Complete Guide for the Dallas Stars' 2014 Offseason
The Dallas Stars finally got going in the right direction in the 2013-14 season.
After watching the playoffs for the previous five seasons, new general manager Jim Nill wanted to put together a team that would be able to compete in the postseason.
Nill hired head coach Lindy Ruff to help him get there and then traded for a budding superstar in Tyler Seguin during the offseason.
The Stars played in fits and starts through the first half of the season, but there was steady and significant improvement in the second half. They earned a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season and pushed the Anaheim Ducks to overtime of the sixth game before they finally succumbed.
Nill knows there is much work to do if the Stars are going to continue to improve and build a championship-caliber team.
The planning for the offseason begins now.
The Stars believed they had a chance to acquire a legitimate superstar when the Boston Bruins made Tyler Seguin available in a trade last July. While they paid a stiff price in giving up Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith to acquire Seguin, it is clear the Stars have one of the brightest lights in the NHL.
Seguin led the Stars with 37 goals and 47 assists, while linemate Jamie Benn had 34 goals and 45 assists. Defenseman Alex Goligoski showed his versatility and talent with six goals and 36 assists, while Cody Eakin, Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Chiasson all played key roles for Lindy Ruff.
Eakin, Trevor Daley and Shawn Horcoff were all particularly valuable in the Stars' postseason series against the Anaheim Ducks.
Erik Cole is a former NHL star, but he did not offer much to the Stars this season. He finished the year with 16 goals and 13 assists, along with a painful minus-17 rating.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar appears to be at the end of the line. Gonchar used to be a dynamic offensive performer—particularly on the power play—but he rarely showed that ability this year, as he had two goals and 20 assists. His minus-12 rating indicated that he was a liability.
Goalie Kari Lehtonen performed adequately in the regular season, but he struggled in the postseason against the Ducks. His 3.29 goals-against average and .885 save percentage in the playoffs were simply not good enough to help his teammates overcome a top-notch opponent.
The Stars took a huge step forward in playing well down the stretch (8-5-0 in the final 13 games) and earning a spot in the playoffs. They have explosive speed throughout the lineup, and the future appears to be bright. Nill will likely need at least two more seasons to turn the team into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Biggest Storylines to Follow
Young Players Must Continue to Improve
The NHL is littered with stories about talented young teams that never live up to their potential. The Dallas Stars made great strides by making the playoffs as the Western Conference's second wild-card team, but there are no guarantees about the future.
The Stars' young core of talented players such as Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin must continue to improve if Dallas is going to climb in the Western Conference. Ruff knows it's too easy to backslide in the NHL, and he needs to push his team hard.
Depth Players Step Up
The Stars received impressive performances from depth players such as Shawn Horcoff (one goal, five assists), Trevor Daley (two goals, three assists), Ryan Garbutt (three goals) and Cody Eakin (two goals, three assists) in the playoffs.
Nill is going to have to figure out if these players are going to grow and contribute consistently, or if they just got hot at the right time. If he comes to the conclusion that their timing was right, he may want to consider making moves that would help the team become more consistent.
Kari Lehtonen Has Playoff Issues
While he didn't suffer a meltdown in the postseason that would remind fans of collapses by the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury or Sergei Bryzgalov, Lehtonen was ordinary in the postseason. He gave up two goals in the final minutes of regulation in the sixth game and an overtime goal as well. The Stars have to figure out if Lehtonen is confident and consistent enough to win in the postseason.
Notable Players Hitting Free Agency
The Stars don't have to worry about losing any of their key players to free agency in the offseason.
The only players scheduled to be free agents are Ray Whitney, Vernon Fiddler and goalie Tim Thomas.
Whitney, 41, used to have magical hands and could pick his spot from 35 feet away and hit it regularly. Those days are gone. Whitney notched nine goals and 23 assists during the regular season, and he was held scoreless in the postseason. Retirement is quite likely.
Fiddler, 33, made a decent contribution even though his numbers (six goals and 17 assists) were not overly impressive. If he chooses to retire or go elsewhere, his loss could create minor issues.
The Stars picked up Thomas, 40, for depth in goal at the trade deadline. The former Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner with the Boston Bruins showed flashes of his talent but did not play consistently. He could be an adequate backup at this point, but there are no guarantees.
Top Free-Agent Targets
The Stars had success this year as a result of hiring a new coach in Ruff and making a big trade for Seguin.
Nill served a long apprenticeship under the Detroit Red Wings' Ken Holland, and his goal is building a championship-caliber team.
While that often involves signing top free agents, Nill may be inclined to wait another year before he goes that route.
However, if he decides to add to his team through free agency, he could be interested in the Colorado Avalanche's Paul Stastny, Minnesota Wild's Matt Moulson or Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen. All of these players are young, hard-working and productive.
It seems unlikely that the Stars want to go after any aging veterans, although Boston's Jarome Iginla, 36, might be a good fit after scoring 30 goals this year.
Best Options in the NHL Draft
While the final draft order is still to be determined, the Stars are likely to pick at or around the 14th spot in the 2014 draft.
They are not going to be in a position to select one of the elite players such as Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad, but they could be in a position to select Jared McCann or Dylan Larkin.
MyNHLDraft.com says McCann is an effective 6'0", 180-pound center who is responsible on the defensive end and creative when he has the puck. McCann had 27 goals and 62 points in 64 games while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this season.
Larkin projects to be a power forward who plays the left wing. Larkin is 6'0" and 190 pounds, and he has the frame to put on more weight. Larkin scored 28 goals this season for the U.S. National Under-18 team, and he creates a significant number of scoring opportunities because he takes the puck so hard to the net.
Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block
The Stars would probably be thrilled if they could trade Erik Cole, who has one more year to go on a contract that will play him $4.5 million next season.
Cole, 35, scored 16 goals and 13 assists in 75 games last season. That's the most he has played since 2011-12, when he scored 35 goals for the Montreal Canadiens.
Cole does not seem to have those capabilities any more. Cole displayed surprising quickness in his prime and the ability to score with a difficult-to-read shot that got on opposing goalies in a heartbeat.
Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News surmised that Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley could both be traded in March. Both players were solid down the stretch and among the Stars' best playoff performers. They no longer appear to be trade priorities, but Nill would obviously have to listen to substantial trade offers.
Top Trade Targets
The Vancouver Canucks could be in housecleaning mode after failing to make the playoffs this year.
General manager Mike Gillis was fired shortly before the end of the season, and there's every reason to believe that a new general manager will shake this team up in the offseason. That includes trading away some of its current mainstays, such as U.S. Olympian Ryan Kesler.
Kesler was on the trading block prior to this year's deadline, but Gillis could not find a deal that suited the Canucks. Kesler, 29, reportedly wants out of Vancouver, according to The Vancouver Sun, and he could bring the kind of veteran leadership that will help the young Stars continue to improve.
Kesler has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him $5 million per year, and he would be worth the price if he can stay healthy. Kesler rebounded from back issues in 2013 to score 25 goals this season. He scored a career-high 41 goals in 2010-11.
The Stars have successfully completed trades with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins in the recent past, and Nill could be willing to engage those two teams in trade discussions.
Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15
Look for the Stars to give 2011 second-round draft pick Brett Ritchie a good chance to make the team in 2014-15.
Ritchie scored 22 goals and 48 points for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League. The 6'4", 215-pound right wing also finished with a plus-14 rating and 53 penalty minutes.
The Stars are hoping that 2012 first-round draft choice Radek Faksa can develop enough to warrant an opportunity at the NHL level. Faksa projects as a talented two-way center who skates well, understands the game and won't take the easy way out on the defensive end.
Faksa is 6'3" and 210 pounds, and the Czech Republic native appears to understand the nuances of penalty killing, something that would help the Stars quite a bit, since they ranked 21st in that area in 2013-14.
Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart
- Jamie Benn, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Seguin
- Ryan Kesler*, Shawn Horcoff, Colton Sceviour
- Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Antoine Roussel
- Brett Ritchie, Chris Mueller/Rich Peverley#, Valeri Nichushkin
- Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski
- Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth
- Brenden Dillon, Kevin Connauton
- Kari Lehtonen
- Tim Thomas
*—Projecting trade with Canucks.
#—Must be cleared by medical staff.