The Dallas Stars did nothing at the trade deadline on Monday. Sorry, the Dallas Stars made a paper transaction to ensure winger Remi Ellie would be eligible for the AHL playoffs. So, technically, they did something, but in terms of the NHL’s big picture - the chase to the Stanley Cup - GM Jim Nill and company decided not to add any pieces at the NHL level. The fact that they did nothing has been covered as much as it needs to be; the implications, however, are fascinating, and leave Stars fans with a number of narratives moving forward.
One possibility is that the Stars felt they did not need to do anything. As they stepped onto the ice Tuesday night, the Stars were a top-15 offense (14th) and a top-five defense (third) by goals for and against, respectively. Late winter swoon notwithstanding, those are both marks of a very good hockey team. As the playoffs start and the games get tight, one might argue, the Stars’ particular brand of limit-risk hockey should translate well, especially if they can duct tape together enough of Martin Hanzal to make a difference in the playoffs.
That possibility begs a question: if the Stars did not feel they needed to make a move, is that because Nill and company consider them a finished product? If this is the team that won seven of ten on either side of the All Star break, that could make sense. Marc Methot is healthy, Jamie Benn is (likely) due to bust out of his seasonal slump, and my goodness, Alexander Radulov. It is not impossible to imagine John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin doing enough power play damage to eke out 16 wins. More limited teams have made playoff runs before.
Still (and die-hards maybe skip this next sentence), it seems unlikely anyone is feeling 1999 vibes off this roster. In that case, it’s possible the decision was that the cost of doing anything outweighed the potential benefits. For starters, they’re chasing a pair of excellent teams in the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. Does one player close that gap? At market prices, he would just about have to. Go to the list. Tomas Plekanec rated a 2nd round pick. Tomas Tatar (tots) netted a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounder. That is to say: prices were very high. Chances are good that the Stars looked into an unusually active market, saw the cost of doing serious business, and closed up shop until the off-season.
No harm there, but it’s fair for fans to wonder about The Plan™. Many (this author included) are of the mind that this version of the Stars is a lot closer than it might seem. Add an impact winger, that crowd will tell you, and the roster just sort of works itself out. In that case, the logic peeks through the clouds. Max Pacioretty’s price might drop in the off-season, Valeri Nichushkin could come back a polished gem, maybe a Denis Guryanov or Roope Hintz will be ready. Could Radek Faksa make an offensive leap? Maybe Brett Ritchie needed a year of struggle, Devin Shore more experience in the top six, or Mattias Janmark a lengthy run of health. Squint and you can see a few scenarios in which the Stars improve without major renovations.
It could also be as simple as long-term planning. Pacioretty and Mike Hoffman, two of the best-fit options on the market, both came with contract term. The problem is that the Stars already added term this summer in the form of Ben Bishop, Radulov, and Hanzal. It’s a broken record, but Tyler Seguin is going to need (and deserve, mind you) a very large contract. The team cannot afford to mess that up.
Throw it all in a blender, and the Stars’ trade deadline silence makes sense. Without a slam dunk option, without an option that wouldn’t mess with the salary cap, and with some expectation that this team could compete on its own, maybe nothing was the right play. In last week’s 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman told an interesting story about the 1997 Chicago White Sox, and how the players reacted to a series of deadline day deals. It’s worth a read, but the basic point was that management actions had an impact on players. Perhaps the message here is that the Stars have earned a chance to show the world what they are. Whatever that is will become apparent, one way or another, over the next 20 games.