After talking about goalies yesterday—or trying to, before the NHL turned into a wacky pinball game with everything lit up and 20 balls on the table—and how free agency will offer the Stars some opportunities to improve, it's time to move forward. Specifically, it's time to move to the forwards, and to discuss what might happen once (or perhaps before) the opening bells sounds on Friday.
Less preamble is necessary, today, but I should add a couple of clarifying comments. First, yes, I have Cody Eakin listed on the top line below, on account of so does Lindy Ruff, lately. I am not defending that choice (although I do think it isn't quite as big a deal as I want to think it is), but I'm simply projecting what we're likely to see.
Second, I'm assuming no returning UFAs. Eaves and Sceviour both seem like potential bargains, but the fact that they've gotten this far without re-signing suggests that either the team has moved on, or the players are ready for a situation with more guaranteed playing time.
Finally, these guesses are going to be exactly right, as always. Nothing unforeseen ever happens in the NHL, and probably I have identified the only possible ways things could shake out. Now, if you read this, you can just play N64 all day Friday instead of following Twitter! You are very welcome.
[Scratches: McKenzie and _____]
Maybe I should add more clarifications, because roster layouts always evoke plenty of discussion just by existing. I think Janmark deserves bigger minutes. I think Faksa can do and has done Eakin's "two-way center" job better than Eakin. I think Jason Dickinson can play in the NHL right now. I think signing another veteran for the bottom six (and usually a 4C) is unnecessary despite the conventional wisdom.
Okay, that's enough of that. Here are the three most likely ways I see things breaking up front.
Scenario #1: "LOOOOOOOCH"
Again, we covered this already, but we can't not talk about it with the rumors swirling that Tom Gaglardi & Co. met with the most power fowardy of power forwards on the market. Of course we all want to say, "Dallas scored plenty of goals, so the forwards are fine." I get that, and while you are all much more nuanced in your opinions than that (well, most of you), you still won't see many pundits expecting Dallas to make a splash with their top six.
That said, there are no wingers available who would make a bigger literal and figurative splash than would Milan Lucic. Sure, we just watched a quick and not over-large Penguins team skate their way to a Cup, but the Big Bad Kings are still fresh in everyone's memory. Size can do a lot of things for a team even if it can't do them all, and there's no question that the Stars don't have much of that "oomph" factor beyond Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa and the fourth line. Lucic would make them scary/scarier and better in the next couple of years. He is also going to decline before those five (or more) years are over. Don't worry about that, though. If you're a GM, you'll likely to be fired long before then.
Lucic, if signed, would seem to necessitate another move. I'd guess Dallas would go something like (and remember, I'm terrible at this) a $6 million AAV for five years, and even that is surely less than Edmonton (for example) will offer him, what with their top LW spot having become recently available and all. That still leaves Dallas something like $4 million in cap space, which is plenty of operating room if you're fine with no major additions to one of the goalies or the defense. I did not see very many hands go up, right there. It's silly to project who would head out, but Sharp's contract is easily movable (if he is amenable), while Eakin's five-year extension seems like something many other GMs would glad take on, if only one of those GMs weren't (I think) Jim Nill. Do not talk to me about Nichushkin poppycock, please.
We haven't even fully indulged this outcome, so let's get to it. Lucic would seem to slot perfectly at 2LW (and don't think he and his agent aren't aware of that fact), which means a bit less ice time than he might expect elsewhere. For Dallas, it would mean a season of perhaps the deepest forward corps in the Western Conference. If you think NHL GMs failed to notice Pittsburgh using Malkin, Kessel and Crosby on three different lines en route to Lord Stanley's punch bowl, I suspect this summer will awaken you to the fact that they did, in fact, watch the games (unlike all you nerd blog-lovers). Lucic would give Dallas more options to assemble three killer lines, no question.
If the Stars really think they need a Lucic-type player, I wonder if we're not better off hoping they get exactly that, rather than paying less (but still more than they need to) for a Troy Brouwer or David Backes. I am sorry for typing that. Hey, Eric Staal is only 31, and he shouldn't cost that much more than Backes. It is not impossible!
Scenario #2: "Trade for Taylor Hall"
The Oilers aren't going to trade one of the best players of the past five years, you idiot. what stupid hf boards trade rumor have you been rea
Scenario #2: "Split the Difference"
Kyle Okposo will probably make just a bit less (or more!) than Lucic, and he's a great bet to be worth it. Andrew Ladd is a very useful player with size, too. Loui Eriksson seems unlikely to return, but obviously we all still want him anyway, despite the terrifying confusion it would cause with the "Rooooous" and "Loooooouie" chants. Honestly, sometimes it's like you folks never even think of these things.
These are the sorts of players I expect to see signed right at the opening bell. Not the very top names, necessarily, but the ones that interested teams are going to do everything to get instead of getting into a bidding war for Lucic. They should all require good investments (read: bigger than Hemsky's deal), and they will improve whatever team signs them. That's how free agency is supposed to work. Usually, it does!
If Dallas is (somewhat) openly courting Lucic while making a quieter play for Okposo, that would be pretty great. Their RW depth isn't great, and while Brett Ritchie is a nice young asset, he also seems like the perfect sort of prospect who will be disproportionately valued by other GMs for his size, shot and youth. Okposo could play anywhere from 1RW (and how's that for a top line?) on down, although it does mean Dallas would basically be spending one hundred billion dollars on the forwards.
I don't see any significant trades for a forward happening—which means they obviously will happen—as the Stars seem more likely to use their big trade chips (read: prospects) in pursuit of Bishop or a top-pairing defender, should one become available. There are enough forwards out there to be had with pure cash that, should the Stars decide they need one, they'll be able to fill the lineup without depleting the cupboard. (Have you ever really looked at the word "cupboard" before? I mean, it is a board on which cups are sometimes placed, but it also has doors, and frankly, I think the majority of cupboards contain things other than cups these days. And don't get me started on the glove compartment, haha!)
I put this option second, but now that I look at things, I think this might be the least likely of the three paths for Dallas to take come Friday. That is because option #3 just feels like the most 2016 Dallas Starsiest of moves. What is it, you ask? Well, open your eyeballs and read.
Scenario #3: "Literally Darren Helm"
The speedy Detroit center scored 13-13-26 last year. Vernon Fiddler scored 12-10-22, and Patrick Eaves scored 11-6-17. I don't put those numbers up to summarize the players in their entirety, but simply to point out what they actually did. If you're looking to replace either of those folks, Helm is not a bad option in a lot of ways. I also think he's a somewhat likely option for Dallas to pursue, should they (again) find themselves needing such a player.
Darren Helm could probably be had for not much over $3 million for a few years, and the 29-year-old could easily play 15 minutes a night, if needed. He would be more expensive than Patrick Eaves, but you would also be likely to get many more games' worth of play out of him as well. Helm could take Fiddler's spot on the penalty kill, scale up the lineup when needed, and use his speed to fit in perfectly with the Stars as currently constructed.
Now, Helm does seem like the sort of player the 2011-12 Dallas Stars were more likely to sign than this squad. His price will be a bit higher than his production by virtue of his being a free agent, and his acquisition does, of course, mean fewer minutes for the younger players. I'm not saying that I think the team is better in the long run with Dickinson scratched in favor of Helm; I just think NHL teams tend to value known commodities more than potential commodities, when they don't have to take the risk of leaning on the kids before they've proven themselves. (And yes, it's a bit of a paradox a la last year's defense: If you never trust the kids, and how can they prove themselves?)
But hey, we're (or, I guess, I'm) talking about what is likely to happen, and Darren Helm just passes my infallible-but-subjective sniff test as far as what this team thinks they need. If Ritchie or McKenzie is shipped out in a trade, suddenly your bottom six looks a bit thin. Darren Helm can hold the fort, and he's young enough to do so for a couple of years. If Dallas can add him without ruining their other plans, it would be hard to see this as anything other than a perfectly fine move in the insane world that NHL free agency can sometimes be.