The 2015 NHL Draft is officially in the books. With the 12th overall pick, Dallas went Russian again, and reeled in winger Denis Gurianov. The 6-foot-3 forward represents a bit of a counter-consensus pick, but an understandable one. If he develops, he'll be the sort of big-bodied offensive asset teams covet. He could help the Dallas Stars in a big way, just not next year. It seems unlikely the latest Star rookie will break camp with the big team, which means management must turn to free agency in order to address the team's remaining needs.
So far, most of this offseason has been spent in speculation over a pair of acute needs: goaltending and defense. Why wouldn't it? Last year's squad posted an absurd statistical skew (second in goals-for-per-game / 27th in goals-against-per-game), as well as a slew of whipping-boy candidates both across the backline and in the crease. That speculation took about 24 hours to become reality, with the Stars' acquisition of San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi. You fix the defense, or so say those in the know, and the Stars become not just a playoff team, but a dangerous one at that.
And yet, things are seldom that straightforward. It is impossible to ignore the dynamic nature of the Dallas offense. Jamie Benn won the Art Ross trophy, Tyler Seguin contended for the Rocket Richard up until a late season injury, and John Klingberg jumped into the lineup looking like a Sergei Zubov starter kit. Deeper cuts included a respectable season by Jason Spezza and career highs from Cody Eakin and Trevor Daley. This is a settled unit, unless it's not.
Yes, Spezza came in and produced, but rather that doing so on a suddenly-dangerous second line, he was repeatedly forced in between Benn and Seguin. Daley's 16 goals came at the cost of maddening defensive zone gaffes, and nobody quite knows which line (or which position) best suits the frenetic Eakin. Two names I did not mention are Valeri Nichushkin, who lost essentially the entire season through injury, and Ales Hemsky, who lost the first half of the season to not being very good. The Stars of 2015/16 won't be able to count on Erik Cole's maddening brand of inconsistency either.
Benn / Seguin / Eaves
Nichushkin / Spezza / Hemsky
Is that the top six? Really, think about the top half of Dallas' offensive lineup for a moment. Do you sub in Eakin? Do you hope Brett Ritchie makes a leap? Maybe Antoine Roussel? Does anyone still view Colton Sceviour as an option? Maybe it's enough to hope Seguin and Benn continue to chase major league awards while the rest of the unit chips in sporadically. The defense, after all, will likely contribute as well.
Before panic sets in, realize I'm not saying the unit is suddenly a liability. The Three Amigos ensure a minimum level of competence that inspires envy across the NHL. Still, it would be unwise for the Stars to allow their brilliance to blind them to possible improvements. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to build in a little insurance against Big Val needing a little more time to develop, or against Hemsky continuing to generally be Ales Hemsky. There's a good reason (491 across parts of 12 seasons to be specific) that nobody views Patrick Eaves as a serious offensive weapon, even if the Stars do bring him back as a UFA.
From a cap perspective the Stars are sitting pretty. Shawn Horcoff, Cole, and Rich Peverley are all off the books. Niemi is going to eat up a chunk of that space but not enough to preclude further shopping. The Stars also have tradeable assets. Our very own podcast pointed out there's likely not room for Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Jyrki Jokipakka on the same defense at the same time. A case could also be made for Julius Honka being too similar to Klingberg to really fit long term.
Space plus Assets is a strong combination in a cap-strapped league. General manager Jim Nill has already proven himself willing to make serious moves. Yes the Stars have other problems, but another offensive piece makes a ton of sense.