(Hello. This is Part 1 of a three-part feature where I take a look beyond this season and examine how well established the Stars are at different areas for the immediate future. I'll take a look at forwards today, and articles about the defense and the goaltending will follow in the coming weeks).
One of the toughest parts of any general manager's job is striking that right balance between winning in the short term, but also setting your team up for the long term.
When Jim Nill took over the Dallas' Stars general manager duties in the summer of 2013 he came over from a Detroit Red Wings organization that had enjoyed consistent, sustained success for two decades. Heralded for his ability to develop prospects and prepare his organization for the future, one of the things that he said interested him the most about the new position in Dallas was the deep pool of young players that the Stars organization had at its disposal.
Even though Nill hasn't had a lot of time with his new organization he's already made a series of moves to address issues for both this season and beyond. The obvious, already-talked-about-to-death move was the trade for Tyler Seguin, but he also made two other big ones this summer by trading for Jason Spezza and then signing free agent Ales Hemsky.
While there have undoubtedly been some hiccups so far this year with his two most recent acquisitions, the moves to add Spezza (and them sign him shortly afterwards to a four-year contract extension) and Hemsky have the potential to really pay off for the team over the next couple of seasons.
Looking beyond this season, here's what the Stars' forward group currently projects to look like (salaries included) over the next three seasons (all numbers courtesy of NHLNumbers.com):
Impending free agents: Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole, Rich Peverley, Patrick Eaves, Travis Morin.
Overall, the Stars are in a very good position at forward for the future.
Twelve forwards are already under contract, and at this point it's practically a guarantee that restricted free agent Curtis McKenzie gets signed to a new deal.
The only player currently on the team that has been taking a regular shift in the Top 6 but possibly won't be around next year is Erik Cole, but his absence should be comfortably replaced by younger players like Sceviour, Ritchie and possibly even McKenzie.
Based on how the forwards are being used right now, here's how the lines could potentially look next season:
Almost all of the Stars' top offensive forwards will be returning, as well the Pitbull line of Roussel, Eakin and Garbutt. Overall, it's a group that is steadily building familiarity and chemistry with each other, a trend that should continue going forward.
In terms of concerns, there are two that immediately stick out.
The first is depth. Thirteen forwards is a little thin to go on, and at this point it's quite unlikely that the top forward prospects that are currently playing for the AHL's Texas Stars (Justin Dowling, Brendan Ranford, Scott Glennie and Radek Faksa) will be ready for regular NHL appearances as soon as next year.
That being said, I wouldn't be surprised to see Nill sign one last forward this summer. He could go with someone that he already knows (impending free agents Cole, Horcoff, and Eaves have all looked good this season and could comfortably come back next year), or he could test the wider free agent market to see if anyone else might be a good fit. If Nill does sign a free agent forward, however, it will probably be someone for a depth role moreso than a key piece.
The second possible issue is the contract of captain Jamie Benn, which expires after the 2016/2017 season. Now, there's still plenty of time to get Benn locked up to a new deal, and there's zero doubt whatsoever that Nill will try, but it could be an interesting process to watch as Benn will certainly be in line for a nice, big raise over what he's currently making. Hopefully both sides start the initial stages of a contract extension sooner rather than later.
Going beyond 2015/2016, the Stars are also in good shape for 2016/2017, with six players signed and another four RFAs that will probably be signed before then. Having only 10 forwards penciled in this far in advance is fine, as there will be plenty of time to add others via free agency, trade, or graduated prospects.
In conclusion, Stars fans should be optimistic about the future of their forward group as it currently stands. There's a chance that Nill could elect to change things up this summer, but if he decides to stay the course then the team should still be in good shape going forward.