As a Dallas Stars fan, many of us have experienced a number of gut punches thanks to the team. There was the time where all the Stars had to do was win their last game of the regular season to make the playoffs — and then went out meek as a lamb and blew the chance. Or how about the time when the Stars were up by multiple goals only to have the Anaheim Ducks come back and tie the game — and then beat them in overtime and eliminate them from the postseason altogether?
Or how about the time when the Stars finally make a trade to help provide some secondary scoring only to have that acquisition break his arm in the second period of the very first game played for the team less than 24 hours after being acquired?
The 2018-2019 season: the gift that keeps on giving. (It definitely hasn’t been uneventful, that’s for sure.)
After Saturday’s loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice, the Stars traded for Mats Zuccarello from the New York Rangers. By the time the dust settled in their game versus the Chicago Blackhawks not 24 hours later, the team had two more points and no Zuccarello.
(Of course, the team also was without captain Jamie Benn for much of the game as well, as he was injured in the Hurricanes game and tried to play through the injury but couldn’t after a hit early into the Blackhawks game. He’s considered day-to-day. Andrew Cogliano also missed some time after taking a stick to the face and bleeding profusely on the non-call play, but he did return to the game. But the biggest injury, and most immediate impact, is the Zuccarello injury.)
What’s probably most frustrating for Stars fans after news came down that Zuccarello would likely miss the next four weeks is that the trade to acquire Zuccarello filled a big need on the team. His creativity and ability to make plays happen really seemed to perk up the team, and he had already recorded an assist and a goal in the game before being injured.
It’s like the fans got a taste of the apple and then the apple was yanked away and they were told they’ll have to hope it’s ready to be consumed again weeks from now.
So what does general manager Jim Nill do now? The team’s scoring woes haven’t disappeared, and the reinforcement he traded for may not be able to help until the playoffs. But first, his team has to get there.
If there is any kind of silver lining to the Zuccarello injury, it’s that it happened the day before the trade deadline, when moves can still be made. There are still a number of forwards that are rumored to be available — Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators is still on the market as of this writing.
Dallas can create some cap space by adding Stephen Johns to the long term injured reserve list. Tyler Pitlick could be added as well, since his timeline for return is roughly at the start of the playoffs, and then reactivated for the postseason (when the cap ceiling no longer applies and teams can expand their rosters). Either or both of those moves can create some additional cap room to work with, without even accounting for any potential salary that could be sent the other way in a move.
Any potential move would likely have to involve current roster players or prospects, though, as the Stars are looking a little thin on draft picks the next two years. In 2019 and in 2020 seasons, they have a 4th, 5th, and 6th pick to work with given the conditions on picks sent back on the Zuccarello trade and picks that have been traded away in the last couple of seasons on moves to acquire players like Marc Methot and Jamie Oleksiak.
In a league in which a team has to give to get, the Stars are in an even tougher position to acquire forward help than they were on Saturday. And the market is not going to get any softer as the trade deadline on Monday approaches, either.