This time last year, Jim Nill had just added Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns along with Antii Niemi. The Stars were loaded up, and while goaltending was a big question mark, there was plenty of talent in the tops four and six. The team felt like one that should do well, even if its front-loaded nature and smaller defense was a bit different from the conventional contenders.
One year later, Dallas has a couple more regular season banners to hang and fewer excuses than ever. The Stars raised more than just some nice commemorative decorations at the AAC, and 2016-17 will arrive with the weight of expectations hanging heavier than ever.
Before the trade deadline last year, I wrote a too-long series looking back at every move Jim Nill had made since arriving in Dallas. I enjoyed retracing everything and offering some speculation along with guiding principles, but you probably aren't surprised that I failed to predict that the Stars would trade for literally Kris Russell. If it's any consolation, I was disappointed in that trade on Twitter when it happened. That is probably not any consolation.
The summer has been quiet in terms of big moves, but the impending goalie trade will shape the fanbase's perspective on the Nill era more than anything since the Tyler Seguin deal. The national narrative is that the Stars are a group of kids playing Capture the Flag who decided to leave Minkus alone on guard duty, and it's not like that narrative is entirely wrong. Sure, the Stars can win with these goalies—I said so, which means you should probably wager your entire vested 401(k) balance on it—but if an NHL GM's job is to make his roster as likely to win a Stanley Cup as he can from year to year, then the crease is the obvious fixer-upper on Victory Plaza. How Nill goes about addressing the two remaining years' worth of $10 million below-average goaltending is going to be a big deal, even if it doesn't end with a big deal.
This isn't about the goalies, though. It's about their boss, or I guess their boss's boss. Jim Nill acquitted himself well upon his arrival, but pobody's nerfect and so forth. Right now, this very second, I kind of group Nill's major moves into a few specific buckets. These are categories, not final judgments—there is always nuance—but this is where I'm at. (The players are a representative sample of each category, not the entirety):
Tyler Seguin/Rich Peverley trade, Jason Spezza trade, Patrick Sharp/Stephen Johns trade, Jason Demers trade, Klingberg extension, Mattias Janmark trade
"A decent hockey GM probably does these" Deals:
Spezza extension, Jhonas Enroth trade, Dan Hamhuis, Johnny Oduya, Ales Hemsky
*Record-scratch sound effect* Moves ("Whoopsies"):
Dan Ellis, Lindback/Rynnas, Kris Russell, Sergei Gonchar
You could argue* with the lower two categories all day long. I'm not quite ready to put Niemi in the Whoopsie pile yet because of his great first half, but let's just say I spent a lot more time wondering about whether to list him in the third bucket than I did the second one.
So, here's what I'm really curious about: given all this, how much confidence do you have in Jim Nill right now?
It's easy to look at his lack of great moves (or plethora of insufficient ones) when it comes to goaltending, but you could also point out that most teams with decent goalies got them through the draft. Philippe Desrosiers could turn out to be something, but that's still TBD. In any case, Jim Nill has yet to hit a home run between the pipes, and his most recent trade acquisition is still waiting for a contract nearly a month into free agency. There is reason for variation on the Jim Nill Fan-O-Meter.
You can paint a few different pictures with all these data, but since we're in that weird waiting period, I'm more interested in how you feel. Does your gut tell you that the ever-patient Jim Nill's got another good-to-great move up his sleeve, or are you starting to think that the former NHLer is as capable of missing his coverage as any other GM in the league?
*And also, people can argue about anything. There are television shows where sports people just yell at each other over whatever the latest sports things is. They just argue, because people watch that. Why do we watch that? Stop watching that! Everyone watching has already made up their mind about which person is right, so they're just hoping to hear the other argument destroyed. It is the exact opposite of constructive debate. It is everything wrong with dissent, entertainment and thought. This paragraph probably changed the world.