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Jim Nill's Moves with the Dallas Stars, Part Four: Up to Speed

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We bring things up to the present by exploring the 2015 calendar year under Jim Nill.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Note: This is part 4 in a series looking at Jim Nill's moves prior to the 2016 trade deadline.  Part 1 may be found here.  Part 2 may be found over here. Part 3? I dunno, try clicking here or something.

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Two notes before we continue today.

First, I'd like to apologize for dragging this out.  I thought it would be two sections at first, and it's turned into more than that.  I've done that primarily to avoid spewing what would have been a 10,000-word short novel at you all at once, but I'm sure it's a bit tedious to inch through the past couple of years like this.  I beg your forbearance.

Second, I'm going to request your indulgence one last time.  Instead of rounding everything up at the bottom of this latest installment, I'm going to do a sort of "conclusions" post in the near future.  Feel free to start drawing your own conclusions before then, of course.

2015

February 11 - Jhonas Enroth acquired for Anders Lindback + 2016 3rd-rounder

If you want to lose your job, then making mistakes that cost your company assets is a good way to do it.  That's not to say that Mike Valley was the only one responsible for the Great Backup Goalie Incident of 2014-15; but when you put together a scoring juggernaut that steadily improves its defense as the season goes along, you would appreciate it if the coach exclusively assigned to the Michelin Men could find a way to stave off their continuous biological transformation into very-permeable membranes.

The Sabres wanted to get rid of their effective Ewok, he with the brazen desire to steal games in the midst of a season-long clearance sale by the organization.  The Stars wanted to make one last effort to fix their fraught crease before dropping out of the race completely.  This was, by my estimation, the least expensive deal Nill could make to do so.  Yes, a third round pick is not nothing, but for a team that had not-great odds to grab the 8 spot for the second year in a row, hedging their bets made sense.  The pick was conditional, but since Enroth didn't win his second game with Dallas until his 10th(!) appearance, the Stars never sniffed the playoffs, €”and the pick never became anything more than a third-rounder.

This was also the second time Nill had traded for a pending-UFA goaltender at the deadline.  I tend to think that Nill was betting on Enroth's being willing to re-sign if his time in Dallas went well--as we know, the Stars have no problem paying for two number-one goalies€--but that Nill was equally okay with exploring other options should Enroth not be a good fit and/or not be amenable to coming back.  Fortunately or unfortunately, neither one happened, and both parties moved on.

March 1 - Erik Cole + 3rd-round pick traded for Mattiases Janmark & Backman + 2nd-round pick

Here was Jim Nill going full fire sale.  With the Stars last in the Central and nine points back of a playoff spot, Jim Nill went to market, and he found himself nothing short of a fine haul.  At the time, not a lot was known about Mattiases J and B.  The defenseman was the more intriguing of the prospects at first glance, but that was borne out of Dallas's apparent needs more than a first-hand knowledge of the players themselves.

This is what trade deadline prices look like.  Jim Nill traded a few weeks of Erik Cole (who sadly would suffer a neck injury and be done for good before the playoffs arrived) for two players a decade younger, one of whom is not that far off Cole's scoring pace from last year.  The Stars got a better pick as well, because why not get a better pick?

If we're drawing conclusions, one might be "Jim Nill knows his prospects."  Few of us would have dared to hope that Janmark would have any substantial impact this year, let alone make the team out of camp and become Ales Hemsky's new best friend on the ice.  But Jim Nill pillaged the system he helped to build in Detroit, and the Stars are immensely better off for it.

Perhaps the only downside of this trade is that the Red Wings may have joined Boston as another team on the "JIM NILL DO NOT CALL" national registry.  Surely Detroit knew what they were risking, but even if Cole had stayed healthy, it's hard to say that anything short of a Cup Final appearance would have made this move all that palatable going forward.

March 10 - Devin Shore signed to 3-year, $2.61 million deal

The notable part of this deal is that it was a tick below the Dickinson/Lindell/Desrosiers ELCs, and yet Shore was the first to make his NHL debut.   Devin Shore is still one of the Stars' best prospects, but losing a season to a tough injury at his age is a setback, to say the least.  Here's hoping Shore roars back next year with some of the best-in-class scoring he showed in the AHL this year.

April 19 - John Klingberg extended for 7-years, $4.25 million AAV

Here are some defensemen making more than John Klingberg will for the next half-dozen years: Jack Johnson. Nikita Nikitin. Tyler MyersBrooks OrpikToby EnstromMike Green.

I really don't need to tell you how good this extension already is.  John Klingberg can drive possession like crazy, he's got incredible vision, he scores buckets of points, and he's about the most likable oddball you could ever hope to draft.

Jim Nill didn't mess around with Klingberg.  The Stars had been high on him for a while before his debut, and after 65 games of elite defense, they knew what they had.  Longer, early-career defenseman deals are always going to draw Tyler Myers comparisons, but Klingberg was clearly the sort of top-shelf defenseman the Stars had needed for far too long.  They got a great player at a good price for a goodly number of years.  That is what a great deal looks like.

Draft - Denis Guryanov, Hintz, Martenet, Cecconi, and Markus Ruusu

Kyle Connor and Mathew Barzal were the two big names on the board when Jim Nill surprisingly selected Denis Guryanov.  For the second summer in a row, Jim Nill stunned most of the crowd by taking a European prospect ahead of his generally accepted slot.  The other picks will need time to really evaluate, but we can certainly glean a few things from the Guryanov pick.

First, that Nill values his own scouting department (and his own knowledge) much more highly than he does the general draft board rankings.  Connor and Barzal were and are both great picks, and they are putting up impressive numbers for the Wolverines and the Thunderbirds, respectively.   But Jim Nill apparently saw greater potential in Guryanov, whose skating and shot were both very far along.  Guryanov also had greater size, and that's what Nill went with.

Guryanov is also thought to have a higher ceiling than Connor or Barzal (as much as these things can really be measured in 18-year-olds).  The obvious rebuttal there is that, depending on how rocky his development in Russia continues to be, he may have a much lower floor as well.

Jim Nill certainly knew all these things before picking the big Russian winger, but, as with the Honka selection, the Guryanov pick will either show Jim Nill to be a genius, or one whose greatest weakness is his confidence in the Stars' confidential rankings.

June 27-29 - Niemi acquired for 7th-round pick, extended for 3-year, $13.5 million

As with Sergei Gonchar two years prior, Jim Nill willingly spent his final pick to get negotiating rights to a pending UFA.  It's fascinating, really.  Nill certainly has to have some kind of indication that the player acquired is willing to sign before hitting UFA, but it's still a gamble (as the New York Islanders learned upon losing a 5th-round pick for the rights to Dan Boyle back in 2014).

For all that, Niemi didn't sign for all that much less than one would have expected to see should he have reached free agency to begin with.  That's a bit of guesswork, of course, but there weren't too many folks looking at the Niemi "extension" and congratulating Dallas for signing a 30+ year-old netminder for an inflation-adjusted Ales Hemsky deal.

Jim Nill, though, wanted some certainty, and that's what he got with Niemi.  By trading for the Finn's rights beforehand, some certainty in negotiations was acquired, and the goalie's track record (and play thus far) has provided the repeatability that the Stars so desperately wanted in net last year.

July 1 - Patrick Eaves re-signed for $1.15 million

A la Fiddler the summer before, Eaves came back to the club after at least making an effort to fill out his dance card elsewhere.  While Jim Nill probably didn't expect Eaves to repeat his success from the year prior, he once again opted for a measure of cost-certainty.  Eaves was a player proven to fit in Dallas where needed, and Nill didn't bat an eyelash at giving him a modest raise.

July 9 - Jamie Oleksiak signed for 1-year, $875K

Disclaimer: This was one of the reasons I (erroneously) thought Oleksiak might be traded this season.  The first-round pick was giving something of a show-me deal, whereas Nemeth and Jokipakka had previously gotten 2-year, $1.8 million deals.  Obviously his stock has gone up as of late, and (equally obviously) Oleksiak is a different player than his fellow scratches this season.  Still, the crammed pool and Oleksiak's value seemed ripe for consummation in a trade, at the time.

This past summer saw a lot of speculation about the defense, and the only real factors to inform that have been Johnny Oduya's signing and Esa Lindell's debut.  Mike Heika has recently started mentioning that he suspects the Stars would like to keep Oleksiak, and it's not hard to see why, given Oleksiak's improvement (incremental as it is) and Nemeth's struggles.  Jim Nill gave Oleksiak a chance to show himself an asset worth betting on, and Oleksiak has largely (get it?) done that.

Of course, you can easily take the Trade Value route and say that the Stars would like to get a top-pairing defender more than anything and that trading their lower-ceiling defenseman won't do much to effect such a transaction.  In that case, Oleksiak might perversely be more likely to be moved as a result of his play's uptick this year.  Everything is vanity.

July 10 - Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt + $900K retained salary traded for 2 years of Patrick Sharp and prospect Stephen Johns

The only trade I will ever break (as much as being the first to Tweet about a public event by mere minutes is "breaking" anything) happened on a summer Friday night via Periscope. A crew of shorts-clad broadcasters in Josh Bogorad, Daryl Reaugh and Dave Strader were at the Stars' Party in the Park when Bogorad interjected a trade announcement into the standard interview patter with Strader.  Razor was a bit incredulous as Bogorad began making the announcement, and that (but primarily the shorts) lent an air of paraesthesia to the whole thing.  There were some screams when Sharp's name was announced, and there were also some jubilant noises when Daley and Garbutt were named as the cost of the transaction.  It was weird.

Sharp's name had been bandied about for a year whenever folks looked at what cap relief options Chicago had, but all speculation about Dallas usually involved a sobering cost.  Instead, the Stars managed to trade Daley and Garbutt for the best linemate Seguin and Benn have had in Dallas (Spezza's cameos not withstanding).

I'll not bore you with too much rapturous rehashing of how good this deal has turned out to be, but just consider this: Chicago now has Rob Scuderi and Jiri Sekac, and the Stars have Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.  Garbutt has fulfilled his inevitable destiny by becoming a teammate of Corey Perry, and Trevor Daley is plying his trade back in the East, whence Gonchar found a home not so very long ago.

Would you like to grade this trade?  I would like to grade this trade.  This is an A+ trade.  One hundred billion points for Gryffindor.

July 15 - Johnny Oduya, 2-year, $7.5 million

The other "will he or will he, but just later" Blackhawk acquisition (blackhawquisition?) happened not too long after the first, and it was likewise better than expected.   Not to overdo the first-person thing, but I wasn't super high on Oduya as a UFA.  An aging defenseman who didn't score or drive much possession away from Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn't my idea of a great buy at the time, especially with the aforementioned glut of blueliners pushing up from the back of the pairings.

Jim Nill, however, thought otherwise, and he managed to pull off the improbable: a short-term, low-cost deal for a UFA top-four defender coming off his latest Cup victory.  Oduya signed for 25% less than Gonchar had two years prior, and Jim Nill's patience (how often we've typed that sentence) was a big reason for it.  The Stars wanted to steady their blue line, and Nill was willing to jam up the works on the third pairing in order to do it.  Given the Stars' record start to the season, it's been tough to argue with the decision.  (Not impossible, but very tough.)  Oduya's fitness regimen has become legendary, and the relative health of the Stars' top four has been one of the biggest reasons we've seen so few shakeups in it.

The best way to judge UFA signings is, as with everything, to do so in hindsight.  We're barely a quarter of the way through Oduya's deal, but the Stars want to build a perennial contender, and having a solid and consistent defense is one of the most vital factors in doing so.  Oduya hasn't been a small part of that.

August 18 - Cody Eakin extended for 4-years, $15.4 million ($3.85 million AAV)

When Eakin's deal was first announced, the biggest discussion point was the timing.  Here was a player with another low-cost year in front of him, but Jim Nill chose to double the term of Oduya's deal in order to lock up Eakin for the rest of the decade.  It avoided further arbitration, but it also meant the Stars were betting on improvement from Eakin.  So far this year, it has not looked like a good bet.

Regardless of how this will all turn out, we're trying to get in Nill's head at the time of the signing.  On the one hand, you had a player who had just been through a mildly prolonged RFA negotiation the year before.  The Stars weren't sure what other centers they had behind Eakin, and even with Janmark and Faksa looking like good potential players in the bottom six, neither had shown anything at the NHL to that point.  Eakin was familiar, and he had shown flashes of being a good checker (as Sidney Crosby could tell you).  The Stars appear to have bet upon Eakin's either locking down the third line center spot or becoming occasionally entrenched between Benn and Seguin.  (And remember, Eakin started game one this year against Pittsburgh on that top line.  I don't think that was a total shock to the organization.)

It's no secret that this deal doesn't look great right now, but the question is what led to it.  Eakin has been almost nothing but a center in the Stars' eyes this year, even bumping Spezza and Seguin aside when he's found himself on their lines.  Handedness has been part of that, I suspect, but you also have to wonder if the Stars weren't a bit overcommitted to the Ninja as a pivot.  Once year removed from being near-constant linemates, Eakin got almost twice Roussel's salary for the same term.   Cost-certainty is good, and personnel-certainty adds clarity.  The question with Eakin is whether there is any more clarity to be had with his quality than what we've seen this year.