Comprehensive Salary Cap Primer: How will the Stars look in the 2025-26 season?
When will the Stars become true contenders? How does the current cap projections alter or confirm that the Stars are on the right path, cap-wise? Settle in and let’s find out together.
Finally, there is some news regarding the projections of salary cap for the upcoming seasons and not only a one-year look. According to Elliotte Friedman and his sources, NHL teams have now received guidance on where the salary cap could be expected in the next three seasons and these are the projections:
This information is pretty crucial for the teams that plan to sign contracts for players valid from next season. Some have already done that, like Ottawa Senators with Tim Stutzle or St.Louis Blues with Robert Thomas or Jordan Kyrou. The Dallas Stars are in a different category of teams, as they still haven’t solved their contractual situation with either Jason Robertson or Roope Hintz for the 2023-24 season and beyond.
Salary cap flexibility will still be a name of the game at least for the next couple of years. To have a space under the cap is like having a great asset that you can actively use when the opportunity presents itself, such as accepting a bad contract along with a useful player or (preferably) a high draft pick.
Let’s try this fun little exercise to analyze the Dallas Stars’ salary cap situation for the next four seasons, all the way till 2026 – the last season of which we actually have some projection on, albeit an approximation.
Jim Nill and company have been at the wheel for almost a decade now and you can use some of their previous moves to determine the next, although they still have the ability to surprise us – like they did when they traded for Nils Lundkvist, spending a first round pick in the process, a thing Jim Nill almost never does.
First, we need to set up some ground rules of how we will go about this. There will be no crazy moves like trading for Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, although that would’ve been a fun little exercise too. We will project the next contracts for Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz, so there will obviously be some discussion whether the deal we projected them to sign is a probable one. But we’ll try to be as logical as possible here and won’t try to force anything unnatural. The same goes for possible trades or buyouts.
The trade(s) we will propose are just suggestions what the team should or could do based on the situation they will be in. So, if there just isn’t a space to sign a crucial RFA, you need to do something about it. The bottom line is, we will try to be as realistic as possible.
So without further ado, let’s go season by season in a quest for determining the situation we could see the Stars in over the next few years:
2022-23 season – Salary Cap at $82.5 million
There’s only one restricted free agent left and it’s obviously Jason Robertson. While I still hope (for the sake of the team and its cap long-term – we’ll get to that) he signs a long-term deal, the projection for the 2023-24 season is telling us that it will be much harder to fit the longer deal under the cap next year. Longer deal means bigger AAV and while the Stars could be in a position to shed some salary if he were to sign a deal worth north of $9 (or dare I say 10?) million – it’s much more reasonable to believe he will opt for a 3-year bridge deal instead.
Once Jason Robertson’s agent Pat Brisson saw the projections, and I am sure they already did beforehand, their plan should be clear. Get a shorter deal and try to maximize the value in 2025 when there’s significant rise in cap projection. It’s understandable to see the allure for a short deal for their camp. However, the reason why the negotiations could be taking this long are a) the Stars are not comfortable in paying him his desired AAV in the short term and b) the Stars would prefer to lock him up long-term. Also, the projected salary cap increase seems significant now, but wait until we get there if you still feel that way.
Since we’re trying to be realistic, it’s probably more likely that the Stars will sooner or later bury one third of Anton Khudobin’s contract in the minors and probably won’t pay any team a draft pick just to offload that deal. I also don’t count on anybody claiming him from the waiver wire. That would mean they could have around $7.8 or $8 million to sign Robertson if they go with only 22 skaters for the opening night roster, and that’d probably be enough for a bridge deal only anyways. Let’s say Robertson’s cap hit would be around that area - $7.85 million with 3 years of term.
It isn’t the last thing to sort out, though. Another thing will be the makeup of the defensive core. There is currently a logjam of capable defensemen, especially after the Lunkdvist trade. Will the Stars send Thomas Harley to the minors to start the season as he’s still waiver exempt? Or will they try to sneak one of Joel Hanley or Will Butcher through the waivers? That remains to be seen, but from a cap perspective, the monetary picture doesn’t change all that much.
Also, will one of the magic trio of Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven or Mavrik Bourque make the team? Let’s say just one of them does that. One forward needs to be waived in order to be cap compliant to start the season if we’re counting on Jason Robertson being in the lineup on opening night, which we should, really. We should do that. He will be signed by the opening night, right? Right?
No real update on the Jason Robertson contract situation other than both sides say ongoing daily discussions continue.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 28, 2022
You can see it isn’t all that straightforward and the Stars have a lot of decisions to make in the coming days or weeks. Anyways, here’s how the opening night roster of 22 players could look.
This current roster projection of the Dallas Stars has exactly $185,834 of cap space but is not counting either Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque or Logan Stankoven into the NHL equation yet. Not because they’re not good enough, but mainly because all of these players are on NHL one-way deals with the sole exception of Marian Studenic. Maybe we see a change in management style of doing things and one (if not more!) of the youngsters will force their hand. I’m honestly a big fan of all three and hope they can make it. However, I can understand the front office wanting to keep all their options open, not only for this year but the upcoming ones, too.
But if we have learned one thing about Nill during his tenure, it’s that he prioritizes asset management above almost anything. That is also why you probably wouldn’t see him paying somebody a high price just to help you with a bad contract. It is the sole reason why we are assuming that the contract of Khudobin will stay on their books for his final year as an insurance between the pipes, albeit a very expensive one. The same goes for a player like Radek Faksa, who can still bounce back, although that price tag is a bit hefty.
Many things will probably change between now and mid-October so we will also need to wait and see if some freak injury or other unforeseen circumstance won’t radically change Nill’s approach. Stars are obviously in cap trouble and that is why the negotiations with Jason Robertson have taken so long.
Unfortunately for him, things get a little trickier before they get easier after this season for one very good reason: Roope Hintz.
2023-24 season – Projected Salary Cap at $83.5 million
While we seem to be engaging solely in Robertson’s discussions now, somewhat under the radar flies the fact that Hintz is eligible for an extension too.
While I know everybody is deep into the Jason Robertson's new contract and what that might possibly be (me included) let's not forget the other big name.— Juraj Kralik 🇺🇦 (JK) (@KralikJuraj) September 23, 2022
I'd consider it a good lesson learned for Stars if they lock Hintz up proactively, ideally already this training camp/fall. pic.twitter.com/7gKvRZUcAt
He’s a prime candidate for an 8-year contract worth around $8 million in AAV right now. He will be 26 when the deal kicks in and it’s a good bet he will outperform it, if he stays healthy – which could be a slight issue with him, to be fair. He might as well wait for next summer, though, as he’s more than likely to raise his worth. Let’s trust Nill he’s well aware of that and signs him this fall already. If not, his value can only rise and that might also cause some problems down the line.
Roope Hintz, $8 million in AAV for 8 years
Most prominent expiring UFAs are: Joe Pavelski ($5.5M cap hit), Anton Khudobin ($3.3M cap hit), Luke Glendening ($1.5M cap hit), Joel Kiviranta ($1.05M cap hit), Will Butcher and Joel Hanley (both $750k cap hit).
Notable extension candidates after Roope Hintz are: Denis Gurianov, Ty Dellandrea, Jacob Peterson, Riley Damiani, and we may also include Joe Pavelski into the mix.
It’s very hard to do contract projections without the data from the previous season, but let’s just assume the most probable number based on a career trajectory here to paint a picture and also for the sake of the exercise.
Denis Gurianov, $3.5 million in AAV for 4 years.
The smart money’s on Gurianov rebounding after a bad season under a new coach and earning some more money and term in the process. He’ll be 26 next summer and while a longer deal is also probable, four years are your best bet not to be stuck with a longer deal when it’s not providing you value anymore. Gurianov is also fairly inconsistent, so another short deal or even a trade is very possible here.
Ty Dellandrea & Jacob Peterson, both around $2.2 million in AAV for 3 years
I truly expect both Dellandrea and Peterson to prove their worth in the 2022-23 season. They have the talent and I really feel they just need the opportunity to do so on a nightly basis. Given the cap constraints for the team, there isn’t another way here than a bridge deal for both.
The big question mark amongst the UFAs will be the decision of one Pavelski. Will he be good enough to stick around for another year? If so, for how much? Would he be willing to sign a discount deal and have his voice in the dressing room and actions on the ice teaching the youngsters? I’d also add that his current deal carries a discount, too.
If you add Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque and possibly even Logan Stankoven to the picture, the provisional roster for 2023-24 seems rather intriguing even without Pavelski.
Pavelski is a true wild card for the 2023-24 season, but this roster projection also accounts for a cap hit of $83,288,334 which basically leaves you only around $211,666 of available cap space. If he signs for a league minimum or at a value around $1 million with performance bonuses, let’s say $1 million in performance bonuses, he would be worth $2 million but his cap hit would only be at the same level of Matej Blumel. The performance bonus part of his potential could be moved to the 2024-25 season, where there’s a bit more breathing room, cap-wise.
For the buyout crowd, there are two possibilities. As we discussed in this article previously, a Ryan Suter buyout could potentially save more than $2.8 million against the cap for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons. Then there’s Faksa, which could save another $2.8 million in the 2023-24 season and $1.6 million in 2024-25, if the buyout were to happen next summer. That’s a substantial impact with the possibility to create more than $5.6 million in cap space without shedding any draft capital to do so.
One thing I would be wary of in this buyout scenario is a possible need for new contracts in the 2025-26 season. As it currently stands, we have not only Robertson and Jake Oettinger but also the likes of Bourque, Antonio Stranges and potentially even Johnston (if he sticks around in the NHL for more than 9 games this year) with their entry level deals expiring during that offseason.
While there are Jamie Benn’s and Esa Lindell’s contracts coming off the books, adding dead cap space from buyouts should come with a big caution sign. Suter’s dead cap hit would account for $1.4 million and Faksa’s for $1.1 million totaling almost $2.6 million to pay for players not to play for your team. As they say, actions have consequences – in a salary cap world, saving cap from buyout is only one side of the coin, but we’ll get to that.
Although Suter has a no movement clause in his contract, Stars could possibly try to offload Faksa as I believe there could be a market for a dependable bottom six center. If that would mean they could bring Pavelski for one last hurrah, it’s definitely a valid possibility. They probably have internal replacements for Faksa already at their disposal now.
2024-25 season – Projected Salary Cap at $87.5 million
Let’s move further in time to what I like to call “the start of the Lian Bichsel era”. Bichsel, currently playing his second year against men in the Swedish Hockey League for Leksand IF, is a physical force of nature. His style of play could translate even better to a smaller rink and while I think he’ll be playing in the AHL during the 2023-24 season, this could be the year where he makes the Dallas Stars squad and contributes significantly.
But first things first.
The reason why this season (and also continuation of this exercise) is noteworthy is that it’s the last year of Benn’s and Lindell’s contracts, essentially ending one era. Fortunately for the Stars, the next one has already started by this time. I — and many others probably too — feel both Benn and Lindell would be role players by this time and that’s a lot of money tied up for role players, honestly.
The thing I liked about the Stars cap situation for this season at first glance is that all key players are signed through the 2024-25 with the exception of Harley and the acquisition from two years ago now, Lundkvist. Both will be RFAs with a need for a new deal and since they will be coming off their entry level deals, significant raises will probably be needed.
It’s already a bit of a stretch trying to project deals two years from now, but let’s have some fun with it. Let’s say just one of the two really pops out as a defenseman of the future and Dallas really want to sign him to a big money, long-term deal. My money would be on Lundkvist. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s sign him to a 8-year contract with $7.5 million AAV, the kind of a deal John Klingberg declined just a mere three summers ago.
Let’s also not forget that the cap didn’t skyrocket and is projected to be just $4 million more than a season before. That brings us to Harley. In my opinion, he could have a bouncier career trajectory so I’d project he could sign somewhere in the $3 to $4 million range, depending on his on-ice progression. Keeping in mind he’ll still only be 23 years old before the start of 2024-25 season, a two- or three-year bridge deal might be the best possible route and Nill has already done that with several other players.
It’s probably fair to assume that it could be somebody different handing out those contracts too, as Nill’s current deal will also expire in 2024. If the players like Faksa or Suter lived long enough on the Stars’ books that they got to this point, it’s only fair to assume they could eventually be moved or bought out at this point. And given we’re now in a bit of a cap squeeze right now due to the Lundkvist extension, let’s buy out Suter’s contract (saving $2.866 million) and trade Faksa’s last year of his deal ($3.25 million) to the moon for a mid-round pick. Or a second rounder, tops.
Why move both at the same time? Well, to have this kind of roster at hand:
This specific roster of 23 players (some of them are imaginary) right here has a total cap hit of $87,491,669 which basically leaves us a grand total of $8,331 in cap space, if we’re assuming the lower end of the projection for the 2024-25 season. Now you see why getting rid of some contracts was inevitable at this point.
While there are some departures at the UFA front to create cap space, all of the players are replaceable. The list includes Colin Miller, Jani Hakanpaa and Scott Wedgewood. Fortunately for the Stars, there are some potential internal replacements for both defensemen as well as goalie.
We’ve already mentioned Bichsel, a huge defensive prospect capable of playing on the right side of the defense as well. Artem Grushnikov should be also capable of contributing to a NHL lineup by that point and you still have potential in players like Kyrou or other prospects coming from the Texas Stars. If not, you can always go the UFA route to fill out the bottom of the squad spots.
In the crease, I see a great potential in Matthew Murray, currently on a AHL deal with the Texas Stars. From the goalie prospects in the system today, he has shown the greatest upside and could be ready to backup your undeniable starter, Oettinger. Overall, this is a young and exciting team that has a little bit of everything. Size up front and on the backend, lots of skill, experience from grizzled veterans, still a considerable amount of youth, and obviously star-power. I get pretty excited when I see a roster mock-up of this kind and maybe that was the reason I picked them to win a Stanley Cup in the summer of 2025.
2025-26 season – Projected Salary Cap at approximately $92.5 million
I’d like to officially welcome you to the uncharted waters and also congratulations, if you managed to read this far.
In my opinion, it’s the first year when the Stars could have only one bad contract on the books – and that’s still debatable – in Tyler Seguin. The allocation of the space is also very crucial and we may make a full circle back to the present on this one.
If Johnston continues to impress in this year’s training camp and plays more than nine games in the upcoming 2022-23 season, 2025-26 will be a time when he’ll need a new deal. If he’s back in the OHL, his entry level contract slides a year forward. Same logic applies to Stankoven.
As Bourque is no longer an entry-slide candidate in 2022-23, he will definitely need a new deal. Same goes for Stranges and maybe, most notably, Jake Oettinger AND Jason Robertson.
If Robertson indeed signs a bridge deal for a 3-year term, this is the season when his new extension kicks in – and you might as well bet some money that it could become the first double digit cap hit in the cap era for the Dallas Stars. Now you see why the Stars should push for a long-term deal for him, right?
While everybody keeps saying that 2025-26 will be basically a spending spree, I’m a bit hesitant now, to be honest. The cap is projected to rise around $5 million from the previous season and while it’s not nothing, it almost certainly isn’t everything you might need. And yes, Benn’s contract is off the books. Lindell’s contract is also off the books, too. That’s $15.65 million of extra cap space just like that. The other good thing about that is, as I said earlier, they would be role players at best at that point and replacing them should be manageable.
However that $15 million-and-change will be spent like *this* on new extensions for core players. Let’s just go wild, throw something on the wall and see if it sticks. (It won’t.)
Jason Robertson is 26 years old and signs an 8-year deal worth $100 million (basically what McDavid signed for in 2017). His AAV is, as we probably know but math is hard sometimes, $12.5 million. Talk about maximizing your value – his agent played this game well, gotta admit that. And the deal could still be considered a bargain.
Jake Oettinger is also 26 years old and signs an 8-year deal worth $9.5 million per year, basically what Benn signed for in 2016. Also, well played with that bridge deal way back when in 2022, Jake. While we’re at it, why don’t we sign Bourque, too? Let’s assume he fulfills his potential but we’re being cautious and offer him “only” a bridge deal, $7.5 million for 3 years. Just look at Jason and Jake, on how bridge deals could set you up for life, Mavrik.
And let’s also not forget to count that $1.433 million of dead cap space from Suter’s potential buyout.
So, how are we looking so far? Such a relief that we got at least Hintz to sign that sweet-heart 8-year deal after Robertson missed a couple of games in 2022, right? Right?
Well, this is how we look for the 2025-26 season.
This projected roster of 23 players (again, some of them only imaginary) has a total cap hit of $91,492,502 which leaves us around $1 million and some change of cap space to accrue with eyes towards a trade deadline acquisition, which seems like enough. Or does it?
We haven’t counted on Johnston (or Stankoven for that matter) being in the NHL for more than nine games in the 2022-23 season. Thanks to that entry level slide move, we can count on their super cheap ELCs also in 2025-26. But what if one of them makes the NHL already in 2022? And not only that, but also stays afloat for more than a 9-game tryout? Well, that’s when problems arise for a future Dallas Stars general manager, who’s likely to lead the front office staff in 2025.
This is where a long-term extension for Jason Robertson could come in handy.
Imagine him making $3 million less on a $9.5 million AAV for the next 5 years from 2025 onwards. Then you’re only a Mason Marchment trade and some roster shenanigans away from being able to sign Johnston already for 2025-26, if need be. Or you could try the impossible and trade the last two years left on Seguin’s deal. That would probably cost a fortune. There is also a possible lockout looming in 2026-27, a season after this one, just to make you a little bit more uncomfortable.
Another way around it could potentially be to offer Robertson a 4-year deal and the Stars could still retain his rights in the summer of 2026 as a restricted free agent, as according to PuckPedia, his UFA years are starting only from 2027. Maybe the Stars are now trying to see if Johnston or Stankoven are ready during the camp and from there, the decision whether to bridge Robertson to three or four years could be made if a long-term deal is not in place. Could this also be the reason why Nill isn’t feeling that much pressure to sign Robertson immediately? Consider this as my speculation only.
So, there you have it.
This is a 2025-26 Dallas Stars roster projected by yours truly. I’d say that if everything goes well, their contending window has already started two seasons ago. But the point of this small (okay, not so small) exercise was to show you the ramifications of rather insignificant moves you make along the way that could make or break your salary cap that you have planned for years to come. Yes, there are a lot of variables and possible trades or signings that could and also probably will happen from now until 2026. After all, we officially only made one trade (Faksa) in these four seasons and that alone is pretty unrealistic, yet outstanding in some way.
Mainly because it gives you a hint of how stocked up the Stars depth and prospect system is at the moment. We didn’t even include guys like Stranges, Seminoff or Roulette – and we definitely could. Apart from Marchment and Lundkvist, who were coincidentally both acquired in the 2022 offseason, all other players were basically home grown. And then there was also Seguin, who will be serving his 13th(!) season in Victory Green by the end of this salary cap preview.
That we could build a rather competitive roster season by season is a testament of how good the drafting from the last couple of years really projects to be for the Dallas Stars in the future.