It’s roughly 48 hours until free agency opens, and the Dallas Stars have a lot of work to do.
Based on who is signed (and expected to be signed to new RFA deals) right now, here’s a rough outline of what the lineup looks like (and where gaps that need to be addressed are):
Jason Robertson* — Joe Pavelski — Roope Hintz
Jamie Benn — Tyler Seguin — ???
Luke Glendening — Radek Faksa — ???
Denis Gurianov — Jacob Peterson — Marian Studenic*
Joel Kiviranta — Tanner Kero
Ryan Suter — Miro Heiskanen
Esa Lindell — Thomas Harley
Jani Hakanpaa — ???
*RFAs pending new contracts
Michael Raffl, who fit in nicely on the third line in the playoffs, is expected to go to free agency. Alexander Radulov already signed a new deal to play in the KHL next season. Those two absences, in theory, provide two middle six forward spots that need to be filled. However, a third line checking forward should be in the system already, so it’s possible Dallas can head into free agency with the sole focus on filling out that Benn/Seguin line, whether by a signing or via trade.
Assuming Studenic gets around $1 million (a slight raise from his $750k this past season), the Stars have around $17.5 million to re-sign Oettinger and Robertson and find a defenseman and a top six forward.
According to Evolving Wild’s contract projections, we Oettinger is expected to have a new deal around $5 million per season while Robertson is projected somewhere around $8 million. That would leave Dallas with roughly $4.5 million to find a top six forward, assuming they make no move to clear cap space. But....
IS THERE A TRADE MARKET FOR ANTON KHUDOBIN?
There are a number of teams that are looking for goaltending help, and not just in the starting position. This season, Khudobin’s modified no trade clause goes away, so Dallas could look to trade him to clear off some cap space. Reportedly, Khudobin’s surgery recovery is going well, which should make him available to potentially start the season. Teams could bank on a turnaround season from a goaltender that did help backstop his team to the Stanley Cup Final just a few seasons ago as a short-term stop gap in their system.
I’ve looked at the depth charts around the NHL, and have identified some teams that could be potential trade partners for Khudobin’s services next season:
Looking For A Backup
St. Louis Blues (Jordan Binnington is their clear starter); Chicago Blackhawks (a team looking to rebuild could find use in a veteran goaltender that’s only under contract for one season as he’s not going to be blocking anyone’s progress); Edmonton Oilers (they’ve got Mike Smith in net and are rumored to be heavily pursuing UFA Jack Campbell); Winnipeg Jets (could Khudobin reunite with ex-head coach Rick Bowness in the ‘peg and backstop Hellebuyck?)
Plenty Of Cap Space To Work With
The Ottawa Senators need another goaltender with only Anton Forsberg signed. They’re seemingly on the upswing in their rebuild, and after acquiring Alex DeBrincat, could be looking to be more competitive this season than anticipated earlier this summer. The Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres also only have one goaltender under contract, and neither team appears to be on the verge of contending this season. One of these three teams seems like the most logical fit from the cap perspective.
Jack Campbell is expected to hit free agency. Erik Kallgren may be ready to take the reins in net, but with a team whose expectations are Stanley Cup lofty every year, is his youth something the Toronto Maple Leafs want to roll with without some experience to fall back on? They have the cap space for Khudobin’s contract if they fail to acquire a big-name free agent.
A Sneaky Option
After signing RFA Ilya Samsanov, the Capitals could potentially lose Pheonix Copley to free agency. Maybe this is a sneaky option for the Stars to find a trade partner? They’ve got about $9 million in space to sign a couple of UFA defensemen, but their roster is relatively set. Khudobin’s contract and one-year term could be a fit to keep the team competitive while Nicholas Backstrom recovers from major surgery while not hamstringing them for years to come.
Could Drama Make This A Destination?
The Minnesota Wild re-signed Marc-Andre Fleury, a nice piece of business for them. However, that’s reportedly ruffled Cam Talbot’s feathers. If that leads to the Wild getting into the goalie market by trading Talbot to a team looking for a starter, could they take on Khudobin (with a sweetener) to fill a newly-created backup goaltender need?
It’ll Take A Lot Of Work...Like, A LOT
The Vegas Golden Knights only have Robin Lehner under contract for next season, but they’ve got to shed a lot of salary just to fit their roster under the salary cap. Cap Friendly has them at $2.7 million over the cap with a bunch of injured guys and two RFA forwards to potentially give new contracts. They may have to look to a really young guy in the system to fill this role, or sign someone to a minimum contract in free agency. Khudobin’s $3.3 million cap hit would be very difficult for them to fit in with their other plans and needs.
HOW WORRIED SHOULD DALLAS BE OF AN OFFER SHEET?
There may be a ton of teams looking for goaltender help this summer, but there aren’t many quality goaltenders out on the market. Campbell and Darcy Kuemper are the leading free agent options, and John Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks is rumored to be available for the right price.
So could a team who saw Jake Oettinger’s brilliant performance in the playoffs decide to go after a young franchise goaltender by offer sheeting him?
It’s definitely a possibility. Usually, general managers can hold off on signing their restricted free agents until after they get their free agency signings done in July. Dallas could avoid the whole thing by signing Oettinger in advance of free agency opening on Wednesday, effectively making the potential of an offer sheet conversation completely null and void. If they don’t, maybe a general manager in the league looking to make a big splash decides to get spicy and does the offer sheet.
But Dallas will likely just match it (there’s literally not another franchise goaltender sitting in their system today) and deal with the cap numbers if it becomes an issue as a result of the contract match. It also assumes Oettinger would sign an offer sheet to play elsewhere, too, which isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. If I were putting a betting line on Oettinger getting an offer sheet, signing it, and forcing Dallas to match or move on, I’d place the chances at somewhere around 5 percent.
WHICH ROUTE IS BEST FOR A TOP SIX FORWARD - FREE AGENCY, TRADE, OR INTERNAL PROMOTION?
There are definitely some intriguing options hitting free agency at the forward position. Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri, Claude Giroux, Vincent Trocheck, and Ondrej Palat will all have a line of suitors should they get to the open market. Dallas won’t be able to compete for those top tier talents given their cap constraints.
Trades are a little trickier because it means finding a team with a surplus willing to fill your need and then figuring out what the right price is to make a deal work. And top six forwards don’t often come up on the trade block, so there’s no guarantee that this could actually accomplish the goal of getting a top six forward for the Stars.
That leaves internal promotion. There are a number of players that appear to be knocking on the door that would fit well into a top six position: Riley Damiani, Mavrik Bourque, Ty Dellandrea. There’s also a whole load of young guns that could come in and surprise, like Wyatt Johnston and Logan Stankhoven. If they can’t find a top six guy that works in free agency or via trade, going with a young guy and having that competition in development camp and training camp could allow Dallas to give some of them a look in that position while leaving some cap space to be flexible should an opportunity to acquire someone occur in-season.
Never underestimate the value of flexibility.