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How Could Blake Coleman Fit Into the Dallas Stars’ Plans Next Season?

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Blake Coleman seems like the perfect fit for the Dallas Stars next season. He is. But it’s complicated.

Blake Coleman skates with the Stanley Cup in 2020 after the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars.
Blake Coleman skates with the Stanley Cup in 2020 after the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The less teams there are to compete, the louder the indistinct chatter is from the golfing clubs. Throw expansion into the mix, and we’re talking a lot of clenched masks and nervous gulps. Do the Colorado Avalanche, who already had Erik Johnson waive his no-move clause to talk to other teams, part ways with their long-time captain, Gabriel Landeskog? What does Boston do with their barracks full of UFA/RFA’s? Who’s gonna win the Jack Eichel sweepstakes?

For some teams, the chatter isn’t indistinct at all. Reports indicate that Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok could be exposed by Nashville. Washington has to make a tough choice on Brenden Dillon. Tampa and Pittsburgh are set to expose some worthy talent like Jason Zucker, Zach Aston-Reese, Yanni Gourde, and Ondrej Palat. Meanwhile, sources in Toronto are all but waving goodbye to Zach Hyman.

As always, Jim Nill is keeping things quiet on the Western front. Is Dallas interested in any of the big names? Would it even make sense? There’s nothing to indicate Nill is looking to spend. As he told Mike Heika in May, Dallas believes missing Radulov and Seguin — not to mention Roope Hintz in spurts — was what hurt the Stars’ ability to score.

Otherwise, they profiled like a strong scoring team. Which is true. While I believe Dallas’ scoring issues are more nuanced than simply looking at where they ranked this year, it’s obviously to Dallas’ credit that they were 7th in shot attempt differential, 7th in unblocked shot attempt differential, and 4th in expected goal differential.

Which brings us to this recent tweet:

There’s a lot to like about the potential of having Blake Coleman. Plus, it’s a better ‘coming home’ story than Insert Toronto-Born Player X Becoming a Maple Leaf here. Coleman was born in Plano, TX. I’d mention something famous about Plano, but as a native of Fort Worth and now a resident of San Antonio who actively avoided Dallas and all things north of Dallas, I won’t pretend to be an expert (please don’t @ me over this). Still, Coleman is only the second Texas-born player to win the Stanley Cup, and the first to be trained within the state. He has a home in Texas, trains with Jamie Benn in the offseason, has coffee with Les Jackson, and his wife is a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader who discovered him on Facebook after he scored his first NHL goal. Against the Stars.

It’s a potentially great signing, and already a great story. With the expectations high on Dallas next season, how cool would it be for a Texas native to help win the Cup for a Texas-based team?

The Player

It goes without saying, but Coleman would be a fantastic addition. He’s what people are actually talking about when they casually define two-way forwards. As in, he’s defensively responsible, and offensively capable; not just a forward who plays strong defense and chips in a goal or two every lunar eclipse (i.e. ‘one-way’).

Blake Coleman’s Wins Above Replacement. Data via Jfresh and TopDownHockey

In addition, he’s exactly what Dallas has been lacking in terms of a middle six forward who can finish plays. Coleman plays extremely tough competition, and more notable than anything, he’s been trending up. Though 29, Coleman only played two full seasons over a five-year career so this isn’t some young-ish veteran with low-key extra mileage.

As always, the cap complicates things. Dallas will have in the area of $15M to work with between Miro Heiskanen’s major deal, Jamie Oleksiak, Jason Dickinson, Joel Kiviranta, and Rhett Gardner. Heiskanen could have a yearly cap hit upwards of $8M, and Oleksiak is expected to have a yearly cap hit of around $4M.

Of course, that assumes Heiskanen is given full term. As Heika has pointed out, Heiskanen’s team may be willing to consider a potential three-year bridge deal — banking on making more once league profits go up, and thus the cap. The flip side is that if league profits do go up, then won’t Heiskanen’s eight-year contract look better than whatever his next deal would be? While I’ve noted Heiskanen’s curious regular season decline and why, we know what his ceiling is and how great Miro can be.

Regardless, bringing in a UFA won’t be easy. Jason Robertson and John Klingberg are two other players that will complicate Dallas’ cap after next year. But let’s forget about cap for a second. If Dallas wants to push their chips in next year, then this offseason is crucial. Below is list of UFA’s Dallas should consider looking at if they’re in the market according to Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections. I didn’t necessarily choose each player deliberately. They’re just free agents I thought stood out as players Dallas could potentially make work in terms of cap.

Predicted contracts for Blake Coleman, and several other UFA’s Nill might be looking at.

The Competition

Assuming Nill can work some cap magic, and they can sign a player like Coleman, is Coleman even the best UFA? I think that’s a reasonable question. The Coming Home story is great, but isn’t it better to sign the best player who happens to be the best fit? If Dallas wants a middle six forward that can play up and down the lineup, and can finish strong, what about Hyman?

Like Coleman, Hyman is 29. He plays a tough style, and has had injuries, but he doesn’t have too many seasons under his belt. In addition, Hyman displays even stronger offensive metrics than Coleman, especially on the shot quality front — even when measured in isolation.

Blake Coleman vs. Zach Hyman (regularized adjusted plus-minus)

Also, Dallas has strong right-wing depth, however temporary. Pavelski, Radulov, and Gurianov should round out the top three. Does Coleman supplant one of them, or does Dallas make it work by re-arranging some of the forwards away from their natural side? Hyman, conversely, plays left wing. Robertson is Dallas’ only elite left winger. If Rick Bowness is committed, as he’s already stated, to playing Benn at center, then the forwards below him are Kiviranta and Dickinson, which is a lot less intimidating.

Another player who could fit (also a left winger) is Jaden Schwartz. Nobody talks about him, but he’s had a solid career. His Wins Above Replacement don’t match Coleman’s, but he’s drawn even tougher assignments throughout his career, suppressing opposing offense at an elite rate, and has crossed the 50-point barrier five times in eight full seasons.

Blake Coleman vs. Jaden Schwartz: Wins Above Replacement

No matter what, Nill’s in a tough spot. The optics won’t look good if he does nothing. But is he justified in trusting that Dallas will be a lot healthier, and that a healthy roster will be enough? If Dallas is healthy, they’ll have the same roster that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals, but plus Robertson, and possibly Thomas Harley.

The other factor is how well a particular UFA will fit into Dallas’ long term plans. Do the Stars plan on trying to bring Pavelski or Radulov back after next year? What line are they trying to boost? Benn’s line? Seguin’s line? Faksa’s line? Will they take an aggressive approach to trying to fit in wildcards like Mavrik Bourque, Riley Damiani, or Adam Mascherin (assuming Seattle doesn’t take him to boost their active prospect pool)?

It wouldn’t be Nill’s style. After all, there’s little to indicate Robertson would have been so included this year had Seguin and Radulov been healthy. But it’s an option he’ll have to consider if Dallas intends to spend, but loses one of Faksa or Dickinson to Seattle. It’d be a good environment for a potential prospect if Dallas can surround them with a talented, deep forward group also.

Of course, all of this depends on how accurately Dallas feels their Stanley Cup run reflected their true potential. They went into last season’s playoffs as underdogs throughout most of their series due to a lack of scoring. They missed this year’s playoffs due to a lack of scoring. Perhaps there are other ways to fix their scoring problems (whether it’s being healthier, more creative offensive schemes, or finally getting the right breaks), but we know one way — bring Coleman home. But is it the only way? That’s the million dollar question involving a lot of million dollar names.