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Dormant Deadline Will Define Dallas

You can defend the decision to do basically nothing, but it was hardly a no-brainer. For all the progress and all the investment this team has made, there is very real postseason pressure in Big D.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers
Would Joe Thornton have helped put this team over the top?
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

If you are reading this article, it is after 3 p.m. ET on Monday, and the Dallas Stars have made no significant roster moves before the NHL’s trade deadline. No Chris Kreider, no Joe Thornton, not even Tyler Ennis. GM Jim Nill stood pat, and you know what? That’s fine. Honestly. The boys in Victory Green are firmly in the Central Division’s playoff jumble, if not in the mix for the Western Conference’s top spot. That’s a good position. Fans should be happy, but make no mistake, Dallas’ lack of activity at the deadline is also a gamble. It’s an invitation for scrutiny, and Nill will deserve every bit of what comes next good and bad.

And why should he have made a move? The Stars are mostly rolling (6-2-2 in their last 10), and as mentioned above, positioned well in the standings. It starts in net, where Dallas boasts the league’s best goals against (158), third-best goals against per game (2.53), and third best goals against at 5-on-5 (100). You just cannot score on these guys, period. As a team, they secure 62.9% of available points, the seventh-best mark in the NHL. This is a good team, and there is a sound logic in not tinkering at the notoriously fickle trade deadline.

There are also flaws. One specific flaw jumps to mind. Dallas struggles at offense. They sit 25th in the league in goals for (165). Furthermore, they’re only that high because the power play (21.2%) has climbed to 12th. At even-strength, only the Detroit Red Wings are worse than the Dallas Stars. They are -104 in total Shot Attempt Differential, well behind the St. Louis Blues (+66) and Colorado Avalanche (+157). Defense wins championships, blah blah blah, but so does balance.

Truth serum time. Can you see this team, as currently constructed, beating Colorado, then St. Louis, and then another Western Conference team in multiple best-of-seven series on the march to the Stanley Cup Final? If yes, each time? How many of 10? Because Nill, and there’s really no other way to interpret this year’s trade inactivity, apparently can. Yes, a trade would have been difficult, but as outlined previously, there were ways to get even a blockbuster deal done.

Which brings us full circle. Nill’s inaction is a clear statement on the quality of this roster. Dallas is not a young team. With an average age of 28.4 to start the season (sixth oldest in the NHL), the Stars are not built to accrue experience for future playoff runs. Their time to win is now, while the backs of a pair of 30-plus goaltenders are still strong and limber, and while the likes of Jamie Benn (30), Alexander Radulov (33), and Joe Pavelski (35) are still major contributors.

Nill did nothing aside from trade Emil Djuse for a sixth-round 2020 draft pick from the Florida Panthers, which is fair and logical. However, in doing nothing at the NHL level, Nill also invited very fair and very logical scrutiny. He declined to address a strong team’s glaring weakness. He bet that giving up the fewest goals was more important than wringing a little extra offense out of the proverbial dishrag. It’s possible that another Ben Bishop Postseason Bender validates his trust. It’s equally possible Stars fans watch a toothless roster scuffle their way to another postseason exit. Time will tell, but right now, it feels like an opportunity lost.