. Players making up to $1 million must be offered 105 percent. Players making over $1 million must be offered 100 percent.
If a qualifying offer is not made, then that player becomes a UFA. If the qualifying offer is made but not signed, then that player remains a RFA with rights belonging to the original team. A player has until December 1 to sign an NHL contract, otherwise they are unable to play the rest of the season.
With that being said, here are our thoughts on the situation for the Stars:
Jamie Benn (2011 salary - $821k)
The question wasn't whether Jamie Benn would get an offer from the Stars, the question has always been "for how much?" We'll dive deeper into the financials of a potential Jamie Benn contract in separate posts, but there is absolutely no question he'll be with this team for a very long time.
Philip Larsen (2011 salary - $850k)
The Dane was one of the more impressive stories from this past season, going from #8 on the depth chart to a very important part of the future for the Stars on defense. His offense still needs time to develop and his lack of offensive production will keep his price relatively low; it's possible that Larsen gets a "bridge contract" of a few seasons, likely around $2 million a year, as he continues to mature as an NHL defenseman.
Richard Bachman (2011 salary - $550k)
With Andrew Raycroft on his way out of the organization, the Stars seem to have found at least a short-term solution to their backup goaltender woes. The Stars have been thin in this department since the days of Mike Smith and Bachman proved that the Stars found a goalie they can rely on when Lehtonen isn't in net. There is discussion of whether Bachman has a future as a starter in the NHL but for now, he's going to be the backup in Dallas for at least one more season.
The older brother of Jamie was impressive in very limited minutes in the NHL and was one of the more consistent defensemen for the Texas Stars. It's unlikely he will get a long-term shot at an NHL job next season but is set up to be a cornerstone for the Texas defense as they look to rebuild as well.
I have no doubt Garbutt will get an offer from the Stars, but it will likely be a two-way contract. He played admirably the final month of the season with Dallas but it's unlikely he'll be on the NHL roster at the start of next season.
Tom Wandell (2011 salary - $775k)
Wandell has shown flashes of brilliance at times but after three years, it's obvious that he's best suited in a utility role on the third and fourth lines. He's a puck possession machine with good defensive instincts yet is incapable of turning his offensive flair into actual scoring chances. When given the opportunity to play in a bigger role this season he struggled. With the Stars looking to get deeper at the NHL level this summer, Wandell may be the victim of a numbers crunch on the NHL roster.
Mark Fistric (2011 salary - $1 million)
I really liked Fistric's game this season and I'm hopeful he returns next year, but like Wandell, he may be the victim of a numbers crunch at the NHL level. I think he'll get an offer from the Stars but it likely won't be for much more than he made this season. Fistric was one of the few defensemen on the team able to consistently land a good hit but was never able to really progress past that this season.
Gazdic had a good year with Texas but you wonder if the Stars will be looking to move on without him next season. Like Dallas, the Texas Stars are looking for a fresh start and there's going to be some tough decisions to be made. The chances of Gazdic staying are higher than our next guy, however.
Sceviour is a guy that deserves a shot at the NHL, yet for some reason has never been given that opportunity by Dallas. I imagine they want such a valuable player to return to the AHL next season but you wonder if his desire for a shot at the NHL will lead both sides to come to an agreement to let him walk. As an RFA, however, he doesn't have much choice.
Likely to be let go:
Angelo Esposito - Never did much after trade to the Stars
Jake Hauswirth - See above
Michael Neal - Stuck at the ECHL level.
Mikael Stefanovich - The prospect that always has Stars fans going..."who?"