With A Deep Pool of NHL Centers, How Will the Dallas Stars Run Their Lines in 2014-15?
The Stars have no shortage of options after an offseason spending spree filled some big holes on the top two lines.
The signing of Vernon Fiddler on Wednesday afternoon looks like the rounding out of Jim Nill's plan for the forwards, at least as far as acquiring people from the outside. After all, the Dallas Stars general manager said Tuesday that he was really only looking to sign one more player for the forwards - a lower line grit guy - and Fiddler more than aptly fills that role.
So given that, and given the Stars now have more centers than they probably know what to do with, it's time to start figuring out how this whole thing might work when October rolls around.
As always, there are caveats. This assumes everyone stays basically healthy over the summer and through training camp. It assumes the two notable RFAs in the group sign. And it assumes that there will be no trades which, as we'll address a little later on, may not be a totally safe bet.
Still, here's how things could shake out with the players the Stars have on the active roster as of Thursday morning:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Ales Hemsky
Erik Cole - Jason Spezza - Valeri Nichushkin
Ryan Garbutt - Cody Eakin - Antoine Roussel
Shawn Horcoff - Vernon Fiddler - Colton Sceviour
This is obviously just a working lineup - the Stars could easily try to rekindle the chemistry between Hemsky and Spezza and leave Nichushkin with his running mates from last season. Given the relative depth of the forwards, Fiddler, Horcoff, Eaves and Sceviour all look like fixtures on the fourth line as well. Probably the most set things are the elite pairing of Benn and Seguin on the top line and the uber-annoying checking line of Garbutt, Eakin and Roussel.
And as a matter of full disclosure, Hemsky, Cole and Nichushkin are all primarily right wings (almost exclusively so in the case of Hemsky). But without another top-end left wing to fill in on the top line, one of them would almost certainly have to shift over.
A lineup like this raises a fair number of questions, not the least of which is the status of Peverley. If he is unable to come back from heart surgery, the Stars almost certainly have the depth to fill in without a huge hole. If he is able to come back, he can play on practically any line. He had good chemistry with Seguin and Benn last year, filled in admirably on the lower lines and could easily slide onto wing alongside Spezza if they're trying to shore that line up defensively.
That brings us to one of the bigger elephants in the room, the status of Cole. With one year remaining on a contract that carries a $4.5 million cap hit, Cole represents the size of contract the Stars are probably looking to shed in order to clear room to comfortably sign their RFAs. Cole also fell out of favor in the playoffs, being scratched for three games.
If Peverley can play (which keeps his $3.25 million cap hit on the books), Cole is an obvious candidate for some sort of trade. If Peverley can't play, Cole still may be a target. After all, the Stars have high hopes for both Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie, neither of whom would be served well by mop up minutes on the fourth line or in the press box. It's unlikely that both would be up to start the year, but if one shines in camp, that second line left wing spot beckons.
Still, the questionable status of Peverley makes trading Cole at least somewhat of a risk. Ritchie and McKenzie had stellar seasons in the AHL, but it remains quite a jump to an NHL scoring line. And if Mike Heika is right and the Stars get the trio of Roussel, Eakin and Dillon signed in a total range of $5-$6 million, the cap may not be much of a concern at all.
The Stars have answered a lot of questions about the forwards already this offseason - most notably who the heck would fill the gaping hole at second line center. But things are still far from settled.
How would you set the Stars lines given the pieces they have now, either with or without the services of Peverley? If you want to be really ambitious, you can set the power play as well.