Free agency is rapidly approaching, and the big fish will be off the board, as usual, pretty early in the process. Over the past few weeks we've sorted through the potential scoring options for the Stars, and discussed whether Ryan Suter should be the Stars top defense target or not. As we approach July 1st it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of the free agency period.
The depth guys are now getting their time in the sun.
The Stars had the right idea last year, but the execution was questionable (though given the money issues criticizing them is a bit unfair). The depth options this year aren't going to magically turn the Stars into Cup contenders, but there are plenty of forwards who can step into a bottom six role with ease to allow the prospects in Austin as much time as necessary to develop. They aren't the flashiest names, but they were particularly useful in 2011. Follow the jump to meet David Moss, Ryan Shannon, Lee Stempniak, and Alexei Ponikarovsky
As with the previous two posts the goal here is to identify longer term fits. From the scoring forwards piece:
The criteria, in English, is pretty simple. Old forwards (33 or older) and forwards who barely played (less than 20 games) were immediately removed because they are either not long term fits due to age, or had some extenuating circumstances keep them off the ice (poor play, age, injury, etc.). With the group narrowed down I moved on to looking for ability. Players who drove possession for their teams, succeeded in tough minutes, and generally contributed more positives than negatives are the focus of this search.
I think I heard the audible groans of the DFW hockey-watching metroplex as soon as I typed Ponikarovsky's name. He doesn't exactly have the best reputation. He has been useful though. In 2012 the Devils started him in the defensive zone 53.8% of the time, and usually against average competition. He was very successful in those minutes, and despite the reputation he was one of the Devils' top possession players with an 11.2 Corsi Relative.
Ponikarovsky, for those unfamiliar with his work, is a 32 year old Ukranian winger. He's a big guy at 6'4 and 220 pounds, but he doesn't always use his size to his advantage. His inconsistency offensively over the years and his inability to consistently use his size are the main strikes against pursuing Ponikarovsky, but I think, more than anything, those should be strikes against pursuing Ponikarovsky as a top six option.
He isn't going to be high on many wishlists, but in a bottom six role his possession skills could definitely be valuable to the Stars. He's good for 15-20 goals a season. Ponikarovsky will give the Stars a consistently solid defensive effort too. He would be an ideal third line fit.
Ryan Shannon is one of the names that immediately jumped off of the page when I began sorting through the free agent options. He played some of the more difficult minutes of any free agent forward last year and excelled. (This is going to be a theme.) He only saw 43% of his starting ice position in the offensive zone and played against the second toughest competition of anyone featured in this post. He was still one of the better possession players for the Tampa Bay Lightning last year.
His skill set is similar to that of recent acquisition Cody Eakin. Allow 2011 Steve Yzerman to explain:
""He can really skate. He’s a smart player. He’s got good skills and he can play any of the three forward positions, and his contract fits in with what we’re trying to do right now."
Shannon is smaller than Eakin at 5'9, but otherwise they have similar skill sets. We know how much the Stars got bogged down in their own end last season. Taking inexpensive flyers on guys with the ability to take tough defensive minutes like Ryan Shannon would be very beneficial for a team that will presumably be pretty young.
Stempniak is a 5'11 196 pound winger currently on the roster of the Calgary Flames. I imagine everyone here is relatively familiar with Stempniak since he's spent his career as a member of the Flames, Maple Leafs, Blues, and Coyotes. He's a streaky scorer who, somehow, scored 28 goals in 2010. That's an unreasonably high expectation going forward, but 20 isn't out of the question.
Stempniak would be an acquisition in the mold of Ponikarovsky. Both guys can help the Stars get the puck away from their own end, play some defense, and contribute 15-20 goals offensively. The Stars obviously aren't going to sign four or five versions of the same forward, but it wouldn't hurt for them to find at least one to ease the burden on both the top lines and the rookies who will undoubtedly come up to the big club during the season.
David Moss is a 30 year old 6'3 200 pound winger drafted by the Calgary Flames. He is the cousin of Phil Kessel, but they play very different games. Moss is a very good two way forward with some offensive upside. He's a full season 20 goal scorer who has been battling the injury bug the past handful of seasons. Moss has been dealing with shoulder issues and a fluke ankle injury last year after he caught a rut in practice. The injury issues are the biggest reason he could be available.
What Moss brings to the Flames goes beyond his offensive production. While he may not register on the score sheet every night, when he is in the line-up, he definitely has an impact. Over the last three seasons, David has seen his offensive zone starts go down from 53.4 – 53.8 – 47.9; while his Corsi Relative has gone up from 3.0 – 7.1 – 10.3. He is a smart player that is capable of driving the play out of his own zone. An argument can be made that Moss’ absence might have had something to do with that problematic aspect of the Flames seasons, particularly last year.
Moss is a player who, if healthy (a HUGE if), could be a steal for someone in free agency. In a pinch he could step in on the Stars second line, but ideally he would be the perfect fit to play alongside Steve Ott on a checking line. His offensive production was sub-par last season, but keep in mind that he had a 2.9% shooting percentage coming off of his injury despite being a career 10-11% shooter prior
Moss likely isn't going to cost much, and his inexpensive price tag could, again, look like a ridiculous bargain if he is able to stay healthy.
Defense should be a priority for the Stars, and, if the moves at the draft are any indication, you can expect the Stars to kick the tires on several defensive options. The four above could give the Stars some long term production at both ends of the rink, but their puck possession skills should be the biggest draws for the Stars.