There were hundreds of factors, both tangible and intangible, that caused the Stars to miss the cut. General manager Jim Nill had his work cut out for him this offseason, let's see how he did in the terms of the problems that plagued them last yer:
The team did not get good goaltending
This one has been hashed and re-hashed and re-hashed again. No backup and a tired/ineffective/possibly banged up Kari Lehtonen led to far below league average goaltending. So Nill went out and got a goalie inAntti Niemi. The merits of Niemi in particular can be debated (and have been), but he is a consistent veteran goalie.
Niemi was a nice piece, but perhaps not the splash fans were hoping to see. There may have been better long-term solutions available (Robin Lehner, Cam Talbot, etc), even if those were less controllable up front. But if there is one thing we know about Jim Nill is that he is an opportunist. All signs pointed to a sellers goalie market, raising their asking price in trades at the draft. Nill did not make a splash in the paint, but it is hard to ignore the thinking behind Niemi.
I would give the team's addition in net a solid B. It wasn't spectacular given the fact that the projected sellers' market did not raise prices as high as expected, but it should prove to be far from a failure.
The team struggled with Top 6 forward depth
Welcome to the club, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a true "Top 6" intact. Dealing with some key injuries last season (Erik Cole, Tyler Seguin, Valeri Nichushkin, Patrick Eaves) put a real strain on the top end of the lineup. The power play did not live up to its "Supernova" billing for much of the year, and the second power play unit seemed particularly ineffective at times.
Looking for a solution to a potential high-end depth problem, Nill traded for Patrick Sharp (more on the other parts of the trade in a later section). Sharp gives the Stars some experience and skill, but more importantly the Stars have another member of the true Top 6 forward group. Benn, Seguin, Sharp, Nichushkin, Spezza, Hemsky and Ritchie is a great place to start the forward lines. Sharp will also figure in to the power play, leading a potentially deadly second unit with Alex Goligoski and Valeri Nichushkin.
The acquisition of Sharp is an B+ in a vacuum. He is still a good hockey player and will give the Stars some more scoring depth. His steep-ish cap hit and age prevent him from being an "A" acquisition, but there was no failure here, especially given the reasonable price of acquisition.
Dallas needed to restock the cupboard
The Texas Stars won the Calder Cup in 2014 and got swept by Rockford in 2015. There are several reasons for this, but the most important is this: the AHL worked the way it should. The Texas Stars sent their talented-almost-ready kids to Dallas and depleted their top end talent, particularly on defense. While this is the way the AHL is supposed to work, it left the cupboard at some positions feeling bare.
Nill drafted based on his own scouting and took high ceiling KHLer-to-be Denis Gurianov. Along with some other puck movers and a healthy mix of defensemen and forwards, this was a solid draft class but nothing to write your mother about.
The restocking of the cupboard came in the trade market. Stephen Johns, Mattias Backman, and Mattias Janmark were acquired in the Sharp deal and the Erik Cole trade with Detroit respectively. The acquisition of Johns and Backman provide Texas with 2 "almost ready" defensemen to go with the impressive Julius Honka and Esa Lindell. The cupboard seems to be overflowing with young guys pressing for a spot on the big club once again.
The Stars get an A for their prospect work. A Texas blue line that looked to be a one-man show in Honka will now have a legitimate top 4 in Honka, Johns, Backman, and Lindell. All of that assumes none of them make the Dallas roster out of training camp (to be determined).
Dallas needed defensive help
Ah. Here we are. The biggest question of the offseason: How would Dallas retool a blue line that gave up a million goals?
Setting aside the acquisition of Johns, who may play in Dallas out of training camp, the defense was left relatively intact. Jim Nill moved Trevor Daley in the trade for Sharp and Johns, and signed Johnny Oduya.
Oduya is a fine player and should help the Stars next season on a relatively cheap two-year contract. Losing Daley was sad for a lot of fans, but he was miscast in Dallas, and the flip of him for Oduya likely nets Dallas at least a small gain, if not more.
Dabbling in the unicorn defenseman market is some deep water. Big names don't often make it to free agency, and if they do the price is cataclysmic. The Stars' ever-opportunistic GM did not see a way to acquire a top pairing guy, whether through trade or free agency. I am sure he turned over every stone, but Nill overpays for no one. This may frustrate some fans, but the long term plan is still in tact.
With so many young guys knocking on the door, it is forgivable if Nill wasn't jumping at the chance to empty the pipeline for a single player, especially given the issues at goalie last year. But with a guy like Cody Franson still available on July 27, it makes you wonder if the stand-pat posturing during press conferences was true. Maybe Nill wants these kids to grow up and finds them capable of filling in effectively right away.
The work on the blue line gets a C+. I like Oduya, and I think Daley moving on was for the better, but these two moves did not likely move the needle for Dallas defensively. For a team entering their window, this was not a win-now offseason on the blue line. Three years from now we may look back and say, "thank goodness we didn't trade Oleksiak/Nemeth/Jokipakka", but who knows?
This grade gets an asterisk, as it seems likely there is one more move before the season starts, if only to get down to a more manageable roster size. But as the blue line currently looks, the Stars did not get the makeover fans were hoping to see.
The offseason grade for the Stars is a B+. While some fans were underwhelmed by Oduya in the context of the other pieces available, I think this was a prudent acquisition. Together with the acquisition of Sharp, Niemi, and prospects, this offseason was solid. Can't give it an "A" yet, but it's close.
How would you grade the Stars offseason so far?