Let's start off this article with a very clear statement: All that follows is purely hypothetical musings on the options the Stars have at their disposal this summer.
Dallas Stars winger Loui Eriksson is arguably the best player on the team. An incredible two-way forward with top possession ability as well as elite scoring prowess has Eriksson's name on the list of some of the top forwards in the NHL. His humble demeanor and and off the ice, as well as where he plays, has led to Eriksson becoming known as the most underrated player in the NHL.
Eriksson was one of just four players with more than 70 points in three straight seasons from 2009 to 2012 and is undoubtedly one of the more valuable wingers the Dallas Stars possess given his absurdly low $4.25 million cap hit until 2016.
It's that inherent value that could potentially become a major factor in the Dallas Stars' strategy this summer.
The task ahead for new general manager Jim Nill and owner Tom Gaglardi is not an easy one. There are some very promising pieces from which to begin their molding of a winning team, as well as a solid framework of core players, yet there are some notable holes at the center position.
As it currently stands, Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin are you top two centers, with Vernon Fiddler having received top six minutes the final month of the season. While Benn will likely remain the top center on the team, the Stars absolutely need another option for the second line that allows the team the depth up the middle needed to be successful.
Unfortunately, the options in free agency this summer for centers are not all that promising. Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro will both be the most sought-after centers -- although Roy's stock has surely plunged this season -- and neither are returning to the Stars. Roman Cervenka, Matthew Lombardi, Stephen Weiss, Kyle Wellwood are all names that don't exactly thrill you and Tyler Bozak is more than likely going to be locked up long-term by Toronto.
Options remain, however, specifically when it comes to a trade. If there would be a top-six center available via trade, however, the price to acquire said player would be very steep -- which is where Loui Eriksson would come into play.
Now, Eriksson as trade bait is a thought that is getting a lot of mentions in the Canadian media right now. Perhaps it's just a case of one writer thinking out loud and the rest copying that thought -- but this is a scenario that will certatinly be talked about over the course of this summer.
Eriksson is one of the top forwards in the NHL, he's under contract for three more seasons at a ridiculously low price and from what we understand his no-trade clause does not begin until the 2013-2014 season. This makes Eriksson an incredibly valuable trade target and could be part of a trade that completely alters the course of this franchise.
Make no mistake, any trade involving Loui Eriksson would be one hell of a blockbuster.
The big question, however, is which is more valuable to the Stars -- a proven elite scorer with top two-way ability who is just 27 years old or a top-six, proven center capable of rounding out a dangerous top two lines. Logic states that a young center capable of producing more than 60-70 points per season is certainly more valuable than a scoring winger; we are seeing right now exactly how difficult it is to find good depth at that position.
The Stars do have a number of promising prospects coming up on the wing, including Alex Chiasson, Matej Stransky and Brett Ritchie. All three project to be top six wingers at the NHL level, although there is absolutely zero guarantee that any of them reach the level of Eriksson in the coming years. There are also options at center, although even Radek Faksa is at least two years away from being ready for the second line center position in the NHL.
So the Stars must explore every option. Perhaps Eriksson is used to move up to a top five spot in the draft, although I'm doubtful any of those teams are willing to trade down. The Stars could also explore acquiring a center by taking advantage of amnesty buyouts this summer, or trading for expensive contracts where the other team retains a chunk of the salary.
It's tough to think of Loui Eriksson as a player the Stars would actually trade, however, and Tom Gaglardi has repeatedly noted his name when discussing "untouchable" players that make up the core of the Dallas Stars. The Stars would have to make such a trade as low-risk as possible, as this is not a move the team can even come close to affording to getting wrong.
These are the types of tough decisions that Nill and the Stars must consider. Such trades in the past have completely turned around franchises and defined those teams for the next decade or so; Eriksson is also the type of player any winning and successful team absolutely desires, and the Dallas Stars are no different.