The other day, Taylor and I dove into the deplorable state of the Dallas Stars offense. Unfortunately, those same Stars were kind enough to provide an on-ice illustration of the situation in the form of a 5-2 loss to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. Despite the return of John Klingberg, a goal from Tyler Seguin, and two points from Jamie Benn, the Stars were able to muster only a pair of goals against the worst team in the Central Division and tied-for-second worst team in the Western Conference.
Even without getting into the Whats and Whys of the single goal scored in regulation last night in Minnesota, it is easy enough to see what is wrong with the Dallas Stars. Unfortunately, it is equally easy to see a number of significant obstacles preventing immediate corrective action. It’s not enough, you see, to know that there is a problem. Not when there are 30 other teams motivated to deny you success, and not in a league with rigid financial structures in place. So today we’re going to look at why the Dallas Stars might not be able to get better.
Everything starts with dollars, and in terms of the NHL’s salary cap, the Dallas Stars do not have a lot of them. According to Capfriendly, GM Jim Nill had $659,943 in available cap space as of Friday morning. To put a face on the number, the Dallas Stars have room for exactly one Taylor Fedun ($650k). Technically, the Stars would only be on the hook for a portion of any annual hit due to the fact that we’re 35 games into the season, but that difference is not a significant player. They have roughly $1.17 million available today, a figure that jumps to $3 million once they reach the trade deadline (assuming Dallas is still a player at that point).
There are a couple of positives. In terms of actual allowed contracts, Dallas has 45 against a 50-contract cap. If they can shed dollars, they can add players, in other words. Dallas is also relatively clear of any legal mumbo jumbo. Jamie Benn is the only player with absolute No Movement protection. Tyler Seguin (15 team list), Alexander Radulov (15 teams), Jason Spezza (10 teams), Ben Bishop (10 teams), Marc Methot (10 teams), and Martin Hanzal (15 teams) could all choose to make things a little difficult, but are ultimately moveable.
At least four of the players above (Seguin, Benn, Bishop, and Radulov) are better-or-worse parts of Dallas’ future, which makes any difficulties moving them rather irrelevant. The tricky part is that the rest of the list plays a large part of the Stars’ current cap situation. Spezza ($7.5 million), Hanzal ($4.75 million), and Methot ($4.9 million) represent a healthy chunk of change, more than enough to bring in a hired gun. If the Stars need space, one of those three might have to make way, which is going to drive up the asking price.
Again, there is a bit of good news. Spezza and Methot both come off the books after this season. What that means is that the Stars could, conceivably, wait long enough for this season’s portion of a longer term contract to fall into their price-range, and then easily absorb the full go-forward amount. The only problem is that doesn’t do a lick of good for this year’s roster.
Which brings us to the roster itself, and possibly, the biggest barrier to Dallas making an impact move to fix things at the NHL level. Trades are built around the exchange of assets. Sure, we all hope our GM fleeces some poor schlub, but really, the bedrock of a deal is perceived value on each side of the ledger. Right now, Dallas has an asset problem. Really, what Dallas has is a lack of serious assets, which is a real problem.
Miro Heiskanen is both obvious and obviously off the table. Who else has established value as a trade chip? Once upon a time, Julius Honka might have been a centerpiece, but no GM is going to see three different coaches exhibit tendencies to scratch and offer market value. Valeri Nichushkin is just 23 with some pedigree, but he’s yet to score a goal this season. Denis Gurianov is earlier in his prospect life-cycle, but also currently spending time trying to boost the problematic offense. Roope Hintz is in Cedar Park. This is where drafting and development can make a big difference.
Then there are regulars the likes of Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa, Devin Shore, and Jason Dickinson. All four have established themselves as NHL regulars, which is a good starting place. Faksa is considered to be an excellent defensive forward, and Dickinson’s stock has been on the rise this season. That said, has the actual, NHL-level performance of any of those players screamed “Missing Piece!” to you? That matters. When it comes to trades, a pair of fives does not always equal ten.
One interesting option is Gavin Bayreuther. At 24 years of age he’s a bit towards the end of the prospect spectrum, but defense is still a position that skews older. Dallas’ injury crisis presented an opportunity, and Bayreuther has largely stepped up. He has spent the last 16 games averaging 19:09 a night for one of the NHL’s stronger defensive units. He’s not Miro, but the right team might see him as an interesting piece.
All of this is why being a general manager is hard. Dallas has an acute need, but an apparent lack of assets with which to address that need. That gap is going to result in either no action until the offseason, in which case the Stars have burned yet another of the hyper-critical prime years of the Benn/Seguin/Klingberg triad, or else it is going to require extreme creativity to find a more immediate resolution, mostly likely in the form of Dallas losing a valuable, already-rostered player.
It’s a regrettable situation, and one without any easy answers.