The NHL’s most entertaining team is in a tight jam.
The Dallas Stars are stuck in a very abnormal cap situation. They have just 11 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 2 goalies locked up, with $13 million in cap space. While that isn’t a huge issue, the two goalies account for almost 18% of the cap, and the team had the sixth worst save percentage this year. This was a team that made it to game 7 of the conference semifinals this year without Tyler Seguin, and could very well be a Cup contender if they improve in net, but it won’t be easy.
Like I said, the Stars were the most entertaining team to watch last year. Their combination of a very strong offense, and a weak defense, made for some frantic paced games. Four or five goal leads were not safe. With guys like Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and John Klingberg, their offense was second to none. Literally, they scored the most goals in the league.
The Stars outscored their way to second in the league, with a 50-23-9 record. They had a 52.72% 5v5 CF, which was good for fifth in the league. A lot of that was thanks to their offense, which had a second place 62.76 5v5 CF60, and much less to their defense, which had a 17th place 56.29 5v5 CA60.
They were a team that suffered from a PDO split – where one of the two factors for PDO is extremely high, and the other is extremely low. In this case, their 8.04% shooting percentage was high (7th in the league), and their 91.66 save percentage was low (27th in the league).
Up front, the Stars have one of the best offenses in the league. They are one of two teams to have two point per game players with at least 5 games, the other being Pittsburgh’s two headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They have Jamie Benn, one of four 40 goal scorers this season, and Tyler Seguin is one of 28 thirty goal scorers, despite having the fewest games played of the bunch. Jason Spezza is another one of those thirty goal scorers, while Patrick Sharp contributed with 20 of his own. Combine that with four more forwards with at least 29 points, and you have a very potent offense in a goalless league. Also, the remaining forwards all have a positive impact on possession, so it is an extremely deep forward group.
On defense, they are quite solid, considering their reputation. John Klingberg leads the group in both points and possession, with this season establishing himself as a top defenseman in the league, the potential next Erik Karlsson, if you will. Alex Goligoski was their other 30+ point defenseman, but since the Stars realized they can’t sign him, they traded his rights to the Coyotes for a 5th round pick. Jason Demers was a very good top 4 option this season, with a solid 23 points and a 54.45% 5v5 CF, the second best from the Stars blueline. Oduya was also a good in a top 4 role for Dallas, with 21 points, and a 51.02% 5v5 CF. Patrick Nemeth was solid defensively when he was used, but he only played 38 games. Jordie Benn was less than impressive this season, and Kris Russell was a huge drag to the team, which was a really bad acquisition for the Stars at the deadline.
In net, it’s Kari Lehts-Many-In, and Antti Ninemi. By far their weakness, these two created many unnecessary holes for the team’s defense, as illustrated in their game seven blowout loss. At least they have Philippe Desrosiers in the pipeline, who was the CHL goalie of the year in the 2014-15 season, but they don’t have the most promising pool in net.
Like I said off the top, the Stars have the issue that they need to sign at least one more forward and two more defensemen if they want to actual have a decent roster, but they have nine players they need to resign, seven UFAs and two RFAs. Suddenly that $13 million seems a lot smaller.
They also can’t make too many brash decisions that really impact the cap, because they kinda need to resign Jamie Benn next year.
First, we need to get rid of one of those two goalies, whether it’s via a trade, or a buyout, offloading one of those deals makes things a lot easier for the Stars. Buying out Lehtonen will give them an additional $4 million, while buying out Niemi will save $3 million. Logic points to buying out Lehtonen, since he gives you more money, and he’s slightly worse than Niemi.
To make things even easier, I’ll dwindle the pending free agents from nine to five. Let Moen, Fiddler, Russell, and (Jordie) Benn walk, and that makes things easier. Eaves will probably both ask for something in the $1-2 million range, so we’ll say that we’re down to $15.5 million for four players. Oleksiak will probably be a sub-$1 million deal, and maybe even a two way deal where it won’t count against the cap. Nichushkin hasn’t blossomed just yet, so he’ll probably get signed to a cheap bridge deal, we’ll say $3 million, although he might be dealt. Sceviour shouldn’t ask for more than $2-2.5 million, so that leaves roughly $9.5-10.5 million for Demers and a goalie. You could probably get Demers for $4 million a year, and that is all of Dallas’ free agents solved.
But, now they need a goalie, so let’s look at the options. You could try and see if you could pry Frederick Andersen out of Anaheim, or you could maybe see if Ben Bishop is available in Tampa, depending on how the Stamkos situation plays out. Since the Rangers are blowing up their team, maybe they could look into Henrik Lundqvist, even though the Rangers said they won’t trade him. Maybe Fleury, if they’re desperate. Or perhaps they look to free agency, and give James Reimer a shot. If not him, perhaps Chad Johnson, Jhonas Enroth (again) or Carter Hutton, all goalies who may be looking to challenge for a starting job. Regardless, there are options for the Stars, and they may have a chance to really improve if they play their cards right.
The Dallas Stars were a seven win playoff team without their second best scorer, and they might be a conference final team with Seguin in the lineup, but without a solid goalie in net, this team will not be a Cup contender.
They have a chance to improve the team, but it’s not going to be easy. Their defense may take a hit, but this could be a situation where, like the 2014-15 season, they may have to take one step back to take two steps forward.