Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill has a big decision coming up with regards to John Klingberg, one of the team’s top players. An upcoming unrestricted free agent, Klingberg has yet to ink an extension, which gave rise to rumors on the NHL Network last week that he had requested a trade.
Following last Saturday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Klingberg addressed the rumors, saying that he hadn’t directly asked for a trade, but was nonetheless frustrated at the lack of progress for a new deal:
“On my side, on my agent’s side, I feel like we’ve been trying to move pieces, years, numbers and stuff like that. On our part, I feel like we’ve been trying to meet them in different ways. More and more, as it comes down to, it’s been more quiet.
That gave way to a kicker of a quote in which Klingberg told reporters, “I don’t feel like I’ve been appreciated.” And who could blame him? Longtime teammates and team stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin got their extensions done a full year in advance. Klingberg has made it clear he wants to stay in Dallas, so what’s the hold-up?
Of course, it’s not that black and white. Benn and Seguin were 28 and 27 respectively for their first games under their new contracts, whereas Klingberg will be 30. assuming Klingberg wants max term, he would be almost 38 years old by the time his new deal expired. And given the recent max-term contracts signed by slightly younger defenseman such as Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, and Dougie Hamilton for $9M+ AAV, it’ll likely be a hefty cap hit as well.
Now, the Stars can afford that cap hit next season. Joe Pavelski ($7M AAV) and Alexander Radulov ($6.25M) are coming off the books this summer. The Stars will likely try to retain Pavelski at a lower price, but it’s unlikely Radulov returns given his usage. That’s more than enough to cover a $4.75M price hike, and that’s assuming Klingberg doesn’t take something closer to $8.25M due to age, hometown discount, taxes, or whatever other reasons.
But again, it’s not that black and white. Also up for new contracts will be Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson, coming off of their ELCs for their first big payday, not to mention Denis Gurianov and Braden Holtby. Given the circumstances, none of those players will command a huge caphit — unless Robertson takes the Miro Heiskanen approach and forgoes a bridge for term right away — but their pay raises will add up rather quickly.
In 2023, Roope Hintz will also be up for a massive payday, although that will be mitigated by Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin coming off the books (assuming they aren’t cleared by trade sooner). After which, new contracts will mostly be revolved around middle-of-the-pack or depth players and upcoming prospects, such as Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea. No major deals will be coming off the books until 2025, which will see expired contracts for Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Esa Lindell, and Ryan Suter.
Although none of this takes into consideration free agency, save a possible extension for the aforementioned Joe Pavelski. But Pavelski won’t be elite forever, and with Benn and Seguin already declining, the Stars will either need more cheap, young players to step up to the plate or find outside help if they wish to obtain enough offensive firepower to stay competitive.
Therefore, the crux of the John Klingberg extension is not necessarily the cap space, but where it’ s being allocated. The Stars’ biggest area of struggle is their offense, and thus logic dictates spending more money on forwards. And while they can’t exactly ignore their defense, they already have a good chunk of money tied up there:
And thus we finally reach our answer as to how the Stars got to their current impasse. Per CapFriendly, only five other teams spend more on defense than the Stars, only two of which — the Colorado Avalanche and the Penguins — currently sit firmly in a playoff spot. Were they to extend John Klingberg, they would be second only to the San Jose Sharks ($32,038,333), whose defensive situation isn’t exactly enviable.
Esa Lindell has always been a divisive figure among Stars fans, but I doubt even his most staunch supporters would argue he’d be making $5.8M a year had he not had John Klingberg as a partner. And while the Stars are (rightfully) hesitant to give Klingberg a deal that takes him to age 38, they had no such issues with signing a 36 year Ryan Suter, fresh off a buyout, to a deal that will take him to age 40.
Klingberg has played the last seven years on an extreme discount, a shrewd move by Jim Nill that has allowed him to spend such money on other players. But now that Klingberg’s deal is up, those same contracts are now hindering a re-signing. Dallas could have avoided this by choosing to not sign Suter, instead going for someone cheaper or with less term. Or they could have traded Lindell on draft day before his NMC kicked in, handicapping future trade options. Did I mention Suter also has a full NMC across his entire 4-year deal?
Jim Nill has a difficult decision coming up about what to do with John Klingberg. But one could argue he already made his decision last summer. Now we can only wait to see if he changes his mind.