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With Revenue Plummeting, What Could the Dallas Stars Roster Look Like in 2021?

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There are a couple players whose Dallas days could be numbered

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NHL Prospects Tournament Day-4 Columbus vs Dallas Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

If you see somebody hangin’ around

Don’t get uptight

The only thing we want to do tonight

Is go ‘round and ‘round

And turn upside down

Come on! Let’s get down!

***

It’s no secret that Tom Gaglardi’s business empire has been hit hard by the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s also no secret that the Dallas Stars will not be wholly insulated from the economic effects of the pandemic. From the NHL’s surely lower-than-previously-expected salary cap to ownership’s need to furlough staff, it’s plain to see that the business side of hockey is going to look vastly different when it comes to Jim Nill’s work on the player acquisition side of things.

Taylor mentioned this a while back, in fact:

With those kind of commitments on the table, it seems possible that the Stars look at more internal promotions to fill roster holes now more than ever before in order to control the salary costs in an effort to help Gaglardi out where they can. General manager Jim Nill has already stated that those are considerations they’ve been undertaking even before the pandemic plunged the economy towards recessions not seen since the Great Depression.

“First of all, Tom Gaglardi has been very supportive of me, given me all the tools I need to work with,” he told the Dallas Morning News at the end of March. “I know that his parent company is going through a tough time. He’s in the hotel/restaurant business, and it’s been hit hard. So I know they’ve had to make sacrifices up there, and so can I help him out a little bit that way?”

So if even Jim Nill is conceding that things are going to be tough when it comes to roster construction, it’s fair to wonder whether you’ll see the the marginal veteran signings next year. For instance, as much as the Stars love veteran experience in the playoffs, would it be worth paying another Corey Perry type the $3 million (and potentially even more) Dallas did this year instead of betting on a rookie on an ELC?

And, just yesterday, Sean Shapiro answered a similar question in his always-excellent mailbag, which you should check out for yourself. And while Sean named some specific names that he still thought the Stars could and would still make room for even without spending to the cap, I wanted to lay out what exactly a belt-tightening roster could look like next year in its entirety.

One thing to note: if there’s good news about the roster for next year when it comes to managing the Stars’ bankroll, it’s that actual salary dollars go from sky-high this year (over $90 million!) to a bit below the team’s projected cap hit, as Benn, Seguin, Pavelski, Radulov and Lindell’s actual salaries will decrease by over $16 million, collectively in 2020-21. The cap hits remain static, of course—and Pavelski does get $2 million more in signing bonuses paid out next season—but this all means that Tom Gaglardi will get a bit of a one-year reprieve before Seguin, Pavelski, and Lindell’s take-home pay shoots back up again the following year.

Of course, the March 4th projection of a salary cap somewhere in the $84-$88 million range seems laughable now. At best, the cap will remain static at $81.5 million, which means the Stars will have 15 players signed with about $22 million in cap space.

But then you have three RFAs in Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, and Roope Hintz. Assuming the Stars opt out of signing big-dollar, long-term contracts amid all the ecnomic uncertainty, let’s throw a kick-the-can-down-the-road total of $10 million in extensions distributed among those three players’ salaries next year. (Again, we’re just trying to get a rough picture here, so I’m not making any bold claims about player contracts or anything. Let’s just say those three, for next year, end of costing ten million bucks more, leaving the Stars with $12 million to fill out their roster. That could be high or it could be low, depending on a few different things, but bear with me.)

Anyway, assuming all that, The Stars have 18 players signed and $12 million left. Anton Khudobin is the obvious piece the Stars would look to retain, and it’s probably safe to say he won’t get much more than he did this season, given the market. That said, he did, you know, lead the entire league in save percentage this year, so let’s give him a 20% raise and bump him up to $3 million. That’ll bring the Stars to 19 players signed for next year with $9 million in cap space left.

Now you really start to see the effects of the cap crunch, I think. For instance, with players like Mattias Janmark, I really don’t see how you can pay to bring them back when you have Andrew Cogliano signed for one more year at—gulp—$3.25 million. Even the Stars probably know it’s wise to avoid bringing in too many penalty-killing forwards with speed who don’t score much, by now.

Roman Polak’s days in Dallas might likewise be numbered, as even Rick Bowness probably can’t justify signing a putative seventh defenseman with cheaper options already in the fold. Likewise for Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera, one would think, both of whom are comparative luxuries if the Stars need to stay below the cap in any significant way.

If the Stars have four open roster spots and $9 million in cap space, then, let’s assume they stay at least $5 million below it. That means that, in reality, the Stars at this point would really only have $4 million in space with four open roster spots.

Now, the team could carry fewer than 23 players, as they’ve done in the past, especially when the schedule is less compact. In fact, I wonder if they almost might have to, because of something called performance bonus overage carryover. Because the Stars spent to the cap this season, and because of perfomance bonuses being paid out to young and old players alike, they will end up having to apply some of those bonus payments to next year’s cap, which could end up being a particular problem with a stagnant cap and financial compression. That could take up another $1 million (or more, if I’m calculating properly) of cap space for next year.

Suffice it to say that not only does it seem “likely” to me that those final roster spots will be filled with ELCs—In fact, given everything we’ve discussed, I think it’s almost a certainty. The Stars may not sign a single free agent next summer outside of Khudobin. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, or maybe they’ll swing a trade to free up space. But that’s really where I’m landing, right now.

We’ll have more on the roster after we finish whatever this season ends up being, but I think you can safely a couple things about the 2020-21 roster in the meantime:

-Thomas Harley was already a prime candidate to make the team next year, but this basically guarantees it, in my eyes.

-Ty Dellandrea seems like a perfect bottom-six candidate to fill out the roster, and the Stars love him. Unless he seems absolutely not ready for some reason, I’d count on him breaking camp with the team.

-Jason Robertson already showed he can hang at the NHL level, so he seems like a good way to start juicing the offense from the youth side.

-Nicholas Caamano seems like a perfect 12th/13th forward at a bargain, particularly with what he showed this year.

-Joel Hanley seems, more than ever, like a prime candidate to roate with Taylor Fedun on the third pairing

-Justin Dowling might not have to endure dozens of healthy scratches next year, as his value will sharply increase without more expensive veteran players squeezing him out of the mix

-If the Stars can manage to trade Cogliano (who has a modified no-trade clause), I think they do it in a heartbeat. But good luck convincing another team to take his salary in this environment. Odds are he finishes the year in Dallas. If he can rebound, he’s still a usefull player with a great locker room presence. Coaches like those players (and so do other players).

2021 Opening Night Roster Projection:

G: Bishop, Khudobin

F: Benn-Seguin-Radulov

Hintz-Pavelski-Gurianov

Cogliano-Faksa-Comeau

Dowling-Dickinson-Dellandrea

Robertson, Caamano

D: Heiskanen-Klingberg

Lindell-Johns

Harley-Oleksiak

Fedun

All salary numbers per CapFriendly, without whom we are nothing.