Earlier this week, Dallas Stars fans were treated to some good news when it was revealed that Stephen Johns was practicing at the Stars’ development camp:
Stephen Johns on the ice at development camp this morning. pic.twitter.com/Aa5RsXz06g— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) June 25, 2019
That’s led a number of fans to start penciling Johns into the second pairing alongside budding star Miro Heiskanen. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s keep in mind two things. First, while this is a very good sign towards Johns’ recovery, there’s still no guarantee he’s fully healthy by opening night.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that even if Johns does return, the Stars could still benefit from upgrading their top-four defensive core. It wouldn’t be a necessity, but having Johns serve as the right-handed defenseman on the third pair who plays up in case of injury would make for a strong Dallas blue line.
Now, the easiest way to upgrade the defense is via free agency. We’ve already profiled a couple of options, but unfortunately the crop is very thin this year. The most prominent players are either too expensive (Jake Gardiner), not that good (Anton Stralman), or somehow both (Tyler Myers).
That means that if the Stars want to obtain a top-four defenseman for a reasonable cap hit, their best option is to trade for one. Keeping in mind the 2021 expansion draft that will only let them protect three defensemen, I personally would look at players with two to three years left on their contract. That way they either hit UFA before the expansion draft and thus won’t be worth protecting, or they’ll have only one year left and not as tempting of a pick for Seattle.
With that in mind, here’s a short list of some (realistic) trade targets the Stars should keep an eye on:
(Note: While he doesn’t meet the term criteria, Shayne Gostisbehere was included since his name has been on the trading block lately.)
Now, you could argue that some of the above options wouldn’t even be upgrades over a healthy Johns — and I might agree — but that’s something we can discuss in the comments section. The point is that there are several affordable options for the Stars if they want to improve their blue line via trade.
That just leaves us with arguably the most important aspect of a hypothetical trade — the cost. After all, no team is going to hand over a quality defenseman for nothing. Unless you’re the Nashville Predators. Or the Winnipeg Jets. Or arguably the Carolina Hurricanes, depending on how you feel about Calvin de Haan.
The Stars have a decent pool of prospects who could be part of a trade, but there’s also some roster players they can afford to part with. The most interesting name to me is Radek Faksa. He’s well-regarded across the league as a shutdown, defensive center, and he finished seventh in the Selke Trophy voting back in 2017-18. His trade value probably won’t get any higher, and the Stars have a replacement already on the roster in Jason Dickinson.
Faksa might not be enough to land some of these players all by himself, but he could be the centerpiece of a small trade package. Trading a forward like Faksa would also free up a roster spot, which would allow younger players like Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson, or Ty Dellandrea a better chance to make the NHL team out of training camp.
Long story short, the Stars could use an upgrade on defense this summer, and they don’t have to overpay in UFA to do it. GM Jim Nill was once regarded as a master thief when it came to trades; perhaps it’s time he tries to reclaim that title.