Tough Personnel Decisions For Dallas Stars To Be Driven By Rosters Limits, Not Cap Space

The extension of Jyrki Jokipakka leaves the Stars with $14-$16 million in cap space to play with to sign three restricted free agents and a backup goalie. If they want to upgrade other personnel, roster space will have to be managed.

The end of the NHL season means many teams are looking ahead with fear to building or retaining competitive teams with a stagnant salary cap. On that front, the Dallas Stars are in an incredibly enviable position

With Monday's two-year contract extension for Jyrki Jokipakka, the Stars have 19 likely NHL-roster players signed for next season for a cap hit of $55.549 million, assuming Mike Heika's report that Jokipakka will be paid $900,000 per season on a one-way contract is correct.

While next season's salary cap is still in flux, the numbers that have been bounced around range from a flat cap at around $69 million to $71 million or so, leaving the Stars $13.5 to $15.5 million to sign just three to four players, at least three of whom could be the team's existing restricted free agents.

But even sitting in the very comfortable position of having their lineup essentially complete for well under the salary cap, the Stars are likely to try and make personnel changes designed to immediately upgrade some positions. They are hoping their window of playoff competitiveness opens this season, and this summer is very likely to be a buyer's market given how many teams will be struggling with the stagnant salary cap.

The most obvious spot where the team will be looking to the outside without making any further moves is goalie, where currently only Kari Lehtonen is under contract at a $5.9 million cap hit (Texas Stars goalie Jack Campbell is a restricted free agent). His contract continues another three seasons, and the team is in the market for a backup that can push him given his struggles last season.

The forward position, however, is significantly more crowded. In fact, the Stars could complete a decent NHL roster right now by only signing their single remaining RFA.

Player Position Cap Hit (in millions) Years Remaining
Jason Spezza C $7.5 4
Tyler Seguin C/W $5.75 4
Jamie Benn C/W $5.25 2
Ales Hemsky W $4.0 2
Valeri Nichushkin W $2.125 1
Antoine Roussel W $2.0 3
Cody Eakin C $1.9 1
Travis Moen W $1.85 1
Ryan Garbutt W $1.8 2
Vernon Fiddler C $1.25 1
Brett Ritchie W $0.894 1
Colton Sceviour W $0.650 1

We've written it before, but the Stars have an amazing amount of forward talent signed for an extremely affordable price - roughly $35 million for 12 forwards, or a hair less than $3 million per player for one of the most dangerous offenses in the league last season. Of course, the Stars could give some players like Ritchie or the only forward RFA of note, Curtis McKenzie, more time in the AHL if they don't feel the roster design best suits their development.

And the overall number could go up if and when the Stars bring up a little more depth - be that Patrick Eaves, Rich Peverley, a Texas Stars player or some other free agent. There's also the matter of deployment - injury-free Nichushkin and Hemsky are likely the frontrunners for the top six, so additions will need the ability to thrive in the bottom six if necessary.

The Stars are also well set up for next offseason. All the notable free agents in the summer of 2016 (with apologies to Fiddler and Sceviour) are restricted free agents who will remain relatively cost controlled. the Stars don't have to make room for big money to keep their own talent - that fun will come in 2017 when Jamie Benn hits unrestricted free agency.

The defense is experiencing that sort of stability this offseason with no UFAs to deal with and two remaining restricted free agents to go along with the six signed players.

Player Shoots Cap hit (in millions) Years Remaining
Alex Goligoski L $4.6 1
John Klingberg R $4.25 7
Trevor Daley L $3.3 2
Jason Demers R $2.21 1
Jyrki Jokipakka L $0.90 2
Jordie Benn L $0.70 1

As the moment, the Stars have six defensemen signed for just less than $16 million, averaging $2.66 million a player.

This is where the roster crowding really becomes apparent. With two notable restricted free agents left on the docket in Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, the Stars would almost certainly be making personnel moves here even if they weren't interested in upgrading the defense. As it is, they have eight NHL-level defensemen for the typical seven roster spots.

Given that the Stars are shooting to make their run in the short, rather than long term, one would think the moves would come from some of the young depth - after all, they hope they are in the position to need a rental this season rather than provide one. And the defense remains relatively young - Daley is the veteran both in age (turning 32) and experience (11 NHL seasons).

Jokipakka's signing doesn't exclude him from this conversation. With several teams short on cap space, young defensemen who are signed to very reasonable contracts will likely be at a premium, and a player who is signed could easily be more attractive to a cap-strapped team than a player whose total cost is unknown.

The future of the defense is a little murkier, as Goligoski, Demers and Jordie Benn are set to be UFAs next offseason. Those three filled large shoes with the Stars last season, but it's hard to tell how their future will play out until the changes this offseason are complete. After all, the addition of a minute-eating veteran may make one or more expendable, while the inability to add there may raise their value in Dallas to more than the team would get in return.