Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill spoke to the media today about the state of the team and what to expect moving forward into free agency and the 2020-21 NHL season.
There was a lot to unpack from the press conference, so we’ve compiled everything you need to know here for your convenience.
Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries
The Stars finished the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with several players “unfit to play,” and we we had good reason to believe there were others playing hurt as well. Yet “sticker shock” is somehow an understatement when it comes to just how many injuries the Stars were battling.
For starters, goaltender Ben Bishop had a knee scope done in late May which he was never quite able to recover from, leading to his absence for most of the postseason. Tyler Seguin also suffered from knee injuries late in the season and had a torn labrum in his hip during the playoffs. He is looking at a potential 4-month rehab post-surgery, with his status in doubt for the projected season start date of January 1st.
Radek Faksa broke his wrist against the Vegas Golden Knights, while Roope Hintz fractured his ankle in the same series and then hurt his hip against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. Jason Dickinson was also dealing with ankle and foot injuries, and was unable to get his skates on without treatment for the last two games of the Final. Blake Comeau also suffered from a separated shoulder.
The defense didn’t come away unscathed either. John Klingberg injured his shoulder in the round robin, while Miro Heiskanen suffered a hip injury against Vegas. Esa Lindell had hurt his hand, and Taylor Fedun injured his knee. Stephen Johns did not suffer a specific injury, but did not feel comfortable playing given his past history:
Stephen Johns just didn't feel comfortable playing. There was no hit, but did not feel comfortable.— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) October 8, 2020
To wrap things up, Jamie Benn was also playing while hurt, having suffered from a shoulder injury. Even Anton Khudobin did not escape unscathed, as he underwent surgery on his arm yesterday due to numbness in his hand, which caused him issues with gripping his stick due to a nerve issue.
All in all, it’s honestly miraculous the Stars were able to make it as far as they did given how beaten up their roster was. Injuries are common place in the playoffs, but Dallas had to deal with far more than most teams do. This wasn’t an exhaustive list, either - Nill said that nearly every player by that time of the playoffs has bumps, bangs, and bruised they’re dealing with.
Plans for Free Agency
Anton Khudobin, Corey Perry, and Mattias Janmark will all hit unrestricted free agency tomorrow. The Stars still want Khudobin back and haven’t closed the door on him returning, especially considering how saturated the goalie market is. However, the team is also confident in Jake Oettinger serving as backup to Ben Bishop if needed.
Nill told the media that he had the green light from ownership to spend to the salary cap ceiling, contrary to what many expected given the financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Stars are not expected to make a major splash in free agency and will remain patient. When it comes to Khudobin, the Stars will likely wait to see if he signs elsewhere and then react accordingly.
In perhaps the most surprising news of the day, Nill stated that Julius Honka has expressed a desire to return to Dallas after spending a season in Finland, similar to how Jesse Puljujarvi has signed a new deal with the Edmonton Oilers. If there’s mutual interest and both sides can come to an agreement, Honka would provide some depth for the Stars’ blueline.
The Future of Rick Bowness
Nill said that the plan moving forward is for Rick Bowness to return as head coach for the Dallas Stars. Nill first publicly stated the team’s desire to remove the interim tag from Bowness’ title during the NHL playoffs, and the club has not wavered from that stance.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Bowness desires to return as the full-time head coach. He and Nill will meet sometime next week to discuss what he wants to do, although all signs seem to indicate he will take the job. It’s also worth noting that it’s not as simple as Bowness simply saying “yes” — both sides also have to come to terms on a contract.
On the Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021 — the Stars are comfortable with how their roster stands. There is no sense of urgency to try and move around contracts in order to put themselves in a “better” position for expansion.
On prospect development — Dallas has had conversations with European teams about loaning some of their AHL players and prospects. However, those teams are looking for a full-year commitment, while Dallas is primarily looking at players on the cusp of the NHL roster and thus want some added flexibility.