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Why Were Dallas Stars Quiet At Trade Deadline After Erik Cole Deal?

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The Stars didn't make any moves Monday, holding on to veteran Shawn Horcoff despite his pending UFA status.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The most exciting move the Dallas Stars made on the 2015 NHL trade deadline day was the paper transaction of Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie to the AHL to make them eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs.

That wasn't what some had expected, and others hoped, after the team made a bit of a splash on Sunday afternoon by flipping winger Erik Cole and a pick to the Detroit Red Wings for a pick and two prospects. The Stars are all but out of the playoff picture, after all, and it seemed the ideal time to potentially move some short-term pieces for longer-term assets.

But when Stars general manager Jim Nill worked the phones to see what possible deals were out there, the landscape he saw didn't suit his  team.

"Today was a pretty quiet day," Nill said to the media in Frisco. "We didn't have too much really going on. There was a lot more kind of talk today of hockey trades instead of just rentals and stuff. You saw that around the league - Tampa Bay and Philly did a big deal like that. So a lot more talk that way."

The most obvious potential player to be dealt was free-agent-to-be Shawn Horcoff, who led the Stars in playoff scoring last season and has a very respectable point total for a lower line player this season.

To add fuel to the fire, Horcoff was also mentioned by several of the national writers as someone teams called to inquire about, but Nill said the team never entered serious discussions about moving him.

"There was some talk from other teams on that, but there just ended up being no traction," Nill said. "And we're happy to have Horc. He's a veteran player for us. he's good for the young guys. We still get a big push we have to do here, and we need to have those types of players."

On a personal level, Horcoff has a new baby in the family - just six weeks old right now - along with two other kids, so it's obviously easier on him and his wife that he won't be separated from his family for the next few months.

When pressed about whether the Stars had any other potential deals in the works that just never got hammered out, Nill said nothing was out there.

"It was pretty quiet from us," Nill said. "Just from talking to other teams, I kind of got a feel of what the lay of the land was, and nothing really for us hockey wise. We've got a bunch of real young kids, and we're kind of in a different mode than a lot of other teams are. A lot of the teams that did the hockey deals are teams that are definitely Stanley Cup contenders and are going for it."

That brings us to why the Stars may have done, or didn't do, what they did at this deadline. It's easy to argue they should have cleaned house since this is looking less and less like a playoff team, that they should have shopped everyone from Trevor Daley to Colton Sceviour to the highest bidder.

But as Nill alluded to, the Stars are in a bit of an interesting situation. They are a team built to contend in the next few years with the one personnel problem they couldn't afford this season - goalies that are among the league's worst. They aren't in the midst of a rebuild; they are supposed to be coming out of one.

And that reason, particularly when you consider Jamie Benn will turn 26 this summer and has two years left on his super-reasonable contract, is almost certainly why the Stars didn't go full-scale sell off. They don't need the help in two years offered by most prospects or five years as offered by the draft picks. The roster they have and the holes that need filling are designed for a relatively shorter term, not the five-year Arizona Coyotes plan.

Why, then, was Cole moved for picks and prospects and Horcoff not? I can think of two possible reasons, both of which center on the relative return value that was offered.

The first is more with regards to Cole. The Stars received a decent quantity of value for him, if not overwhelming quality in any single piece. If he is clearly a player not in your plans for the future and there was an offer that reached the tipping point of value, it makes sense. Nill is also obviously very familiar with the Red Wings prospects still working their way through the system, and there could have been something about those two that appealed to him from a shorter-term perspective. We obviously won't know the answer there until this offseason or next season.

The second is more with regards to Horcoff, who by all accounts is among the veteran leadership core who mentors the younger players. When a team is going through a tough time, it's tempting to trade off any veteran of value for whatever parts you can get. But you need some stability to the veterans who have been there or else you risk turning into the team Horcoff was eventually jettisoned from in the first place - the Edmonton Oilers, with their interminable rebuild. If the return isn't worth it, and returns for lower-end rentals were all over the map on Monday, then it doesn't make sense to move a veteran just to move him.

That's not the argue the Stars should be stagnant with this roster. It obviously has some fundamental problems. But the trade deadline is almost certainly not the time to address the set of problems facing this particular group.

The moves the Stars need to make - the acquisition of a higher-end defenseman who can help out right now, the sorting out of the 87 defensive prospects between the ages of 21 and 24, the answer to the vexing goalie situation - are more likely to come at the draft or in free agency, when everyone is looking at the bigger picture rather than worrying about what will help them in the next 6-12 weeks.

There are about six weeks left in the season for the Stars to answer what they can for next year. Can Kari Lehtonen or Jhonas Enroth get their heads on straight and start playing better? Can a young defenseman other than John Klingberg make a strong case he's ready for a full-time load next season without needing to be sheltered? Can the young offensive talent stop hitting posts and start hitting the back of the net?

The answers the Stars get to those questions will shape how they proceed this summer. Because unlike this trade deadline, they certainly won't be quiet.