Before last night, the talk about the Stars' trade deadline plans centered mostly around what would happen to pending UFAs like Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole. That may have changed in wake of the torrential injuries the Stars absorbed last night, as just filling out twelve forward spots is going to be a challenge for the moment.
Here's a look at the holes created during last night's game:
Benn - :( - :(
Cole - Spezza - :(
Eakin - Fiddler - Garbutt
Moen - Horcoff - Sceviour
It doesn't get much more depressing than losing an entire Tetris block of players in one game. Still, help is coming in the form of Ritchie and Morin, and here is what Lindy Ruff told Mike Heika we could see pre-Ruffling (although your interpretation of Ruff's remarks may differ from mine):
Cole - Spezza - Ritchie
Benn - Fiddler - Eakin
Moen - Horcoff - Garbutt
McKenzie - Morin - Sceviour
Not as bad as it could be, certainly. Take a second to imagine this lineup without Spezza, then breathe again. Sure, there's no hiding the fact that any lineup that goes from having Tyler Seguin and Ales Hemsky to not having Tyler Seguin and Ales Hemsky is going to need a good dollop of blush and cover cream when it reappears, but the Stars have seen all of these players in the NHL this year at one point or another, so the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome should be minimal.
Okay, here's what we know at this moment:
- Tyler Seguin is out for at least three weeks, possibly longer with a knee injury. This suggests some sort of sprained ligament (rumors say MCL), but certainly nothing quite as disastrous as we had feared. Of course, how healthy Seguin will really be when he comes back remains to be seen, but you can be sure that the Stars won't bring him back at anything less than full strength if the team isn't in the thick of things come the end of February.
- Ales Hemsky is having some sort of procedure today--perhaps a cortisone shot, but that is, again, pure speculation by me--and is expected back as soon as early next week. This is certainly a relief to Dallas.
- Patrick Eaves is out indefinitely with what Ruff told Mike Heika is "a little bit on the concussion side," so perhaps he could return with Seguin, but who really knows when it comes to concussions.
For a team that's still in the hunt like Dallas is (to one extent or another), losing half of their top six is a cruel blow, and one wonders if Jim Nill might look for another short-term solution a la the Jhonas Enroth trade to buoy the Stars within reach of a wildcard seed.
Patrick Eaves is a UFA after this season, remember, and even though his production since returning from a broken ankle had led to talk of another contract, that was almost assuredly not going to happen until season's end. Depending on the effects of this latest concussion, such talk is now on hold as we anxiously wait to hear about how Eaves the human being recovers.
One would think that Nill isn't going to sell top prospects or first/second-round draft picks for a rental player given the Stars' relatively grim position right now, of course. And considering the callups of Morin and Ritchie (as well as the presence of Curtis McKenzie), the odds of the Stars' outbidding all the playoff teams for a moderate boost from pending-UFA centers like Mike Santorelli or Antoine Vermette seem low to nonexistent. The Enroth trade cost the Stars very little (only a conditional third next year), in large part because most of the playoff teams are already set in goal and thus were not bidding against the Stars for his services. That will not be the case with forwards, however. Even Daniel Winnik would likely command more than he is worth at this point, and why would you want to give up longer-term assets just to have two months of a Cody Eakin-caliber player?
After all, you're probably talking about a second-line center here. Jason Spezza can (and has) played center on the top line, where he surely will see much more time over the next three to six weeks. This is what I would call a tertiary benefit of acquiring Spezza if ever there were one. Panicking is the last thing a burgeoning team like the Stars needs to do right now.
More likely moves--and we use "likely" in a very broad sense here--would look something like a Phil Kessel trade. That is, acquiring a player who can help now, but who will also be able to bolster the Stars beyond this year, which will be important since any such acquisition would require the Stars to give up young, cost-controlled talent that would otherwise be helping the team for years to come. Kessel, of course, is signed for another seven years with an $8 million cap hit, and the Leafs can and should demand a king's ransom for him. Most speculation has the Leafs waiting until summer (when teams have more ability to finagle their salary caps) to trade the elite right winger, but the Stars would surely be willing to make a move now if the price were right, and you can rest assured that Jim Nill was already looking very hard at acquiring Kessel well before last night's grisly circumstances.
The thing about acquiring Kessel--or any other right-winger, for that matter--is that the Stars already have Hemsky and one Valeri Nichushkin on that side of the top six for the next couple of years; so while it's theoretically possible that Nichushkin (or an acquired right winger) could shift over to the other side, the fact is that you'd probably have to ship out Nichushkin (along with goodness knows what else) just to make room for the incoming player. If that player is someone like Kessel, then you can, I think, afford to send out Val (even typing that makes me sad); if it's someone like Jordan Eberle, it's tough to say that such a move results in a meaningful-enough upgrade over hanging onto the younger Nichushkin (and other possible pieces who you may send with him) in the first place. Yes, the Stars would love to have Eberle--who wouldn't?--but unless they make room for him with what would probably be an even bigger trade, it's hard to see such a trade going down.
In fact, for a team that actually has some pretty good right-wing depth for what seems like the next few years, it's hard to see Hemsky and Eaves's injuries really prompting anything different from whatever "who saw THAT coming" move Nill already has lined up. Ritchie and company will have their chance to continue playing opposite Benn for at least the next two weeks until either Nichushkin or Eaves is ready to slot back in, and while there are right wings out there, prices are usually higher in February, and the Stars have shown some confidence in Ritchie so far. My bet is on the Stars using their organizational depth to Spackle over the hole on the right wing for the time being.
As far as center, you have similar issues, although Seguin's 3-6 week timeline does muddy the waters a bit. Again, I have a tough time seeing the Stars acquiring a top-six center given their long-term depth at that position. It's not hard to envision a corresponding trade that sends out Cody Eakin and others for some long-term help on defense, but how much are the Stars willing to pay to pick up a center that will be relegated to third-line duty after Seguin's return? Fiddler is here for another year, and Morin would have to be waived upon being sent down this year, which is a risky move for the organization that already lost Connauton to waivers.
Besides, what centers are out there that could both fill in for Seguin over the next month and stick around to make up for the assets surrendered in their acquiring? Well, Eric Staal is one name that has been brought up a lot this year, but the reason for that is that he hasn't been all that great in a while. Besides, he is overpaid and wouldn't waive his no-trade clause anyway, so I would advise the Stars to steer clear on that front (should the Stars ask me for advice, which they definitely might, technically).
Nazem Kadri? Yes, yes please, right the yes now yes please, but one suspects that even the episode of Flip This House: Toronto going on up in Leafsland won't feature a young pillar like Kadri heading out. The problem with trading young, talented centers is that the minute you trade them, you're looking for them. Even the Leafs can't be dumb enough to send out Kadri in a deal the other team should be happy with...can they? Besides, the Oilers need solid centers more than almost anyone, and you can be sure that Craig MacTavish is read to out-gonzo any other GM should an asset like Kadri really become available.
Coming into the season, the Stars had possibly the top 1-2 center punch in the division. It's hard to see a bubble playoff team giving away assets just to increase the margin of improvement on the second line center over what Cody Eakin or Vern Fiddler will be able to provide for the next few weeks. This is one reason why you have organization depth: to avoid overpaying for stopgaps when fortune turns on you.
Going the other direction now, this spate of injuries might make you wonder if the Stars will still be willing to part with pending UFAs like Cole and Horcoff come March 2nd. Jim Nill formerly said the Stars would do so should ther still be a "borderline" team come deadline time, but if Seguin and Eaves are still out for another 2-4 weeks when February ends, could the Stars really afford to lose any more forwards?
Well, yes. Unless the Stars band together and put together one heck of a run sans-Seguin, Jim Nill will find warm bodies to fill for either one or both of Cole/Horcoff, because Jim Nill is well-aware of how valuable draft picks are (especially this year). Even if the Stars are a couple points higher, just barely on the wrong side of the playoff line, don't be surprised to see, say, Erik Cole traded to a top-seeded team in exchange for a solid pick or a comparable young player. If a deal is out there, Nill likely won't be afraid to ask a younger player to fill in on the wing for the Stars' last-ditch efforts to make the cut.
Seguin's void cannot be completely filled, as if you needed me to tell you that, but with teams like the Wild putting together crazy streaks on the back of this guy, the Stars would be wise to take a deep breath in the fresh mountain air and reflect on the fact that solid goaltending and defense can cover a multitude of sins--even those as heinous as Dmitry Kulikov's.