Roope Hintz

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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.

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2019: PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals

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BRUINS VS. HURRICANES

SEAN: Bruins in 6. You really want to see the Hurricanes advance and continue their memorable run this postseason, but in the end I think Boston’s top line and the play of Tuukka Rask will be what does them in. The Bruins got through the Blue Jackets with only a single goal from Brad Marchand, showing they can match the depth production of Carolina. The Hurricanes’ special teams have been abysmal through two rounds. They own the worst power play (10.5%) and penalty kill (75%) of the four teams remaining and are coming off a four-game series where the unit managed only one goal with the man advantage.

JAMES: Bruins in 7. The Hurricanes’ excellent defense, two-way depth, underrated talent, and fresh legs make them a tough opponent for anyone, Bruins included. Boston boasts the most complete team Carolina’s seen yet, with Tuukka Rask playing the best hockey of his career, improving supporting cast members picking things up well on the rare off nights for the Bruins’ ridiculous top line, and … oh yeah, that ridiculous top line.

And no, I’m not going to take the bait and make a bunch of jerks/Brad Marchand joke. Never. Not me.

ADAM: Hurricanes in 6. I do not think this run comes to an end. The Bruins are a great team and don’t really have a weakness anywhere on their roster, but I just love the way this Hurricanes team is playing. Their defense from top to bottom is better than Boston’s, I think their speed up front is going to give the Bruins fits, and as long as either Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney doesn’t turn into a pumpkin I think they are getting enough goaltending to get through this. They don’t need whoever plays in net to steal this thing; they just need them to not lose it. And I think they can do that.

JOEY: Bruins in 6. Hurricanes fans should be thrilled. I didn’t pick Carolina in the first or second rounds and we all know how that turned out. I’m not trying to disrespect the ‘Canes, but I think their run ends here. The Bruins started getting production from David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the tail end of their second-round series against Columbus, and Tuukka Rask has been nearly unbeatable for a while now. The Hurricanes will need to be almost perfect if they’re going to cause another upset. I don’t see that happening.

SCOTT: Bruins in 6. You have to give Carolina credit here. They just walked through the New York Islanders and took down the defending Stanley Cup champions in the round prior. They keep getting it done despite an injury to Petr Mrazek (who may be back for Game 1). And they possess, possess, possess. And they grind like Rod Brind’Amour used to. But they’re coming up against a Bruins team that has found its stride. The ‘Big Three’ are scoring and Tuukka Rask is playing lights out. Boston is going to win the physical battle, and if Rask doesn’t let up, its the end of the line for these bunch of jerks.

RYAN: Bruins in 7. Boston already took down something of a Cinderella story in Columbus and I think that’s going to happen again.  The Hurricanes have really impressed in this playoff run and I think teams are going to look at them a lot differently next year.  However, the Bruins are the ones with the experience and star power to pushed past Carolina and into the Stanley Cup Final.  I do think that the Hurricanes will be able to at least frustrate the Bruins though and steal some games through their goaltending and defense.

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BLUES VS. SHARKS

SEAN: Blues in 6. “This will be the series Jordan Binnington is solved for good,” he says, probably regrettably. The Sharks getting their captain back in Game 7 was a huge boost for them — and that was before he scored the opening goal and added an assist. Fully healthy, San Jose can be a dominant team as long as Martin Jones is playing like Good Martin Jones, which he showed in Round 2. But Binnington has been unflappable — even when he’s “celebrating” a double overtime series-clinching goal. He won’t be rattled, even in high-danger situations as he’s shown in 13 starts. The Blues’ stars have stepped up, they’re getting balanced scoring, and they have  a goaltender who’s been consistently great since making his NHL debut at the age of 25 just four months ago. Play Gloria!

JAMES: Sharks in 7. It sure looks like San Jose is destined to do this the hard way. These two teams are pretty versatile – able to win games with scoring or defense, with the occasional night stolen by a hot goalie. The Sharks’ firepower just looms a little to large to me, much like the Bruins’ high-end pieces. It’s not just the obvious, like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and a recently rejuvenated Joe Pavelski. I expect Timo Meier to torment the Blues in much the same way as Roope Hintz did in Round 2. Tomas Hertl won’t be easy to handle. This should be a slugfest, and the Sharks’ haymakers simply hit a little harder.

ADAM: Blues in 6. The Blues were my pick to come out of the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs and I am sticking with them here. I just like the way they have been playing for the past few months — pretty much ever since the Jordan Binnington and Craig Berube duo showed up. They have been one of the best teams in the league since then defensively (it is not all Binnington) and while they may not have a lot of star power up front after Vladimir Tarasenko it is a deep, balanced group of forwards that can put pressure on you. I could easily see the Sharks winning this, especially if they keep getting the same Martin Jones they got in Round 2, but I think that is my concern. I have to see it from him again before I believe it.

JOEY: Sharks in 7. Yeah, another seven-game series for the Sharks. Jordan Binnington has received a lot of positive press for the way he’s played since the start of the new year, but Martin Jones has quietly bounced back in a big way. Also, it’s impressive that the Blues managed to get to the Western Conference Final without getting a goal from Brayden Schenn and Ryan O'Reilly in the second round, but they can’t have that happen against the Sharks. San Jose has many a lot of guys who can put the puck in net.

SCOTT: Sharks in 7. A Martin Jones that can stop pucks and Joe Pavelski back and reasonably rested? I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop the San Jose Sharks, who have all sorts of weapons. That said, Jones is no Ben Bishop, so the goals could come a little easier. But the Sharks just seem bloody determined at the moment. There’s so much motivation for them outside of just winning the Cup. Joe Thornton hoisting it finally. Pavelski, too. The Blues will put up a fight. Jordan Binnington has been special in these playoffs and the Blues have found ways to grind out teams have got contributions from everywhere. The Sharks just seem destined for this at the moment.

RYAN: Sharks in 7. San Jose was my pick to win the Cup and I’ll stick with that. Certainly I do like St. Louis a lot.  They’re a deep, well-rounded team and Jordan Binnington has done enough to push them this far.  Ben Bishop deserves a lot of credit for his Game 7 heroics, but Binnington faced back-to-back elimination games and held the competition to a single goal in each contest.  He’s been attracting a lot of attention for a reason.  Still, the Sharks seem to have everything a championship team needs with the possible exception of a goaltender they can depend on.  Martin Jones held his own against Colorado in Round 2, so maybe now they even have that.

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
Hurricanes/Bruins series preview

PHT Roundtable

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

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.