The Dallas Stars Roster a Game of Musical Chairs in 2022-23
Even with the recent cuts, every position still has its own question marks, just eight days before opening night. And that might be a good thing. The roster game of musical chairs has never been this interesting.
Let’s talk about the favorite thing of general managers in the NHL.
For some, there is a negative connotation to the word, as some GMs (let’s not throw any names out there just yet) like to surround themselves with “the depth” quite a lot.
Now, there is also an upside to that. In the NHL, injuries happen more often than not and if you have a deep enough squad capable of covering those unfortunate events, you’re golden. The depth itself won’t save you though, if there is not a substantial quality hidden within.
The depth of the current Dallas Stars team heading into 2022-23 preseason games was somewhat unprecedented compared to what we’ve been accustomed to in the last decade or probably even more – and I mean that in a most positive way possible. That alone won’t get you in the playoffs, nor will it get you the desired Stanley Cup, but building from the draft while also addressing the needs from your leftover draft capital is how those great Tampa Bay Lightning or Chicago Blackhawks teams went about their business when chasing glory.
To some extent, the Stars are on a similar path.
I know, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. But let’s break down the options for the current season and see the appearing alternatives for roster spots in the coming years.
We can safely establish there are probably nine staples for the forward spot in Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson (when signed), Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Mason Marchment, Denis Gurianov, Radek Faksa and also “fittest guy in the room” Luke Glendening.
I’d argued that Ty Dellandrea is the 10th surest bet to make the opening lineup, given his versatility to play either center or wing and also his underrated ability to create some offense, even from a bottom-six position. Even Pete Deboer confirmed that he had him penciled in the roster for the opening night as well. Let’s not forget that he had a pretty productive season in the AHL and had been an offensive go-to option for the Flint Firebirds, however poor that team finished in the standings.
Another almost sure option to make the lineup is Jacob Peterson. He was sometimes mysteriously benched by former head coach Rick Bowness but he still had some ways to improve, especially on the defensive side, which was exploited especially in the playoff series against the Calgary Flames. Those are just typical growing pains for a European player playing his first season in North America.
That leaves only one more roster spot for a forward and the crowd willing to fill it up is rather big in our musical chairs game. This is where waiver eligibility becomes rather significant. Riley Tufte and Marian Studenic have been already waived and nobody claimed them on the waiver wire. Since they are assigned to the Texas Stars, they‘ll probably start the season there but still remain viable options to call-up when needed. Speaking of, the current makeup of the Texas Stars team is showing that they could be loaded going into the season, which alone is a great thing from a depth perspective.
I’m a big believer in the saying that the best precursor for future behavior is past behavior. Stars general manager Jim Nill always emphasizes the need of proper asset management, therefore trying to avoid losing your assets for nothing. The good news is that from the remaining group of “fringe” players, all of them are either waiver exempt or need to be sent back to their Canadian junior teams. This group consists of Fredrik Karlstrom, Fredrik Olofsson, Riley Damiani and Oskar Back, not to mention the Tremendous Three (registration mark pending) of Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque, and Logan Stankoven who are also still with the big team.
All of the mentioned players are viable options for a NHL spot. If we want to talk about possible wild cards, Back comes to mind first. He’s a bit of a sleeper and not often mentioned as a real possibility to make the NHL. He’s a specialist, focusing on the penalty kill and already has plenty of professional experience from the SHL and in the AHL. He was also a captain in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament earlier in September. Many fans or experts say Dellandrea is the future replacement of Radek Faksa, but if we’re going simply by pure comparables, Back might be closer to it, in my opinion. He will probably not make it immediately, but don’t be surprised to see his name in the NHL sometime during the season.
If you look closely at the line combinations from training camp, you could start to see some early trends of possible pairings and start to jump into conclusions already. We might want to wait a few weeks but from a high level, it seems the fight for the final roster spots at forward group will be fascinating. To me, there’s just too much NHL-ready or close to NHL-ready forwards and something’s really got to give.
A lot will also depend whether the Stars opt to include either Johnston or Stankoven, maybe even both, and give them their nine-game tryout and as we discussed in the podcast earlier this week, the longer the Robertson negotiations are taking, the bigger chance is we could possibly see both on the opening night roster.
For some months, it looked like the defensive side of the roster would be pretty straight-forward to predict. You have NHL staples in Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, Ryan Suter and Jani Hakanpaa. That leaves two free spots and, for a while, it seemed they would be occupied by up-and-coming Thomas Harley. Harley has a ton of upside potential and definitely needs to be playing regularly, be it in the NHL or AHL. The signing of Colin Miller over the summer appeared to provide the Stars with their NHL depth locked in, as Miller was penciled in as the seventh blueliner.
A rather bold trade for Nils Lundkvist and his great performances throughout the preseason certainly changed that perspective. With Lundkvist, you currently have seven NHL-ready defensemen without Harley. Adding to that experienced players like Joel Hanley and newly-signed Will Butcher fighting for a roster spot, and the blueline now has a considerable amount of serviceable depth.
Yes, the key thing is that injuries do happen, hence the mantra of depth and how it is important to have it throughout the whole campaign. But you feel the places are getting a bit crowded and there are certainly more adequate candidates than chairs. It was intentional work by Nill and his staff to have better certainty over unpredictable variables, such as injuries.
So, who’s left on the outside looking in?
Depending on what Jason Robertson signs for and if there are no subsequent trades, my best estimate would be the Stars carrying only 22 players for their opening night roster. That would mean only 13 skaters as well as seven defensemen will make the cut. Hanley and Butcher are currently the most probable candidates on the back end to start the season in the AHL (if they aren’t be claimed by another team, of course). There is also a possibility of sending Harley to the AHL as he’s still waiver exempt, thus saving one roster spot for a veteran like Miller.
There is a scenario, however, where they could go with a full roster and not be too worried about fitting Robertson under the cap, be it with a long-, mid-, or short-term contract.
Cue Anton Khudobin.
At the start of the training camp, he appeared healthy. That alone is great news for him personally but also for the Stars from a depth perspective. According to videos, he has been moving well and Pete DeBoer also praised him in the scrimmage without being asked to do so. Unfortunately, his performances over the pre-season games he’s been part so far do not raise any excitement levels, but he’s there.
In mid-October, one of Scott Wedgewood or Anton Khudobin will stay in the lineup. Waiving Anton Khudobin saves you $125,000 more against the cap than waiving Scott Wedgewood and it surely seems like the logical option here.
It is vital to mention that Khudobin is still not officially cleared to play and could be sent to AHL for a conditioning stint without needing to clear waivers first, which pretty much outlines how the Dallas Stars will probably go about this situation ahead of opening night. For the cap purposes and in order to save as much money possible before opening night, it makes sense to me to activate him and immediately waive to the minors, but we shall see.
And who knows? Maybe there is a team that could take a flier on Khudobin, the same way as Arizona claimed shaky Jonas Johansson or Ottawa did with Magnus Hellberg due to a longer-term injury to Cam Talbot.
The question marks will be solved in a few weeks. Given the composition of the squad, we may very well see some surprise entries to the lineup. Will Back continue his steady progress? Will Oloffson contribute from the get-go? Can Johnston or Stankoven (or both?) continue their upwards trend and force a spot in the line-up? And what about a sneaky entry like Riley Damiani or Butcher?
So, who stays? Who goes? This tweet from Matt DeFranks pretty much outlines the thinking of the coaching staff. You can see which players are planned to be a part of the top power play, who is projected so far to be in the second and third unit options, which could be pretty strong in the AHL, apart from Stankoven. Note that the eventual Robertson signing may cause a domino effect moving guys down the power play unit depth chart, which is only a good thing from a competition perspective.
Stars power play units:— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) October 4, 2022
If you see the full thread on Twitter, you might find a strange sighting of Harley on the penalty kill, which only confirms the thought process of sending him to the AHL to start off the season to continue rounding his game into a more complete player.
The only constant here should be the changes that are definitely coming, sooner or later. And that alone is fun.