This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and NHLNumbers.
The Dallas Stars were one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014-15 NHL season. After what appeared to be a breakout campaign in 2013-14, the Stars loaded up in the offseason, adding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to an already strong forward group. Their forwards didn’t disappoint, as the Stars managed to score more goals than anybody else in the league other than the Tampa Bay Lightning, but unfortunately, horrible goaltending resulted in a sixth placed finish in the Central Division. This summer, the Stars added a whole bunch of former Blackhawks in Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp, and Antti Niemi in an attempt to make everybody forget about last season. Is that going to be enough for them to make the playoffs, or are the Stars setting themselves up for another colossal failure?
- Signed John Klingberg to a seven year contract with a $4.250 million cap hit.
- Traded a 2015 seventh round pick to the Sharks for the UFA rights to Antti Niemi, then signed him to a three year contract with a $4.50 million cap hit.
- Signed Curtis McKenzie to a two year contract with a $0.675 million cap hit.
- Signed Patrick Eaves to a one year, $1.15 million contract.
- Signed Jamie Oleksiak to a one year, $0.875 million contract.
- Traded Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt to the Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.
- Signed Johnny Oduya to a two year contract with a $3.75 million cap hit.
- IN: Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Antti Niemi.
- OUT: Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley, Ryan Garbutt, Trevor Daley, Jhonas Enroth.
The Stars are arguably the most unpredictable team in the NHL heading into the 2015-16 season. Last summer, they were labelled as one of the “winners of the offseason” because they brought in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky — who seemed to develop some chemistry in the few weeks they played together in Ottawa — which was supposed to help catapult them to the top of the Central Division. The thought was the Stars would be so good at scoring goals, that it would make up for a pretty mediocre defensive group, and that even if their defence wasn’t that good, Kari Lehtonen would be able to bail them out. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case. The Stars lived up to the hype in terms of their offensive production, as they managed to score the second most goals in the league largely because of mammoth seasons from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who had 87 and 77 points respectively. Despite that dominate attack, the Stars’ inability to keep the puck out of the net resulted in them finishing the year with a very disappointing sixth place finish in the Central.
Did they improve this summer? I want to say that they did, but it’s kind of a “fool me once, shame on you” scenario with them, because at this time last year, they were a hot pick to break out and become one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference. If one thing is certain about the Stars, though, it’s that they somehow managed to improve on their already elite offence, which is great for people who enjoy watching 1980s style hockey. The Stars dealt Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley to the Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp, who will likely slot in on the team’s top line next to Benn and Seguin. That’ll allow Jason Spezza to play centre on the second line, and hopefully bring Ales Hemsky back from the grave, because even though the Stars scored at whim last year, he only managed 11 goals and 21 assists in 76 games. On top of that, the Stars will also be welcoming a healthy Valeri Nichushkin back to the lineup, giving them arguably the strongest top six of any team in the West.
What does this look like long term? How long can they keep this group together? Seguin and Spezza are under control for four more years, so there’s not much to worry about there for a while. Jamie Benn has two more years left on a deal that pays him $5.25 million, and if he continues where he left off last season, he’s more than likely going to be looking for a pretty hefty pay raise when he’s able to hit free agency. Thankfully, Hemsky and Sharp’s deals will both come to an end the same year Benn’s does, and outside of Seguin, Spezza, and the freshly extended Cody Eakin, the Stars don’t have very much cap room tied up long term, so they have a ton of flexibility and room to work with to get their captain signed to another long term deal. They’re also going to need to sign Nichushkin to a new RFA deal at the end of the season, and either re-sign guys like Travis Moen, Patrick Eaves, and Vernon Fiddler, or find replacement depth players, which shouldn’t be much of an issue.
As we all know, the Stars’ biggest fault last year was their inability to keep the puck out of the net. Not only did the Stars improve their goaltending to remedy this problem, but they also made a nice swap on the blue line, as they dealt Trevor Daley to the Hawks as part of the Sharp trade, and filled his spot by signing another Hawk in Johnny Oduya. The fear with Oduya is that his game is going to regress now that he isn’t playing with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Even if that is the case, he’s only signed for two years at a pretty reasonable $3.75 million cap hit. Besides, he can’t be much worse than Daley, who had a horrific season last year, managing to put up far and away the worst Corsi For percentage on the team at even strength despite making pretty heavy offensive zone starts.
So where does everybody fit? Goligoski and Klingberg will likely play with one another on the top pair, logging the majority of the team’s prime offensive minutes. Behind them, Jason Demers and Johnny Oduya would be paired together in a shut down role, while Jordie Benn will play alongside one of Oleksiak or Nemeth.
Last year, Goligoski led the team in ice time, averaging 23:49 minutes per game. He also managed a pretty respectable 53.1 Corsi For percentage at even strength, which was among the best on the team in terms of the defencemen. After being picked up in a trade with the Sharks, Jason Demers logged just under 20 minutes of ice time per game, managing a 55.3 Corsi For percentage despite making the most defensive zone starts at even strength of any defenceman on the team. Jordie Benn also put up pretty respectable possession numbers last year, boasting a 53. 8 Corsi For percentage in just over 18 minutes of ice time per game. The Stars are also pretty loaded with young defencemen. Klingberg signed a long term deal after a breakout campaign last year, but the Stars also have young guys like Oleksiak, Nemeth, and Jyrki Jokipakka looking to break into increased roles on the team.
Like their forwards, the Stars don’t have much committed past the immediate future. In fact, outside of John Klingberg, who’s locked up for another seven years, the Stars don’t have any defencemen signed for more than two years. As a result, they’ll have a bunch of room to sign all of their impending free agents, Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, and Jason Demers, if they choose, or they can make a huge splash via trade or in the free agent market. Long story short, the Stars have a ton of options and a lot of financial flexibility moving forward, so if they want to keep around the guys they already have, they can. The question is whether they want to.
I don’t know if I really need to mention it again, but the Stars’ goaltending was horrible last season. And by horrible, I mean the only team that was worse than them was the Oilers. It’s pretty incredible that the team who scored the second most goals in the league last year could finish as low in the standings as Dallas did, but their goaltending was actually that bad. Even though they were 10th in the league in terms of even strength Corsi For percentage and right in the middle of the pack in shots against, the Stars goalies 260 goals, due largely to a horrific 0.895 team save percentage.
This was kind of weird because Kari Lehtonen had been really solid the year before. In 65 games in 2013-14, Lehtonen 0.919 save percentage, which was right around his career average at the time. He also had 9.68 goals saved above average, which wasn’t great, but it was certainly respectable, and good enough to help his team earn a playoff spot. Then last year happened, and Lehtonen put up a 0.903 save percentage and -20.96 goals saved above average, both of which were career lows.
In order to help shore up their goaltending, the Stars signed free agent Antti Niemi, giving them some insurance in net. Lehtonen and Niemi will compete with one another for the starting job this year, but it’s hard to say if that’ll continue for the long run. Both of them are signed for three more years at a combined cap hit of just over $10 million. That’s a lot of money to be spending on two average to above average goaltenders, so it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them was moved next summer.
The Stars are really unpredictable, both in the short term, and the long term. They’re heading into the season as a team who’s apparently improved quite a bit over the summer, but that’s what was said about them a year ago, and we all know how that turned out. To be fair though, the Stars were a much better team than their record suggested, and they did a solid job at addressing the problems that resulted in them being one of last season’s biggest disappointments. They had an elite offence that could score goals at will, and they were an above average team in terms of possession, but their undoing was horrific goaltending that completely offset their great attack. It’s certainly fair to assume that a combination of Kari Lehtonen not having another career-worst season and the addition of Antti Niemi will go a long way in helping the Stars keep the puck out of their own net this year, and if they can do that, the 2015-16 Stars can make everybody forget about just how frustrating and disappointing last season was in Dallas.
Long term, the Stars only have a handful of players signed for more than two years. They have Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Antoine Roussel, and Cody Eakin up front, John Klingberg on the blue line, and of course, their goalie tandem signed for at least three more years. The group of them together have a $33.75 million cap hit, meaning the Stars have a tremendous amount of financial flexibility moving forward — especially if they choose to cut ties with one of Niemi or Lehtonen. The biggest concern for the team, of course, will be signing Jamie Benn to a new contract in 2017, but looking at their cap picture, it’s really hard to imagine them not having the money to do so unless they horrifically mismanage their contracts over the next couple years.