As is the case in everything, 2020 continues to have no chill — and that includes the Dallas Stars’ offseason. The NHL draft starts next Tuesday (October 6th) with round one followed the next day with rounds two through seven, all conducted via Zoom so as to ensure everyone’s safety.
Free agency opens Friday, October 9th — barely 72 hours after the draft starts. It’s a timeline that is quite scrunched from the usual. We generally have at least a week between the draft and free agency to identify the needs of the Stars and who they might target, after potentially months of offseason after the regular season ends (when they don’t qualify for the postseason) or once the team is eliminated from the playoffs.
While the team in the bubble was focused on the Stanley Cup run, plenty of scouts and executives have been getting ready for the offseason that is coming fast and furious.
The first piece in determining what the Stars might do to re-tool their roster in order to try to make another run at the Stanley Cup next season is determining where their salary cap is. It’s not known for certain if there is an internal cap number the Stars will want to operate under considering the lost revenues of the end of the season, missed revenues from playing this playoffs in the bubble without fans, and the detriment to Tom Gaglardi’s main companies in the hospitality industry have had on whether the team will be allowed to spend to the salary cap. But given the fact that the Stars enacted cost-saving measures at the start of the pandemic including salary cuts and furloughs (some of which are still in place), and given there is no concrete plan for whether the team will have a full 82-game schedule next year, players being paid for 82 games if the season is shortened, and when fans will be back in attendance, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Stars may not be a salary cap team next year.
If they want to trust some youth, that will go a long way to helping keep the salary cap hit lower. The Stars already have about $61.6 million in committed salary cap next season with 15 players under contract. They’ll need to fill out up to five forwards, up to two blueliners, and a tandem goaltender if they want to carry the full 23-man roster next season, inclusive of RFAs due new contracts.
Here’s what is definitively committed for next season, courtesy of CapFriendly:
Slated for unrestricted free agency is Mattias Janmark, Corey Perry, Roman Polak, Andrej Sekera, and Anton Khudobin - two forwards, two defenseman, and a tandem goaltender. The only restricted free agents the Stars have to contend with this offseason are in the forward corps: Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov. Those are key pieces of the Stars offense and arguably one of their most responsible two-way forwards and penalty killers.
Evolving Wild has a contract projection tool that considers the performance of a player, their current cap hit, and comparable contracts to project a salary cap hit for a new contract. They have projected a cap hit of $3.9 million for Faksa (which seems about right for elite two-way forwards these days), a $3.1 million cap hit for Hintz (his inconsistent production this season may see that come down a bit), and a $2.1 million cap hit for Gurianov (his playoff performance is likely to see that potentially go a bit higher). That’s a total of about $9 million to the three RFAs Dallas would need to negotiate with this season, and doesn’t seem too far out of the realm of possibility.
Assuming $9 million and those three RFAs re-signed, that gives Dallas about $7.4 million to work with in free agency with two forwards, two blueliners, and a backup goaltender left to address.
For my money, Joel Kiviranta and, to a lesser degree, Nicholas Caamano proved this postseason that they are ready for full-time duty at the NHL level. Kiviranta could slot into the top six (basically the Corey Perry spot), with Caamano in the bottom six (basically the Mattias Janmark role). If Dallas goes the route of youth to finalize their forward group, that’d be about $1.7 million more to the salary cap. The argument of whether this forward group minus Perry can go as far next year is for another article, of course. But there’s a pathway to some savings by bringing in some youth for full-time duty next season if the Stars choose.
Now we’re down to about $5.7 million for up to two blueliners and a backup goaltender. Assuming that all blueliners under contract are healthy for next season, Dallas could choose to keep Joel Hanley for their bottom pairing to partner with Taylor Fedun. That’d be the most cost-effective way to fill out the blueline, and Hanley also proved he’s ready for full-time NHL duty with his playoff performance. Hanley would carry a $700,000 cap hit for next season.
That takes you down to $5 million to potentially sign a forward, a blueliner, and a tandem goaltender. If the Stars are content with the forward group as basically currently constructed based on the playoffs under the tweaked system Rick Bowness deployed, that should give them the flexibility to ensure a good tandem goaltending partner for Ben Bishop — but they may need to be a salary cap team once again in order to achieve that. Whether it’s Anton Khudobin or a different free agent signing, Dallas doesn’t have to move a key piece to achieve that goal if they do not want to — or if they determine Jake Oettinger is ready to graduate to backup NHL duty.
But it’s all a lot of “ifs” until we see what moves the Stars undertake in an effort to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final next season.