This could be one of the more active off-seasons in recent years for the Stars. First a new coach in Glen Gulutzan, fingers crossed on good news on the ownership front, and GM Joe will actually be forced to be somewhat of a player in the free agent market. Not that he’s rolling through downtown Dallas with the top down screaming out “Money aint a thang!’, to quote Jay-Z and Jermaine Dupri. But the Stars are currently sitting at about $40 million in payroll and must reach the new league minimum of $48.3 million. That’s about $2 million more than their entire payroll was last season.
The Stars main priority is pretty much the same as it has been since Sergei Zubov left for Russia, a number one defenseman. That’s not going to happen this off season since there aren’t any true number one defensemen to be had, and as I write this, the short list has become even shorter. With Skrastins and Woywitka still unsigned and very possibly on the way out, there will be a couple spots open.
JAMES WISNIEWSKI - Could be the best still available. He would likely come at an over payment for the simple fact that there aren’t a lot of defensemen available so teams will be a little more desperate to land him than usual. And in order for him to choose the Stars as his destination, the offer will have to be more than anyone else’s. Is a guy who’s had one real good season worth that ? Or would signing him be catching him on his way up ? Definitely a gamble. I doubt Nieuwendyk is into gambling at this point in time.
CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF – He’s put together a few pretty good seasons in a row now, scoring 50, 44, and 42 points the last three with back to back 14 goal seasons. But playing on good teams in Vancouver and San Jose where you’re surrounded by talent and given all the support you need is a lot different than being the quarterback on a bad team that’s trying to rebuild on the fly. He was pretty good for the Canucks on their playoff run this spring so that’s likely to get him attention. Probably a little too much attention from teams who are willing to overpay and again, I don’t know if Joe is wanting to gamble at this point on anyone who hasn’t proved to be a number one. If Ehrhoff could come in around $4-$4.5 million I could see Joe being a player, but $4.5 is likely going to be easily matched by anyone else interested.
TOMAS KABERLE - He was a $4.25 million cap hit last season and I’m not sure teams will be willing to give him a raise. He was a Cup winner with the Bruins this spring, but he was criticized heavily for his soft play and mistakes with the puck. At age 33, I wouldn’t be willing to throw him a contract longer than three years. The dollar amount would also have to be less than what he was making previously. I highly doubt he would jump at something like that but we would be better off walking away as well. He’s been a good puck mover and that’s something we could still use even with the addition of Goligoski, but his all-round play is suspect and he’s not going to be getting any better.
ED JOVANOVSKI – A warrior and would bring leadership and ruggedness to the team, he’s seen better days and would only be a stop-gap measure at this point. He’s 35 and likely not what the Stars would be in the market for at this point. Unless he took a huge salary cut and signed only a 1-2 year deal. But that’s not likely what he’s looking for.
The Stars will be bringing in someone to join the blue line corp this summer, but we’re likely looking more along the lines of an Anton Babchuk out of Calgary and/or a Shane O’Brien out of Nashville. Both are 27 and came in at the $1.5 million range last year. Babchuk has a bomb from the point and put up 35 points in each of his last two NHL seasons with both Carolina and most recently Calgary. O’Brien is a solid defensive defenseman and would fit into the 5-6 slot. At 6″3 224Lbs, his size would be an asset too. These guys are the route I would go rather than overpaying for one of the previously mentioned blue liners. The Stars are better off playing it smart rather than playing the fool a this point. Depth at the position is always important and once a new owner is in place, more money could be thrown around for a top pairing.
With Brad Richards all but officially gone and James Neal of course being dealt last season, the forward group will look quite different this year. Holes will have to filled and prospects like Thomas Vincour and Scott Glennie could have a shot this year out of camp. Still, Nieuwendyk will look to bring in a proven player to help. The team is currently in a rebuild, but it’s more of a rebuild on the fly. Although things seem dark and we have to be realistic given our situation, nobody’s looking to tank it and another disappointing season is not what management is looking for. Jamie Langenbrunner is one forward we still haven’t re-signed and I personally would like to see him back at around $1-$1.5 million.
SIMON GAGNE – I’ve wanted Simon Gagne in a Star uniform for a few years now. Although his career has been filled with injuries, he’s managed to stay relatively healthy the past three seasons. At age 31, the window to win with him isn’t exactly large, but it isn’t exactly small either. If he can manage to stay healthy, he could still be an effective player for the next five years or so. He does shoot left and that’s something the Stars are abundant in, but if you can manage to pry him away from the Lighting who currently have their hands full with trying to re-up Steven Stamkos, I would take the chance on him. Of course, that depends on if you can pry him away from the likely multiple other bidders for his services and get him at a reasonable rate. He would fit in nicely on either top two lines whether centered by Jamie Benn or Mike Ribeiro. He played with Joe Nieuwendyk on the ’02 gold medal Olympic squad so Joe possibly considers him, but Gagne likely wants to win a Cup before he’s done and Dallas may not be atop his list of desired destinations. I can’t see him coming here, but one can hope.
TIM CONNOLLY – A very talented player, but unfortunately his injury problems are worse than Gagne’s and there’s a reason the Sabres are cutting him loose. If the price was right, and I mean really right, I may take a chance on him if the contract was a short-term insentive based one. If not, then I would pass.
MICHAEL RYDER – Coming off of a Stanley Cup win with Boston, he finds himself searching for a new home. As of now anyways. He was a $4 million cap hit last year and could be willing to take a small cut at age 31. And since he now has a ring, winning may not be his immediate priority. He’s a right hand shot, which is something the Stars may be looking at bringing in. Though he’s only managed 18 goals in each of his last two seasons, he has scored 25+ twice and 30 goals two more times in his seven seasons. Being buried in a deep Boston lineup may have contributed to his drop in goal production as well. Could be a good fit if the price is right.
JUSSI JOKINEN – The one time Star is now on the UFA market and could be a good fit. He’s versatile and has matured his game since being dealt to Tampa back in ’08 in the Brad Richards deal. He scored 30 goals for the first time in 2009-10, but dropped to just 19 last year although injuries can be partly to blame for that. Still, he can come in and play anywhere on the top two lines and probably put up some decent numbers. It is likely he stays in Carolina though as recently it was reported that Jim Rutherford was optimistic in their negotiations and making less than $2 million last year, they likely won’t have to break the bank to get a deal done in time.
MIKE MODANO – What ?
There are some forwards out there to help round out the lineup next season. It’s likely that someone to play the wing on the top two lines will be coveted, ala Michael Ryder or Simon Gagne. Ryder is the more likely of the two I would say. There are more forwards such as Nashville winger Joel Ward, and former Star Antti Miettinen out of Minnesota. Nobody out there will replace Richards’ offense, so let’s not expect that.
It’s realistic to expect to be competitive as a team while adding players that will not be a blemish on the payroll in the future. That doesn’t necessarily mean cheaping out on nobodies, but rather taking the smart route over of getting caught up in all the hype. Like strategically and patiently setting up your pieces in a game of Chess ( not that I play ) until it’s time to move in for the kill. Let the other teams throw money around. That rarely work out anyways.
Also, don’t rule out any trades this summer. What the Stars can’t bring in via free agents, Nieuwendyk could acquire in other methods.
About the Author
Written by Travis Currie
Im your typical sports fan. Just a little more crazy about it. I live and die for my teams and I drive my girlfriend nuts. I consider myself the world's biggest Stars fan. Ive been a fan since I was a young kid going back to the mid 80's. Favourite Stars player of all-time is of course Mike Modano. Favourite non-Stars player of all-time is Peter Stastny. I love talking sports so please leave a reply to anything you agree or disagree with. If youd like to contact me my email is firstname.lastname@example.org