The trade for Andrew Cogliano, if there is any sense to this front office, is only the beginning. With Western Conference playoff spots improbably still within reach, a sputtering-yet-fixable flaw (the offense), and an eleven-day gap between games, now is the perfect time for GM Jim Nill to work a little magic. The Dallas Stars need help in their top six, ideally on the wing. Options are out there, good ones, too. The best of the lot even involves connecting with an old friend — GM Peter Chiarelli, now with the Edmonton Oilers.
Of course I’m talking about Milan Lucic.
The burly winger has 196 career goals, has eclipsed the 20-goal threshold five different times, and scored double-digit goals in all but three of his 12 NHL seasons. Outside the Stars’ top four forwards (Jason Spezza, Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn), nobody on the roster can match that kind of profile. Really, the only downside is Lucic’s pesky contract: $6 million per year through 2022-23. Pesky.
Which is about the point I’m sure you expect me to admit this is some kind of joke. Only, what if I wasn’t kidding? More to the point, what if I told you this article was more about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
That the Stars lack top six forwards is beyond dispute (they are 29th out of 31 teams in goals), and it’s also pretty reasonable to write off drafted assets immediately available as the solution. Whatever they might be in the long term, neither Denis Gurianov nor Roope Hintz are 20-goal scorers or 50-point players right now. Fans also kind of need to see Joel L’Esperance in Victory Green before they can get disappointed by the fact he isn’t “The Answer” yet either (unless of course he is; please be the answer, Joel). Furthermore, a quick look at Dallas’ draft history (thanks Bob!) suggests the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.
At the same time, the Stars sit in an enviable situation relative to the NHL’s salary cap. More than $20 million is set to come off the books next season. Some of that will be consumed filling out the roster, but when the highest profile RFAs are Mattias Janmark and Esa Lindell, it’s unlikely a cap-breaking deal is lurking. Plus, the cap will likely go up and thus increase Dallas’ flexibility.
A major reason Dallas is in such a good position is GM Jim Nill’s ability, so far, to avoid terrible contracts. While it is entirely possible that the tail end of deals for Ben Bishop ($4.9 million), Radulov ($6.25 million), or Benn’s ($9.5 million) might look less than stellar, none reach true albatross levels. They are also staggered. Think about the way Tyler Seguin and Spezza’s deals overlapped, and the sweetheart deal John Klingberg signed ($4.25 million through 2021-22). Just about the time a big contract comes due, another falls off the list.
Dallas can afford to make a mistake, in other words. Why not turn that into an asset? The Edmonton Oilers would likely love to get out from under Lucic’s deal, and might pay for the service. Ditto Chicago, who are entering into a rebuild with the likes of Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million), Brandon Saad ($6 million), and Duncan Keith ($5.5 million) clogging up their balance sheet.
Just skim the league. Maybe this is the season the Pittsburgh Penguins finally make good on Phil Kessel ($8 million) trade rumors. Perhaps Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million) is enough to pry assets out of the Ottawa Seantors. Getting rid of Ryan Callahan ($5.8 million) would save the Tampa Bay Lightning a world of cap hurt. The list goes on. NHL teams make mistakes.
The idea is not that any one of those players will suddenly turn things around to improve the Stars. However, taking on one of those players might enable the Stars to acquire other assets and work out some kinks on the ice.
Contract charity is not the ideal method of team building. In a perfect world, the Stars draft and develop skilled young (cheap!) players to augment their superstars. That has not happened during the Benn era, which leaves Dallas with less perfect options. A bill would eventually come due, but ask fans of the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings how they feel about their Stanley Cups.
The bottom line is that unless Dallas is suddenly able to correct systemic draft and development issues, their only open path to success is robbing Peter to pay Lord Stanley.