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Dallas Stars Wise to Duck Marquee Free Agents

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This summer's free agent frenzy included the big, crazy deals you might have expected. Serious pieces got moved, some of which might have helped the Stars. Were they wise to stay away? Absolutely. Here are the five guys I am especially happy they avoided.

GM Jim did his best Neo impression this offseason
GM Jim did his best Neo impression this offseason
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has settled a little bit. With the exception of a few odd Tukka Rask rumors, the NHL has transitioned into developmental camps and pre-pre season doldrums. Thank goodness. After a frantic period of free agency hockey fans could certainly use the time to reflect.

This year, fans saw a little bit of everything; big trades, big deals, and a big announcement out of Las Vegas. For the most part, Dallas stayed on the sidelines. Outside of a couple of smaller deals, the Stars seemed content to let the rest of the league toss money around.

If you ask me, that's a very good thing. Free agency is a process almost perfectly calibrated to produce poor end results. Market pressures, fan pressures, and an ever-younger talent pool combine to render most big deals big disasters almost the instant they're struck.

But this is hopefully just a little bit more than an article about bad free agent signings. Instead, I tried to focus on deals that might have involved the Stars. That means no David Backes (the Stars had little need for a 3rd high-end center) even though his deal will become a tire fire faster than you can say Ryan Kesler.

5 -€” Jason Demers -€” Florida Panthers -€” 5 years - $4.5 AAV

I actually do not hate the dollars here. Last season Demers played 62 games, averaged better than 20 minutes in ice time, and put up positive possession metrics both in abstract and relative to his teammates. For several months he and Johnny Oduya formed a tidy second unit in large part responsible for Dallas' surprising defensive solidity.

So why, then, does he make this list? Term! This is going to quickly become a theme. In a vacuum, five years for Jason Demers probably isn't awful. He's been relatively healthy over the course of his career, is just 28 years old, and isn't over-reliant on a specific physical skill. It's a reasonable bet that the 33-year old version of Demers will be giving you roughly the same level of performance throughout this deal as the 28-year old version.

For Dallas, it's more about a roster spot. You've heard the names before: Esa Liddell, Julius Honka, Patrik Nemeth, Mattias Backman, Ludwig Bystrom, and even Jamie Oleksiak, every year you give Demers is a roster spot you eliminate for a well-regarded prospect. As painful as it is to say, taking a pass on Demers is probably best in the long run.

4 -€” Loui Eriksson -€” Vancouver Canucks -€” 6 Years - $6M AAV

Another painful one for long time fans of the Dallas Stars. After a rough first season with the Bruins, Eriksson was back to his quietly effective best last season. He's a guy that plays in all situations, and can give you double-digit goals on both the power play (10) and at even strength (18). All of this while playing top-flight, penalty-free defense. Even time with the generally-physical Bruins hasn't pushed Eriksson higher than 14 PIMs in 2014-2015. Guys like Loui are scarce. He's going to play nearly 20 minutes a night (19:29), has exceeded 60 points on five separate occasions and 70 points three times.

He's a very, very good player. He's just not quite great, and at $6 million each year he kind of has to be, doesn't he? Not only that, he's got to be very good for a very long team. Eriksson's deal is set to run through the 2020-2021 season. They've doubled down on that bet by offering a variety of no movement protections throughout the lifespan of the deal. If the now 30-year old winger plays like the 2016 version of himself, that's fine, but what if he's more 2013-2015 vintage? That's a problem.

Patrick Sharp is a very interesting comparable to me. He started a five year pact with Chicago at just about the same age and AAV as Eriksson. On the one hand, that deal produced Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. On the other hand, his cap hit handed the Stars Sharp along with Stephen Johns for magic beans.

The Stars in 2016 aren't where the Hawks were in 2012. It's a good thing they didn't let the pull of nostalgia push them into an onerous contract.

3 -€” Andrew Ladd -€” NY Islanders -€” 7 Years - $5.5M AAV

So all that stuff I said about Eriksson, take away milestones like 30 goals and 70 points and you've got Andrew Ladd. Sorry, two-time Stanley Cup Champion Andrew Ladd, thanks to his contributions to the 2009 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.

Perhaps lured by the siren song of "clutchness," or in overreaction to Kyle Okposo leaving, the New York Islanders saw fit to reward Ladd with a 7 year, $5.5 million contract. He's a bit more of a banger than Eriksson, and managed to survive statistically on some poor Atlanta-turned-Winnipeg squads before a brief return to Chicago this past post-season.

As you can tell by the shift in tone, I find Ladd's contract a bit more troubling than the previous two. Ladd got seven years. Seven! I can squint and see why the Stars might have rolled the dice. In a big-bodied Western Conference, he gives a forward group a hammer. If you're looking at Jason Spezza's line, you can probably talk yourself into the benefits of a physical 20-goal scorer like Ladd.

But the term is ugly, and would bleed into dollars the Stars need to re-sign Benn, Seguin, and whoever emerges from the defensive dogpile alongside John Klingberg.

2 -€” Milan Lucic -€” Edmonton Oilers -€” 7 Years - $6M AAV

Hard pass. As great as that 30-goal season in 2010 was, it's hard to view this deal as anything other than a massive overpay by a desperate team. Still, there were whispers of interest from the Dallas Stars, and if you look closely, you can sort of see why.

Lucic's age (27) and ability to stay on the ice (80, 81, and 81 games over the past three seasons) are solid, as is his production (158 points) over the same span. He is also completely different from anything the Stars have at the NHL or the AHL level. Imagine Lucic and Benn on the same team, running the same defenders, night after night.

Now imagine the same thing in 2022.

Milan Lucic excels in the corners, and in the tougher-than-you areas in front of the net. He's not an elite skater nor is he an elite goal-scorer. Unless you count size and strength, Lucic lacks a truly standout individual skill, which might be part of why he's never won an award at the NHL level. For a Dallas team not quite ready for prime-time, he's another part that doesn't fit with a term that would lead to hard decisions down the line.

1 -€” Steven Stamkos -€” Tampa Bay -€” 8 Years - $8.5 AAV

Yeah, I know, Stamkos to Dallas is stretching the grounded realism of the other selections. Still, he was THE marquee free agent, and more than a few dreamers at least considered the notion of the now-reaffirmed Lightning bolt in Victory Green. Were the Stars wise to stay away?

This space says yes. From a numbers perspective, it's been four years since his last 90 point season (97 in 2011-2012). Ditto the last time he potted more than 50 goals (60 that same season). It's not that the production since has been awful, but goal totals of 29, 25, 43, and 46 are at least a small slip. A slip that happened, furthermore, while playing for the most dynamic offense in the league.  Do you really lock in for a decade with a consistent 60-70 point scorer? If yes, do you lock in at nearly $9 million a season?

Then there's the leg injury, positional uncertainty, and general profile. A run at Steven Stamkos would have had to preclude a similar run at either Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn. That would be crazy, right? Stamkos is the best player on this list, and the one most likely to play well throughout the entirety of his new deal, but he would also be an identity change. That's not something the Stars need. Chasing "new hotness" also seldom works as a team-building strategy. For that, and for my money, Stars fans should be most thankful GM Jim Nill stayed well clear.