With the 2019 NHL Entry Draft just two weeks away, most of our recent coverage has been geared towards draft targets for the Dallas Stars. But when it comes to the draft, you’re often talking about players who won’t make an impact on the NHL level for a couple of years — or at least that’s the expectation when drafting 18th overall.
So today, let’s shift focus a bit towards the next big event after the draft — free agency. According to CapFriendly, the Stars have roughly $12.4 million in cap space to play around with, and will likely be aiming to add a top-four defenseman as well as shore up their top-six forward grouping.
Of course, I’m sure most fans hope that the top-six forward ends up being Mats Zuccarello. Robert and Wes discussed re-signing Zuccarello the other week, but it’s always good to keep other options open. And when it comes to UFA wingers — and UFA forwards in general — you can’t beat Artemi Panarin.
I wrote about Panarin this past February as a trade deadline target. Pretty much everything I said back then holds true today — he fell short of his then-projected 95 points, but still finished T-17th in scoring with Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen. And while Rantanen got to play on a super line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, Panarin was stuck with the lesser-talented Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois:
But I’ll try to not rehash that piece. The bottom line is that Panarin is elite, and thus the Stars should do everything in their power to get him.
The problem with that is two-fold. First of all, the general consensus is that Panarin wants to either reunite with his old coach Joel Quenneville and sign with the Florida Panthers, or head for the Big Apple and sign with either the New York Rangers or the New York Islanders. But as I wrote about in February, the Stars do have an advantage over those teams in the form of their Russian presence:
However, the Stars have started to build a rather solid Russian contingent, with players like Alexander Radulov, Anton Khudobin, Valeri Nichushkin and Denis Gurianov. That might end up being important for Panarin, who might feel more comfortable with Dallas as opposed to a place like Los Angeles, who have already more-or-less soured relationships with Ilya Kovalchuk after just a couple months.
The second issue is cost. In all likelihood, Panarin will match, if not eclipse, John Tavares’s contract last summer of seven years an $11 million AAV. Plus, if Florida is expected to be the main contender for Panarin’s services, Dallas loses their “no state income tax” advantage. Perhaps the Stars could try to edge out the Panthers by offering more guaranteed money — they are a bit more of a financially secure franchise — but that might not tip the scales much.
Another advantage the Stars have is that they’re closer to winning a Cup than any of the other aforementioned teams — though Islanders fans might beg to differ. That being said, signing Panarin would hamper the team’s ability to improve other areas on their roster. Assuming Panarin signed for $11 million, Dallas would be left with roughly $1.2 million to re-sign their three restricted free agents on the NHL roster (Brett Ritchie, Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka).
In other words, Dallas would have to trade some players to free up cap space to fit Panarin in, not to mention that they would essentially be unable to bring in any other new players, including that desired top-four defenseman.
So would Panarin be worth it? The answer is likely a yes, but ultimately the decision isn’t up to the Stars. When it comes to UFAs this summer, Panarin holds all of the cards.