As the NHL’s offseason retool window opens, and teams make trades to move expiring contracts or free up cap space in advance of free agency, some Dallas Stars fans may be wondering what the front office is considering when it comes to changes to a roster that didn’t make the playoffs last season.
I’m leaning towards there not being many big moves in terms of trades or free agency signings made by the Stars during the annual “silly season”.
The first signal for that to me is the report by Chris Johnston of Sportsnet that Jason Spezza is not likely to be bought out of his last season by the Stars. Presumably, then, the Stars have their center depth basically set for next season with Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza - Radek Faksa - Jason Dickinson down the middle. If they don’t feel that Dickinson is a fit for a fourth line center role, then they might go out to free agency and sign a depth player to put in that spot.
Depth player signings are not exactly the sexy moves fans like to see, but are necessary for all teams to make in the summer.
Then there is the fact that all signs point to the return of Valeri Nichushkin to the Stars’ fold. That gives the Stars another right wing option in the top six, filling that potential hole on the roster. With a new coach in Jim Montgomery, players that did not seem to fit there under Ken Hitchcock last season, such as Devin Shore or Brett Ritchie, may be better fits in a new system.
In other words, it’s possible the Stars believe their need for a top six forward is already on their roster, and not a piece they need to acquire.
Although relatively young and inexperienced, the Stars’ blueline seems well positioned for next season with a lot of puck-moving mobile defensemen that Montgomery’s system should favor. Miro Heiskanen, Stephen Johns, Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, and Marc Methot are all under contract next season and expected to be on the opening day roster. If the Stars do anything at the position, it would likely be a depth signing for that seventh defenseman spot. However, you could also make the case that Dillon Heatherington and Gavin Bayreuther at the AHL level could be alternated through that position this season to get them tastes of the NHL while continuing to develop.
The one position I could see the Stars making a bit of a splash could be at the backup goaltending position, though there are a number of teams looking for that around the league too. None of the Stars goaltending prospects seems to be ready to step into a backup role in Dallas, especially not if the expectation is that they could be tapped to play a big stretch if Bishop goes down to injury in another freak incident in which his teammate lands on his knee awkwardly.
Philipp Grubauer seems to be the favorite goaltending target in the news cycle these days, but as a RFA and under contract to the Washington Capitals already, will likely command a fairly high price to acquire via trade.
There are a few good free agents, too. The Stars could make a big signing dollar-wise to someone like Carter Hutton to be that backup guy to Ben Bishop, but he’s likely to get an opportunity to sign somewhere in more of a 1A/1B setup or even with a team where he could win a starting role. If you discount Hutton as an option, then the Stars are likely going to sign a player their fans will not see as a splashy addition to the roster.
I expect Dallas will likely be quiet in trades and free agent signings this summer. General manager Jim Nill likes having cap flexibility, and he’s also keeping an eye towards the futures when it comes to contract extensions for core pieces (a la Spezza’s contract expiring the same time as Seguin’s extension should kick in), so he won’t want too many large price tag contracts on the books.
However, Nill’s history has shown that in summers when we expect him to be relatively quiet, he’s more like a duck — quiet above the water and churning away below it. So now watch him go out and acquire some big name Dallas has barely been associated with and prove me wrong, much like he did when he acquired Seguin and Spezza and when he signed Radulov.