When Jim Nill first took the helm in Dallas, one of his first moves was to re-stock a thin center position for the Stars. With Mike Ribeiro gone and Cody Eakin newly acquired, the Stars effectively had Jamie Benn, Vernon Fiddler and Toby Petersen holding down the middle of the ice on the other three lines. That wasn't acceptable, and Nill acted swiftly to bring in names like Horcoff, Peverley and some upstart named Tyler Seguin to fill the vacuum. It almost seemed like too many centers, but Nill pretty clearly doesn't believe in such a concept, much like the Red Wings he used to work for.
(Incidentally, I've always wondered what Joe Nieuwendyk's plan was for that offseason. Surely Eakin would have filled the bottom six out, but I can't believe that Nieuwendyk wouldn't also have tried to make a move or two. Would he have outbid Philly for Lecavalier? Suddenly I am less interested in pondering this question.)
Nowadays, center is a position of strength for Dallas, thanks in no small part to Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa. However the offseason shakes out, it's hard not to see those two names holding down the third and fourth lines next season, and that's something to be excited about. That is not what we're discussing today, though, because this team's complexion may well change before that. We are approaching the NHL Trade Deadline, and that means TRADE SPECULATION.
Today's subject is one Eric Staal, captain of the Carolina Hurricanes. Staal is a center, and the Stars have plenty of those, now. Still, Jim Nill hasn't been shy about overstocking on centers in the past, so if the Stars were able to supplement their forward corps with the face of the
Whalers Hurricanes' franchise, Dallas would certainly find a spot for him. If Spezza can be moved to Seguin's wing ad hoc, then I don't see a reason Staal can't also be made to fit wherever the Stars have need. The tricky part, as with basically every hypothetical ever proposed, is the details. Let's dig in.
Why Dallas Should Trade for Eric Staal
If a line full to bursting with centermen is good enough for Team Canada, then it's good enough for me. Hockey isn't as simple as just adding talented players repeatedly until you're icing the late-nineties Red Wings, but for a team that already has scoring on lock, it's hard to see how Staal's addition wouldn't make Dallas' top-nine more threatening than any other team's in the league.
Staal has also played in all 60 of his team's games this season, so the odds are good that Dallas will be getting ice time for their traded assets. (Or at least the odds were good until I typed that sentence. Sorry.) Having Staal on the ice has been a very good thing for Carolina this season--we're talking about a 13% increase in CF% when he's out there--even if he hasn't been the one doing the bulk of the scoring. This is still a very good player, even if he is no longer an elite one.
Besides that, getting Staal would mean that Dallas could employ the Superline (Basket Line) with another fabulous 2C ready to go. Can you imagine facing Seguin, Benn and Spezza for a playoff series while knowing that Eric Staal and Patrick Sharp are right behind them?
No, not those flags. We're talking about the fact that Eric Staal has been scoring at less than an Ales Hemsky rate this season. Normally, a 30-year-old rental forward with a huge cap hit whose scoring touch appears to be waning would be the farthest thing from a trade target. Staal isn't putting up first-line center scoring numbers, and that gives one pause.
Yes, he still drives play very (very) well, but he isn't deployed in the defensive zone too terribly often either. All in all, this doesn't look like a player poised to add tons of key goals down the stretch (or form a hyper-checking line for shutdown purposes, if that's what you're into). Staal also has but a single goal in 2016, so it's not like he's just starting to heat up or anything.
Cap Space and Other Obstacles
Good news: the Stars have the cap space for Staal, per General Fanager. Yes, that puts them pretty close to the ceiling, but if a game-changer on defense isn't available, it's hard to see a better move Dallas could make. Renting a pending UFA like Staal also leaves them plenty of room to take advantage of cap-strapped teams over the summer, and that increasingly seems to be the likely time for the Stars to acquire a top defender.
The bigger obstacle here (aside from the other teams competing for Staal) is Carolina's success. The poor souls over in Raleigh are "only" four points back of the final playoff spot in the East, and as Vancouver seems determined to convince everyone, that means you still have a chance. Carolina's chances are something like 35% at this point, and I'm not inclined to trust their goaltending not to turn back into the pumpkin it was for much of the season. If Ron Francis is ready to suspend his team's 2016 campaign, then Staal should be moved. If he chooses instead to peddle one last gasp of hope for the Caniac faithful, Staal goes nowhere.
Staal also has a no-trade clause, but recent quotes suggest that Staal has made peace with whatever happens to him at this point. Besides, is he really going to job his brother out of a better trade return for Carolina just because Eric prefers Chicago to Dallas? That'd be a pretty rough way to leave the town he's played in for over a decade.
Anyhow, odds are that the no-trade clause will be a much smaller obstacle to prospective buyers than the final point. Which is...
What It Would Cost
Yeah, you might not want to read this part. In theory, a Jason Spezza-type package should be more than enough to get the job done, but sellers tend to ask for pick-heavy returns at the deadline, and if ever there were a veteran name that should command a first-rounder and some decent accoutrements, Staal is it.
One would think Jim Nill's play here would be similar to what he's done in the past: wait for the team to get desperate in order to lower their asking price. Nill wasn't willing to outbid Nashville for Spezza, and it paid off once Spezza nixed the Predators for him. Chicago surely would have preferred to deal Sharp out of the division, but there just weren't enough takers with decent offers, and thus Dallas was able to swoop in and grab him for what now looks like an absolute clearance-sale bargain. But with a hard stop fast approaching, it's a risky play to wait too long before making your best offer.
So, barring some Nill wizardry, you're talking about losing at least a good-to-great prospect, a first-round pick, another decent pick, and/or an NHL roster player. Buyers buy for one reason, and that reason is not to shore up a second line in preparation for a first-round matchup. Teams go after pricey rentals at the deadline in hopes of winning a Cup. Anything less is usually a foolish investment, and it's tough to say that Staal is that "missing piece" for Dallas this year that could justify such a cost.
That said...look at these lines and tell me "no way." Go on, try. I dare you.