In continuing with my offseason preview, let's take a look at the forward lines in Dallas. Where do things stand right now? Can the Stars upgrade with a trade? How about the free agent market? What internal options are there?
For the most part, Eric Nystrom and Verne Fiddler were two-thirds of one of the bottom six lines last season. The third linemate for that line was constantly changing - from Erik Cole, to Tomas Vincour, to Antoine Roussel, to the most common third wheel, Ryan Garbutt. Garbutt established himself as a solid energy forward that wasn't a liability at even strength. You can't ask for much more from fourth line forwards.
72 COLE,ERIK - 38 FIDDLER,VERNON - 24 NYSTROM,ERIC
38 FIDDLER,VERNON - 40 GARBUTT,RYAN - 24 NYSTROM,ERIC
Nystrom is slated to become a UFA in a few weeks, while Fiddler is under contract for next season. After a disappointing 2013 season, it would be a huge shock to see Tom Wandell back in Dallas (he is an RFA this summer). If he hasn't played himself out of the NHL just yet, he is heading down that path.
Outside of the Fiddler-Nystrom combination, there weren't really any set lines or even duos in the bottom six. Garbutt, Roussel, Reilly Smith, Tomas Vincour, Matt Fraser, Lane MacDermind, Colton Sceviour, Francis Wathier, and Toby Peterson all saw action with the Stars in 2013. It isn't imperative to have the same players year after year in the bottom six (Boston is a rare example of a team keeping essentially the exact same bottom six forwards for a few seasons), and with a salary cap these forwards are often the ones that feel the squeeze.
However, Dallas needs to find more talent for 2013-14 (and beyond). They simply need to have more depth in order to compete with the top teams in the Western Conference.
The forward lines, as things stand right now:
Ray Whitney - Jamie Benn - Loui Eriksson
XXXX - XXXX - Alex Chiasson
Matt Fraser - Cody Eakin - Erik Cole
Ryan Garbutt - Verne Fiddler - Antoine Roussel
This assumes that Nystrom isn't re-signed (and I haven't heard much either way on this just yet). MacDermind is an RFA, but he will likely be brought back. Smith could push for a top nine spot, too. Chiasson's sample size of success last season was quite small, but he showed a lot of positives beyond just the goals.
I think in an ideal world, the Stars are able to bring in a top six center (Stephen Weiss or Valtteri Filppula, perhaps), as this allows Eakin to slide down to line three, where he is better suited as he continues to develop as a two-way center at the NHL level. Dallas needs to add at least one more top six forward this summer, as well. Well, technically they don't need to, but as things stand, the team has some serious holes up front.
Landing a young center like Brayden Schenn or Patrik Berglund would be great, but do the Stars have the assets to make a trade of that magnitude?
They would also do well to add another top-six winger, too. Trying to find two top six forwards in the frenzy that is the open market isn't an ideal scenario, but if the Stars make sure that they don't overpay (or overpay without hurting themselves financially, like the Sergei Gonchar deal), they should come out OK. And they also have a defenseman or two to dangle in a trade if they find that the prices for free agents are too expensive
I could see the team trying to find an older UFA on a two or three year deal, creating a "bridge" for Chiasson, Fraser, Faksa, and so on, much like the Gonchar contract gives them with Joe Morrow, Kevin Connauton, and Jamie Oleksiak.
Jarome Iginla has ties to the Dallas organization (the one that originally drafted him, and he has a friendly relationship with team owner Tom Gaglardi). At this stage of his career, Iginla likely wants to win a Cup, and the Stars would have to overbid contending teams significantly to land Iginla (just my speculation, of course).
David Clarkson would be a fantastic addition as well, but there will be a significant amount of interest in him this summer. I wrote more extensively about Clarkson, Iginla, and other top UFAs over at CanucksArmy a week ago. Nathan Horton is another, but he will likely want to go to a contending team as well.
Danny Cleary is an interesting option - he's in the Erik Cole mold - a really good third/second line winger with grit, experience, and intangibles galore. He would likely accept a two or three year deal and he wouldn't cost too much, either.
The Stars need to approach free agency with a focus on the future and an eye on the present. They need to improve the team now without hurting the team's future. Dallas won't win a Stanley Cup in 2013-14, but they have the right pieces in place to get back to that level in the next few years.
They need to complement what they have with smart signings and trades. The young forwards need to be given room to grow and develop, but they also need some teammates to learn from, and having a few more veteran forwards in the top nine creates a nice "safety net" if the young forwards just aren't ready for the grind of an 82 game season just yet.
Ideal forward lines:
Ray Whitney - Jamie Benn - Loui Eriksson
LW - C - Alex Chiasson
I put Chiasson here to spread out the scoring to line three, and also with the assumption that the two players brought in both have NHL experience
LW - Cody Eakin - Erik Cole
If Fraser is ready, great, and if not, you have an insurance policy to fill in
Eric Nystrom (or comparable UFA) - Verne Fiddler - Antoine Roussel/Ryan Garbutt
Putting on my Jim Nill cap
Let's pretend, for a second, that the Dallas Stars give me the keys to the ship. How would I go about making changes to the forward group.
First off, I'd shop the defensemen just to see what the market is like. On their current contracts, Daley and Robidas are bargains. They are also very good top-four defensemen with a wealth of experience and lots to teach the young guys. But hockey is all about filling weaknesses (talent up the middle) with strengths. If the Stars can land a top six center for one of their defensemen, they have to do it.
Pretend they can't. How much term and money would I be willing to give to a UFA center? Filppula and Weiss would be my targets. Both are strong possession players who are versatile, relatively young, and not one-dimensional in the slightest. Dallas needs a two-way center they can depend upon. Both Weiss and Filppula will be looking for $5 million per season. I would be fine with a three or four year deal at that amount for either of them. It doesn't hamstring the team from a cap perspective, and it creates a bridge for Eakin and Faksa's continued development.
And with regards to the winger - the Stars probably won't be in the market for the high end guys - Clarkson, Horton, Iginla, and so on. However, a second tier guy, like Cleary, makes a lot of sense.
There are several other depth options - Damien Brunner and Clarke MacArthur, to name two. If the Stars could get one of them signed (both are significantly younger than Cleary) to a three or four year deal with a respectable cap it, I'd go for it. There is a risk with Brunner (only one season of experience), while MacArthur is a pretty solid depth scorer.
It likely wouldn't lead to a Cup victory in the near future, but this is a pretty solid collection of forwards (and it doesn't even count on any surprises at camp or potential trades):
Also - would like to see Colton Sceviour given more of a shot at camp this fall. Been a fan of his for a few years now.
What are your ideal forward units for 2013-14 (and beyond)?