As games go by, and the Dallas Stars find themselves looking up at a tall(er) hill to climb into the playoff picture in a wild card spot, the trade deadline strategy for general manager Jim Nill continues to get fuzzier.
On the one hand, they aren’t officially eliminated yet, being just 7 points out of the last playoff position with 2-3 games in hand over almost every team they have to leapfrog (except Winnipeg).
On the other, if the season ended today, they’d be drafting somewhere in the top 5 in the draft this summer, depending on the draft lottery and any potential deals the Stars could make with their 1st round pick. When was the last time the Stars had a draft pick that high? *Asks Google* *faints* Over 20 years ago, 1996 to be exact. The highest pick in that time was 8th when the Stars picked Scott Glennie in 2009.
Over the course of the coming days, we’re going to look at all three basic strategies the Stars could take to approach the trade deadline on March 1st this year: Dallas as buyers, Dallas as sellers, and the stand-pat Stars.
The Case For Standing Pat
Dallas has a pretty nice draft pick position going while also being a (mostly) entertaining team — assuming you’re not a Stars fan, of course. Objectively, Dallas has had more interesting outcomes with high-octane games over getting completely slaughtered this season.
If the Stars want to infuse their team with young talent, keeping a high draft pick is assuredly one way to go about it. By not trading away major pieces, the Stars could keep themselves competitive and potentially make a push for a playoff spot that could also give them the best chance at a high draft pick. Basically, what they’re doing today.
Not to mention, major moves are likely to be available this summer. This year is unique in the sense that there is an expansion draft that throws quite a few wrinkles into the asset management strategies of teams around the league. Some teams will have to move proven NHL difference makers, talented young NHLers, or close-to-ready NHL prospect talent in order to protect key players on their rosters from getting taken in the expansion draft by the Las Vegas Golden Knights. That opens the trade market a bit more than usual this summer.
Add in the fact that the salary cap is anticipated to remain flat next season, several teams could find themselves in cap trouble, whether due to performance bonuses from this season or the need to change up their roster construction requiring some cap flexibility to be had as a bargaining chip. Nill could position Dallas to make moves with logical trading partners by maintaining the cap space Dallas has with expiring contracts this summer.
They’ll have approximately $18.5 million in UFAs coming off the cap this summer according to CapFriendly. Of course, some of these they’d probably like to re-sign - hello Patrick Eaves!!! - but others, such as Patrick Sharp, could be offered higher salaries in UFA to sign with a different team and not be here next season.
The Case Against Standing Pat
Making no major moves to improve the obvious roster construction issues with the team as currently built could be perceived by many Stars faithful as a lack of urgency by the front office. How will fans feel if they don’t believe management is doing what they can to improve the on-ice product?
As well, the idea of standing pat and being competitive enough to make a playoff push but not making it or not being bad enough to have a high draft pick will be perceived as some other fans as another year in the status quo the team maintained during all of the bankruptcy years. The lack of talent in the pipeline during that time is a testament to how starved for high end talent that can leave an organization.
Not to mention, another lost season burns another year of the prime of the careers of several core players (Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin to name a few).