Ben Lovejoy

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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.

Dallas Stars in good place despite season finish

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DALLAS (AP) — Goaltender Ben Bishop talked somberly about the end of the season. Defenseman John Klingberg described his emotions as pretty empty.

After a double-overtime loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, it was hard for the Dallas Stars to reflect on just how far they had come in coach Jim Montgomery’s first season and the positive effect it should have moving on to next season.

”Yeah, I’m sure it can,” top-line center Tyler Seguin said, though the sting was still fresh after a 2-1 loss in St. Louis.

Bishop had a career-high 52 saves Tuesday night before a puck that ricocheted off the post and the back of his mask fell into the crease and was knocked into the net. That was right after captain Jamie Benn‘s wraparound attempt that came oh-so-close to being a series-clinching goal for the Stars.

”I know a lot of people wrote us off when it was the All-Star break, and we grew, and we overcame a lot of adversity. So there’s a lot to like,” Montgomery said. ”I think that next year we’re going to be able to start in a real good place because there’s going to be a lot of familiarity starting next year.”

The Stars will still have Bishop, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy that goes to the NHL’s top goalie, along with Seguin, Benn and Klingberg. There are several young standouts as well, including 19-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen and fast-skating 22-year-old forward Roope Hintz.

Heiskanen and Hintz will no longer be NHL rookies next season, and neither will their coach. Montgomery led the University of Denver to an NCAA championship in 2017 and also was part of a title as a college player.

Montgomery was the third coach in three seasons for the Stars, following grizzled and veterans Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff with their differing philosophies.

There were plenty of adjustments and acquaintances to be made with another new coach, and things didn’t always go smoothly at first.

Right after Christmas, long-time team executive Jim Lites profanely ripped high-priced forwards Seguin and Benn about their play. Then in January, Montgomery called out his team over a ”culture of mediocrity.”

All those feelings have certainly changed after a season that unexpectedly stretched into May, when their 95th game was the longest of the season at 3 hours, 49 minutes. They went to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, when they also lost to the Blues in Game 7 of a second-round series.

”I appreciate how much we grew together as a group, and the effort and sacrifice that they put together,” Montgomery said. ”We’re only going to be better because of this playoff run. That’s for sure, we are. The valuable experience that some of our young players got in their first year, and some of the guys that hadn’t been to the playoffs … It’s a good building block for next year.”

SEGUIN STAYING

Seguin, a five-time All-Star at 27, would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer if he hadn’t signed a $78.8 million, eight-year contract extension last September. That deal through 2026-27 starts next season. He was not named to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2014, but Seguin still matched his career high with 47 assists and his 80 points were the most since 84 in his Dallas debut. He had four goals and seven assists in the playoffs.

STAYING SECOND

The Stars acquired forward Mats Zuccarello on Feb. 23 from the New York Rangers for a conditional second-round draft pick in this year’s draft. That would have become a first-round pick had Dallas beaten St. Louis and made it to the Western Conference finals. That deal also included a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 draft. That could still become a first-rounder if Zuccarello, a 31-year-old center who is about to become an unrestricted free agent, re-signs with the Stars. Zuccarello had four goals and seven assists in 13 playoff games.

IMPRESSIVE DEBUTS

Before a goal and an assist in his first NHL playoff game, Heiskanen had four game-winning goals while playing all 82 regular season games. He led NHL rookie defensemen with 12 goals and 23 minutes per game, and also had 21 assists. Hintz had five goals and 16 blocked shots while playing 16 minutes a game in the playoffs. Montgomery called him the best forward in the finale.

”He’s going to be a great player for us for a long time,” Montgomery said.

FREE AGENCY

Veteran forward Jason Spezza and defensemen Ben Lovejoy, Roman Polak, and Marc Methot join Zuccarello as potential unrestricted free agents. Forwards Mattias Janmark, Brett Ritchie and Jason Dickinson, will be restricted free agents, along with defenseman Esa Lindell.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Youth is being served early in Stanley Cup playoffs

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For all the value of postseason experience, youth is off to a nice start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Teenage defenseman Miro Heiskanen built on his stellar rookie season in his playoff debut with Dallas, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov tried to carry Carolina back from a big deficit, early 20-somethings Mitch Marner and William Nylander continue to be among Toronto’s best players and young Matthew Tkachuk did his part to finally win a playoff game with the Calgary Flames.

The NHL is getting younger and more skilled, and youth is being served in a big way early in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They may not get the attention like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or Toronto’s Auston Matthews, but Heiskanen and Svechnikov turned in two of the more impressive playoff performances in recent history for players before their 20th birthdays.

”Some people, it’s hard and some people it’s pretty easy, and those are the people it looks like it’s pretty easy,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said of Svechnikov and fellow Finn Heiskanen. ”They don’t stress too much. They just go out and play and have some fun.”

Svechnikov became the youngest player in 22 years to score twice in a playoff game and the third teen to put up two goals in NHL postseason history after Pierre Turgeon in 1988, Eddie Olczyk in 1985 and Don Gallinger in 1943. The 2018 second overall pick will try to help Carolina even its first-round series against Washington in Game 2 Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

”There’s not pressure on him,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. ”Just go do it. Go enjoy it. Go have fun. That’s what this time of year is about, and we’re going to need even more from him if we’re going to advance.”

The Stars won in Nashville thanks in large part to Heiskanen’s goal and assist in Game 1 . At 19 years, 266 days old, he became the youngest defenseman in franchise history to score in the playoffs and the fifth teenage rookie defenseman with two points in his postseason debut.

”My 19-year-old year, when it was April, I was drinking beers in my frat basement,” Dallas defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. ”What he is doing is just incredible. It’s so special. He is so good, it is just such a pleasure to watch him play and to be on his team. He’s such an asset. He’s going to do this for 20 years and I can’t wait to watch him.”

Coach Jim Montgomery would love to see Heiskanen and 22-year-old rookie Roope Hintz play like this for several more weeks. Game 2 in Nashville is Saturday (6 p.m. ET, CNBC).

In Boston, the Bruins have to be better in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBC) on Saturday after losing the series opener on home ice. Marner was a big part of that with his two-goal game, including being just the fifth player to score a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot in the playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

”He’s an elite player in the league at a young age,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Years ago I remember (people saying about Wayne) Gretzky, ‘Why doesn’t anybody hit that guy?’ Well, it’s not that easy.”

It’s not easy to hit or stop Nylander, either. The 22-year-old Swede scored for the second consecutive game and appears to have solved his late-season dry spell.

”It’s good for me,” Nylander said. ”I’ve been thinking just to hit the net and get it on it.”

In Calgary, Tkachuk’s two goals a series-opening victory against the Colorado Avalanche snapped his six-game goal drought, though the 21-year-old’s agitating ways stuck as much as his scoring. Teammate Andrew Mangiapane, 23, also scored in his playoff debut and the West’s top seed is off and running with Game 2 Saturday night in Calgary (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

”Now all of those guys have got their first game out of the way, they should get some confidence,” coach Bill Peters said. ”We’ll get better as the series goes along.”

INJURY WATCH

Even in the hockey-speak of upper- and lower-body injuries, playoff time brings an extra cloud of secrecy. Seemingly everyone is day-to-day or a game-time decision.

That’s the case for Carolina defenseman Calvin de Haan, who practiced Friday after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said he hopes de Haan can play ”at some point” and added defenseman Jaccob Slavin was fine after getting a day off for playing a lot of minutes Thursday night.

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk is questionable with the injury that knocked him out of Game 1 against the Maple Leafs. Cassidy said if DeBrusk can’t play, veteran David Backes will go into the lineup.

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Pro Hockey Talk’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for all completed deals. The 2019 NHL trade deadline is Monday, Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET.

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Alex Broadhurst
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Future considerations

Feb. 25, 2019
Pittsburgh Penguins:
Chris Wideman
Florida Panthers:
Jean-Sebastien Dea

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Nic Petan
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Par Lindholm

Feb. 25, 2019
Vancouver Canucks:
Linus Karlsson
San Jose Sharks:
Jonathan Dahlen

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Bogdan Kiselevich
Florida Panthers:
 2021 seventh-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Nathan Beaulieu
Buffalo Sabres:
2019 sixth-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins:
Erik Gudbranson
Vancouver Canucks:
Tanner Pearson

Feb. 25, 2019
Winnipeg Jets:
Matt Hendricks
Minnesota Wild:
 2020 seventh-round pick

[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Feb. 25, 2019
Anaheim Ducks: 2019 sixth-round pick
St. Louis Blues:
Michael Del Zotto

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Boston Bruins:
Marcus Johansson
New Jersey Devils:
2019 second-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers:
Ryan Hartman, conditional 2020 fourth-round pick
Nashville Predators:
Wayne Simmonds

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone, Tobias Lindberg
Ottawa Senators: Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg, 2020 second-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild:
Kevin Fiala
Nashville Predators:
Mikael Granlund

Feb. 25, 2019
Los Angeles Kings: Conditional 2020 fourth-round pick
Calgary Flames:
Oscar Fantenberg

Feb. 25, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Adam McQuaid
New York Rangers:
Julius Bergman, 2019 fourth-round pick, 2019 seventh-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Colorado Avalanche:
Derick Brassard, 2020 conditional sixth-round pick
Florida Panthers:
2020 third-round pick

Feb. 25, 2019
Florida Panthers:
Cliff Pu, future considerations
Carolina Hurricanes:
Tomas Jurco, future considerations

Feb. 25, 2019
Montreal Canadiens: Jordan Weal
Arizona Coyotes:
Michael Chaput

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
New York Rangers:
Brendan Lemieux, 2019 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick
Winnipeg Jets:
 Kevin Hayes

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
New Jersey Devils:
2022 fifth-round pick
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Keith Kinkaid

Feb. 25, 2019
Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Sieloff
Ottawa Senators:
Brian Gibbons

Feb. 25, 2019 (PHT analysis)
San Jose Sharks: Gustav Nyquist
Detroit Red Wings: 2019 second-round pick, 2020 conditional third-round pick

Feb. 24, 2019
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nic Baptiste
Nashville Predators: Future considerations

Feb. 24, 2019
Los Angeles Kings: Matheson Iacopelli
Blackhawks: Spencer Watson

Feb. 24, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Buffalo Sabres: Brandon Montour
Anaheim Ducks: Brendan Guhle, conditional 2019 first-round pick

Feb. 23, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Ryan Dzingel, 2019 seventh-round pick
Ottawa Senators: Anthony Duclair, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 second-round pick

Feb. 23, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Dallas Stars:
Mats Zuccarello
New York Rangers: Conditional picks – 2019 second-round pick, 2020 third-round pick. Both can become first-round picks.

Feb. 23, 2019
New Jersey Devils
: Connor Carrick, 2019 third-round pick
Dallas Stars: Ben Lovejoy

Feb. 22, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Washington Capitals: Nick Jensen, 2019 fifth-round pick
Detroit Red Wings: Madison Bowey, 2020 second-round pick

Feb. 22, 2019
Florida Panthers:
Vincent Praplan
San Jose Sharks: 
Future considerations

Feb. 22, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Columbus Blue Jackets: Matt Duchene, Julius Bergman
Ottawa Senators:
Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick, 2020 conditional first-round pick.

Feb. 21, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Washington Capitals:
Carl Hagelin
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 third-round pick, 2020 conditional sixth-round pick. LA retains 50 percent of Hagelin’s cap hit.

Feb. 20, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Boston Bruins:
Charlie Coyle
Minnesota Wild:
Ryan Donato, conditional 2019 fifth-round pick

Feb. 18, 2019
New York Rangers: Darren Raddysh
Chicago Blackhawks:
Peter Holland

Feb. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Edmonton Oilers: Sam Gagner
Vancouver Canucks: 
Ryan Spooner

Feb. 15, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers:
Cam Talbot
Edmonton Oilers:
Anthony Stolarz

Feb. 12, 2019
New York Rangers: 2020 seventh-round pick
Vancouver Canucks: 
Marek Mazanec

Feb. 11, 2019
Columbus Blue Jackets: conditional seventh-round 2019 pick
Pittsburgh Penguins: Blake Siebenaler

Feb. 11, 2019
Montreal Canadiens: Nate Thompson, 2019 fifth-round pick
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 fourth-round pick

Feb. 9, 2019 (PHT Analysis)
Philadelphia Flyers: Dave Schlemko, Byron Froese
Montreal Canadiens: Dale Weise, Christian Folin

Feb. 8, 2019
Arizona Coyotes: Emil Pettersson
Nashville Predators: Laurent Dauphin, Adam Helewka

Feb. 6, 2019
Nashville Predators:
Cody McLeod
New York Rangers:
2020 seventh-round pick

Feb. 6, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Nashville Predators
: Brian Boyle
New Jersey Devils: 2019 second-round pick

Feb. 6, 2019
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Christophe Beaudin
Colorado Avalanche: Max McCormick

Feb. 1, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann
Florida Panthers: Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, 2019 second-round picks and two 2019 fourth-round picks

Jan. 30, 2019
New Jersey Devils
: Ryan Murphy
Minnesota Wild: Michael Kapla

Jan. 28, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Muzzin
Los Angeles Kings: Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, 2019 first-round pick

Jan. 28, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Pittsburgh Penguins
: 2019 fourth-round pick
Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak

Jan. 24, 2019
Chicago Blackhawks: Dominik Kubalik
Los Angeles Kings: 2019 fifth-round pick

Jan. 21, 2019
Minnesota Wild
: Brad Hunt, 2019 sixth-round pick
Vegas Golden Knights: 2019 conditional fifth-round pick

Jan. 17, 2019
Buffalo Sabres
: Taylor Leier
Philadelphia Flyers: Justin Bailey

Jan. 17, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild
: Victor Rask
Carolina Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Michael Del Zotto
Vancouver Canucks: Luke Schenn, 2020 seventh-round pick

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Derek Grant
Pittsburgh Penguins: Joseph Blandisi

Jan. 16, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Minnesota Wild
: Pontus Aberg
Anaheim Ducks: Justin Kloos

Jan. 14, 2019
New York Rangers
: Connor Brickley
Nashville Predators: Cole Schneider

Jan. 14, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Anaheim Ducks
: Devin Shore
Dallas Stars: Andrew Cogliano

Jan. 11, 2019
Chicago Blackhawks
: Slater Koekkoek, 2019 fifth-round pick
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jan Rutta, 2019 seventh-round pick

Jan. 11, 2019 (PHT analysis)
Arizona Coyotes: Jordan Weal
Philadelphia Flyers: 2019 sixth-round pick

Jan. 11, 2019
Ottawa Senators: Cody Goloubef
Boston Bruins: Paul Carey

Jan. 11, 2019
Ottawa Senators
: Morgan Klimchuk
Toronto Maple Leafs: Gabriel Gagne

Jan. 3, 2019
Winnipeg Jets: Jimmy Oligny
Vegas Golden Knights: Futures

Jan. 3, 2019
St. Louis Blues
: Jared Coreau
Anaheim Ducks: Futures

Jan. 2, 2019
Ottawa Senators:
Anders Nilsson, Darren Archibald
Vancouver Canucks: Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt, 2019 sixth-round pick

Trade: Stars land Zuccarello; Rangers get what could be great picks

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The New York Rangers sent Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars in a fascinating trade on Saturday, and the conditions of that deal will mean that Rangers fans will have incentive to cheer Zuccarello on — even beyond simply liking the guy.

(And that shouldn’t be difficult, because Rangers fans really – justifiably – love the undersized winger.)

Conditional draft picks are becoming more and more in vogue heading into the 2019 trade deadline, but this situation is especially interesting.

The Stars confirmed these details, originally reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Stars receive: Mats Zuccarello.

Rangers’ rather complicated but interesting side: For one thing, the Rangers retain 30-percent of Zuccarello’s salary.

Conditional pick 1: Begins as a 2019 second-round pick.

That 2019 second-rounder gets bumped up to a first-rounder if the Stars win at least two playoff rounds during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Zuccarello playing in at least half of Dallas’ playoff games..

Conditional pick 2: Begins as a 2020 third-round pick.

That 2020 third-rounder turns into a 2020 first-rounder if the Stars re-sign Zuccarello.

So, at worst, the Rangers receive second and third-rounders for Zuccarello, but could end up with one or even two first-rounders depending upon how this works out. Wow.

A bit more on those picks

As of this writing, the Stars are ranked as the West’s first wild-card team. They’re unlikely to catch the Blues for the third Central spot, and face some competition in even staying in the full playoff picture.

But if they maintain their current spot, things get interesting.

The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators came into 2018-19 as the West’s most popular picks (along with the Sharks, probably?) for a deep run, but both teams have been experiencing some struggles here and there. The Stars would still be beating odds if they made a deep enough run to win two playoff rounds, but it’s not impossible, especially if they add even more after landing Zuccarello and Ben Lovejoy.

(Frankly, the Lovejoy trade is … underwhelming.)

There’s a decent-enough chance that the Stars might want to re-sign Zuccarello, too. As you can see from this post, Dallas is in a position to have a lot of cap space to work with in 2019-20, so maybe they’d keep the splendidly talented winger around with an extension?

One factor the Stars’ should weigh heavily in such talks is age, though. The winger is already 31, and will turn 32 on Sept. 1. Maybe the aging curve is a larger worry for bigger, more grindy forwards, but Dallas must at least consider that with Zuccarello.

And, no doubt, the cost going up to a first-rounder would add to the expense of it all. Actually, that pick might be in place to keep the door open for the Rangers to bring back Zuccarello in free agency, for all we know.

Stars add crucial support

Mats Zuccarello isn’t on the same level as Artemi Panarin, but he’s a heck of a playmaker, and probably underrated.

In fact, if you zoom out and look beyond just this season and instead to the last three years, you could make a nice argument that the gap between Zuccarello and Duchene isn’t even that large. (If you feel cheeky, feel free to say “The difference isn’t even Zuccarello-sized.”)

Zuccarello’s generally been a better possession player than his Rangers teammates. While that might be a case where it’s risky to use relative stats – these Rangers teams have been under water basically since the Alain Vigneault era – it’s better to look strong than weak.

Either way, you can’t really deny that he’s a useful scorer. Zuccarello’s generated 61 points once, 59 points twice, and has generally been a safe bet for at least 50 points during a healthy season.

The winger did experience some injury issues in 2018-19, limiting him to 46 games played before the trade. Still, he’s managed a strong pace nonetheless (37 points in just 46 games), and was really tearing up opposing defenses alongside Mika Zibanejad recently, generating an impressive 23 points in his last 20 games.

Zuccarello can give the Stars some supporting cast help, possibly slotting in alongside Jason Spezza on what Dallas would hope to be a stronger second line.

The possibilities are actually more interesting if coach Jim Montgomery experiments a bit. What if Zuccarello can slide onto the Stars’ top line, allowing one of Jamie Benn or Alex Radulov to move around the lineup, potentially allowing Dallas to ice a more balanced attack?

Either way, Zuccarello makes the Stars a more dangerous, diverse team. Refreshingly, the conditions of this trade should make that a much easier pill for Rangers fans to swallow. Really, they shouldn’t hesitate to root for one of their favorites, even if he’s wearing victory green.

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.