Alexander Radulov

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Stars have cap space to make big moves

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After years of being on a bargain contract, Tyler Seguin‘s finally going to get paid – to the tune of $9.85 million per year – starting next season.

With Jamie Benn already at $9.5M per pop, and the two once being called bleeping horsebleep by a high-ranking executive, you’d think that the Dallas Stars would be headed for a painful cap crunch this offseason.

As it turns out … nope, not really. The Stars actually stare down a Texas-sized opportunity to surround Benn and Seguin with some premier talent, whether they use a surprisingly robust amount of cap space to land free agents or if the Stars target yet another splashy trade. (They went the trade route to brain the Bruins out of Seguin, after all.)

Let’s take a look at the Stars’ larger situation to see how promising it could be, with copious help from Cap Friendly’s listings.

[For another breakdown of a Central team with promise, consider the Avalanche’s situation.]

A ton of bad money clearing away, or soon to clear

Jason Spezza isn’t as washed up as his lowest moments would make you think but … $7.5M was an agonizing cap number to hang on him, nonetheless. When you look at Spezza’s $7.5M basically being forwarded to Seguin’s bank account, it makes that raise more palatable, and also is a first step in understanding how the Stars are in a pretty solid salary situation.

The Stars will also see Marc Methot‘s $4.9M evaporate, along with the $1.5M buyout to Antti Niemi. After 2019-20, they can say goodbye to the mistake that was the Martin Hanzal deal ($4.75M), assuming they don’t do something sooner.

Heading into the offseason, Cap Friendly estimates the Stars allocating a bit less than $60.8M to 15 players. If the cap ceiling reaches $83M, that gives the Stars approximately $22.2M to work with, and some decisions to make.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To Zucc or not to Zucc?

There’s another salary expiring in the form of Mats Zuccarello‘s post-retention $3.1M, and the Stars face a riddle in deciding what to do with the near-instant cult hero.

On one hand, Zuccarello is rad, and easy to like. His creativity clearly opened things up for his linemates, at least once Zuccarello is healthy. There won’t be a ton of comparable options on the free agent market, and he seems interested in sticking around.

On the other hand, Zuccarello is 31, will turn 32 in September, and has dealt with some lousy injury luck. Allow me to jog your memory about Zuccarello suffering a skull fracture in 2015, an injury that briefly impaired his ability to speak. It’s pretty stunning that Zuccarello ever played professional hockey again after that injury, let alone playing such a high level.

So, again, Zucc is rad … but there are red flags. And then, of course, there are the conditions of that trade from the Rangers. If the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they’d cough up a first-round pick to the Rangers, instead of a third-rounder.

Maybe the Stars should look at it as a win-win situation: you either bring back Zuccarello, or keep that first-rounder and reduce your risks? One thing seems clear: Stars fans already love him … and can you blame them?

[More on the Zuccarello dilemma.]

Old and new

Like the Avalanche, I’d argue that the Stars have incentive to be aggressive while they still have some bargain contracts. Dallas diverges a bit from Colorado in that the situation screams even more for additions sooner, rather than later.

While Benn and Seguin total close to $20M in cap space, other key Stars rank as bargains.

  • John Klingberg provides Norris-caliber defensive play for just $4.25M, and that cap hit runs through 2021-22.
  • Ben Bishop was otherworldly, and even if slippage is basically unavoidable, the 32-year-old clocks in at less than $5M per season through 2022-23. That may eventually be a problem (big goalies only tend to get hurt more as they age, not less), but he was probably worth $9M in 2018-19 alone.
  • Anton Khudobin was almost as impressive as Bishop, and with $2.5M for one more season, he buys the Stars some time to find a younger future goalie option, and also provides insulation from potential Bishop injuries.
  • Miro Heiskanen jumped almost instantly into heavy-usage as a rookie defenseman, and the Stars get the 19-year-old on his dirt-cheap rookie contract for two more seasons.
  • Roope Hintz looked like a budding star during the playoffs, and the power forward’s entry-level contract runs through 2019-20. That gives the Stars time to try to hash out an extension, and also time to figure out what he’s truly capable of.
  • Alexander Radulov has been fantastic for the Stars, and the 32-year-old’s $6.25M cap hit looks more than fair today. Maybe it will start to get dicey (it expires after 2021-22), but so far, so good.

That’s a fabulous foundation, and the Stars don’t have too many pressing contracts to deal with this summer, aside from finding the right price for RFA Esa Lindell. (Let me pause for embellishment jokes. Go ahead, get them out of your system.)

The Stars have a pretty nice mix of veterans and young guns, but they should make haste, because those veterans could hit the wall. Again, Bishop and Radulov are both 32, while Jamie Benn’s a rugged player who will turn 30 in July.

Age would linger as a question, in particular, if they bring back Zuccarello (31), Ben Lovejoy (35), and/or Roman Polak (33), considering that they already have Blake Comeau (33) and Andrew Cogliano (31) as veteran supporting cast members.

To me, this all points to an “add now” strategy. Maybe Phil Kessel would look good in green. It couldn’t hurt to see if Dallas is a big enough city for Artemi Panarin. And so on.

***

The Stars booted the Predators and gave the Blues all they could handle as constituted during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so there’s an argument for allowing that roster to simply try to build on 2018-19.

Still, when I look at the structure of this team, I don’t necessarily see the system that, at times, leaned far too heavily on scoring just enough while Ben Bishop saved the day. Heiskanen and Klingberg give the Stars two outstanding (and cheap) defensemen who can play a modern game, and there were times when Seguin – Benn – Radulov looked like one of the league’s most dominant trios. As Hintz and others improve, this roster could also take some of the pressure off of Benn and Seguin.

In sports, you don’t always know how wide your window is going to be open, and I’d argue the Stars should go bold, rather than waiting. A Kessel, Panarin, Matt Duchene, P.K. Subban or perhaps a returning Zuccarello could give Dallas the extra push they need, to say, win those big, double-OT Game 7s.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Stars bring back Zuccarello?

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Not all trade deadline acquisitions are created equal. Some work out, some not so much.

Now that the Dallas Stars have been eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the second round, we can analyze how the Mats Zuccarello trade ended up working out for them.

Zuccarello’s tenure with the Stars didn’t get off to a great start, as he suffered a broken arm in his first game with his new team. The injury kept him out of the lineup for 17 games. He came back for one game at the beginning of April, but they decided to rest him in the final two games of the regular season.

Right from the start of the playoffs, the 31-year-old seemed to fit in perfectly on Dallas’ second line. He managed to score three goals in the first four games of their first-round series against the Nashville Predators. Secondary scoring has always been an issue for the Stars but Zuccarello, Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson helped take some of the pressure off the top line of Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin.

The veteran didn’t score in the first six games of the series against the Blues, but he added seven assists during that stretch. He also chipped in with the Stars’ only goal in Game 7.

In 13 postseason games, he had four goals and 11 points. Not too shabby for a guy who had never been traded before.

Now the Stars have to analyze whether or not it’s worth it for them to re-sign him before he hits the market on July 1st.

The trade with the New York Rangers included two conditional draft picks. One was a 2019 second-round pick, the other a 2020 third-rounder. Had the Stars made it to the Western Conference Final, the second-rounder would’ve turned into a first-rounder. If Zuccarello re-signs with Dallas, that third-round pick turns into a first-rounder.

Stars general manager Jim Nill has to decide if Zuccarello is worth a first and second-round pick. So on one hand, he’s a great fit and would probably love to be in continue his playing career in Dallas. But on the other hand, is handing over that kind of draft compensation smart business?

Of course, opting to replace Zuccarello with a trade acquisition or a  free agent could be risky too. Nill could commit big term or dollars to someone else, but he won’t know how he fits in with the rest of the team until the season starts. With Zuccarello, management already knows that’s he fits in, which means the risk diminishes significantly.

Nill helped get the Stars back into the playoffs this year, but he’ll need to get them to another level in 2019-20. Making the right or wrong decision on Zuccarello could be the difference between taking a big step forward or backwards for this group.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Will Stars’ Benn get some bounces in Game 7?

If you forced me to predict who might score for the Dallas Stars in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, I’d probably choose “Tyler Seguin” or “Whoever gets a perfect pass from Tyler Seguin.” Stud defensemen John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen could be strong picks, too.

But watch out for Jamie Benn.

At a quick glance, Benn’s overall playoff numbers look impressive: 10 points in 12 games. Not bad for a power forward whose rugged style has taken its toll on his game, likely prompting that profane bit of not-so-constructive criticism from management earlier this season.

Yet, Benn hasn’t really been getting a ton of bounces lately.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The winger only has two goals during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including a lone tally in this series against the Blues, which happened in Game 1. This isn’t for a lack of effort; Benn has fired 40 shots on goal in 12 postseason games (3.33 SOG per contest), and 60 shot attempts overall.

Aside from a obscenity-spewing executive or two who might only look at results rather than the overall process, the Stars should be pretty happy with the larger body of work from Benn. He’s been a positive possession player during this series, possibly in part because of the mistakes he can cause with his hockey IQ and physical play. Through 12 contests, Benn’s delivered 27 hits. And four points (one goal, three assists) in six games against the Blues really isn’t anything to sneeze at.

Basically, he’s doing just about everything but scoring goals, and maybe that puck luck will go his way when it matters the most in Game 7 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream).

***

That said, there’s one element to consider: how healthy is Roope Hintz?

As Mike Heika of the Stars website reports, Hintz was in a walking boot on Monday stemming from a puck hitting him in the foot during Game 6. Hintz is expected to play, and thus center a line between Benn and Alexander Radulov, but part of what makes Hintz a rising star is his ability to skate at such a large size. If Hintz can’t really barrel around the ice, will he be less effective in Game 7, and would that hinder Benn’s ability to break through?

Heika notes that Jason Spezza centered Benn and Radulov when Hintz didn’t practice on Monday, so it would be interesting to see if Stars coach Jim Montgomery went with that alignment if Hintz has a setback in warmups, or during Game 7 itself.

Would it be better to go top-heavy by reuniting Benn and Radulov with Seguin, particularly if Hintz struggles, or if the Stars fall behind early? It’s another factor in this situation, and with some legitimate questions about Ben Bishop‘s health, the Stars seemed a little banged up heading into Game 7. Then again, that would also make this an ideal time for Benn’s shots to find the net, then.

Game 7 of Stars – Blues takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday; You can watch it on NBCSN and stream it here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Power Rankings: Trade deadline acquisitions making postseason impact

Every year around the NHL trade deadline there is always that talk about how “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

It is usually mentioned as a justification for a team standing pat at the deadline and not adding a player for the stretch run or the postseason, and it only gets driven home even further when a team that did make a big trade inevitably loses before the Stanley Cup Final.

But you do not need to actually win the Stanley Cup for a postseason run to be a successful one or for a trade deadline deal to be worth it.

Sometimes making a big trade is the right move and sometimes does work. There have been quite a few examples this season and those are the subject of this week’s PHT Power Rankings: The trade deadline acquisitions that have made the biggest impact in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let’s go to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This was probably the most significant deadline deal due to the combination of Duchene being one of the top players available, and because Columbus wasn’t even a lock to make the postseason when it was completed. It was bold. It was a risk. It was the type of move team’s in this position do not usually make. After a slow start with his new team at the end of the regular season, Duchene has proven to be everything the Blue Jackets hoped he would be in the playoffs with 10 points in his first nine games, including a pair of game-winning goals. He is one of the many free agents on this Blue Jackets roster so his long-term future with the team remains very much in doubt (this summer will probably be his last chance to cash in with a big contract in free agency) but he is a big reason they have experienced life beyond Round 1 of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

2. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. Yeah, I know, they lost in the first round and that is going to make it easy to hold this up as an example of a big trade at the deadline not working out but that entire mindset is completely misguided and totally shortsighted. First, the Golden Knights didn’t lose because of Stone or what they gave up to get him. They lost because of a controversial penalty call and a penalty killing unit that collapsed on itself over a five-minute stretch late in the third period of Game 7. Stone was so good and so dominant in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks that he is still tied for the second most total points and the third most goals in this year’s playoffs. He was great for the Golden Knights, is one of the best two-way wingers in the NHL, and the team has him signed long-term. If it had not been for the trade to send him to Vegas it is entirely possible the Golden Knights never would have even made it to Game 7 and been in a position to win. The trade worked, and it will continue to work for the next several years.

3. Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes. Since this trade happened in January, more than a month before the trade deadline, it is probably stretching it to call this a “deadline” deal, but it is close enough and it was still a significant mid-season deal that helped alter the playoff landscape in the NHL. Not only because it gave the Hurricanes another bona-fide top-six winger (and one with some much-needed finishing ability around the net) to help power their second half surge, but also because it took him away from Minnesota and helped complete their second half fall. Niederreiter hasn’t made a huge impact in the box score so far in the playoffs (one goal, four assists) but he is one of the team’s best possession-driving players, was amazing in the regular season to help the Hurricanes secure their playoff spot, and is signed long-term to be a significant part of the team’s core beyond this season. Huge trade at the right time. The Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the NHL after January 1 and the addition of Niederreiter was a significant part of that.

4. Mats Zuccarello, Dallas Stars. If the Stars were going to do anything meaningful this season it was imperative that they find some secondary scoring to complement their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. The addition of Zuccarello at the trade deadline was supposed to do exactly that, and in his first game with the team the Stars got a taste of what he could add to their lineup with a huge performance — to lose him for most of the remaining regular season schedule due to injury. He returned just in time for the playoffs and has made a massive impact on the Stars’ second line with 10 points in the team’s first 12 playoff games. He has been exactly what they needed, and along with the emergence of Roope Hintz has given the Stars enough offense after their top line to give themselves a chance to make a deep playoff run.

[Related: Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line]

5. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Another significant Minnesota trade where the Wild probably sold low on a winger that had been one of their most productive players in recent years. Coyle struggled immediately after arriving in Boston but has been a huge difference-maker so far in the playoffs, having already scored five goals for the Bruins. That includes two goals in Game 1 of their Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets where he tied the game late in the third period and then won it in overtime. Right now those two goals are why the Bruins are playing for the chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night instead of facing elimination.

6. Gustav Nyquist, San Jose Sharks. Nyquist hasn’t yet made a huge impact for the Sharks, but he’s been very good and an excellent addition to a roster that is already loaded. He finished the regular season strong and even though he has just one goal and four assists in the playoffs, he has still played well and been a threat to score … he just hasn’t consistently finished yet. Given that the Sharks only had to give up a second-and third-round pick to get him it was a worthwhile addition and one that still has the potential to pay off even more.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Isles turn to Greiss in Game 4?

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Well, this is it for the New York Islanders. They’re officially in must-win territory heading into Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Now that their backs are against the wall, head coach Barry Trotz admits that changes could be coming to the lineup tonight. That’s normal considering the predicament they’re in right now. But the interesting twist here, is that Trotz said he’s considering tweaks “at all positions,” including between the pipes.

So, the team that’s scored three goals in the first three games of their series is thinking about swapping out a goaltender who has allowed six goals. Changing goaltenders isn’t necessarily based of performance either, though. It could just be a way to get his players’ attention, but it’s probably not the right way to go about it. Nothing against Thomas Greiss, but Robin Lehner deserves to stay in the net with the season on the line.

The biggest issue for the Islanders, is that they simply can’t find the back of the net. No team is good enough defensively to score three goals in three games and have a series lead. No one. Trotz should take a page for Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s book and make the necessary changes to his forward lines.

Ahead of Game 4, Montgomery decided to move Roope Hintz to the top line with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin dropped down to the second line with Mats Zuccarello and Jason Dickinson. The result? Every one of those players showed up and made a difference in a crucial game.

That’s what Trotz has to do.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has to figure out a way to get his team’s attention by mixing up lines. Is it time to break up the best fourth line in hockey? How do you get Anders Lee going? Mathew Barzal has just one goal in three games. If he doesn’t get going, there’s no way they can come back to win this series. Where has Jordan Eberle gone? He scored in every game in the first round, but he hasn’t found the back of the net against Carolina.

Trotz isn’t exactly in an enviable position given how quiet this offense has been. But we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he came in to New York and turned this team into a 100-point squad in short order. That’s not to say that you have to believe the Isles are coming back in this series, but you can’t bury them yet.

“There’s 23 teams that would love to be playing (tonight), and they’re not,” Trotz said, per NHL.com. “You get an opportunity. You can’t look back. You can’t correct what’s already done; you can only correct what’s right in front of you. (Tonight’s) a chance to start correcting it in the right way. Focus on that. It’s always a great opportunity. You’re still alive.”

MORE: Hurricanes aiming to close out Islanders as quick as possible

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.