Travis Moen

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Dallas loves its young defensemen, which could mean goodbye for some vets

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Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn.

Combined, those four have over 1,800 games of NHL experience. They’re all 27 or older, fairly well traveled (only Benn has spent his entire career in Dallas) and, this summer, all will be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Which begs the question — which ones will be back in Dallas?

Which leads to another — will any of them be back?

The Dallas Morning-News took an in-depth look at the Stars’ blueline yesterday. The locks for spots next year are John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns, with the News’ Mike Heika suggesting youngsters Patrik Nemeth and Esa Lindell as potential regulars.

And there could be even more kids on the way.

As we’ve written about on PHT in the past, the Stars are enamored with their collection of young blueline talent. Last summer, owner Tom Gaglardi said “we’ve got the deepest bench of defense prospects in the league, quite honestly,” and at this year’s deadline, GM Jim Nill said teams were looking to raid his cupboard.

“When I talk about trades, when we got to make trades, that’s who everyone wants and I’m not giving them up,” he said. “That’s too big a part of our future.”

Dallas has been stockpiling blueliners for years. Klingberg, Nemeth, Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak are all draftees that have played in the NHL, while the likes of Ludwig Bystrom (43rd overall, ’12), Niklas Hansson (68th overall, ’13) and Julius Honka (14th overall, ’14) are being groomed in AHL Texas.

Johns and another prospect, ex-Detroit property Mattias Backman, were acquired via trade.

Which brings us back to the UFA Four of Goligoski, Russell, Demers and Benn.

In what’s hardly a blockbuster defenseman class, these guys will probably get good money on the open market. Goligoski could break $5 million annually, as could Russell (that was the reported figure from TSN, though before Russell’s less-than-stellar playoff effort.) Demers figures to get a nice bump from the $2.2 million he made this year.

And this is where things get interesting for Nill.

Dallas has some big-money decisions on the horizon, most notably the Jamie Benn extension, which Nill said he’d like to get done this summer. Nill also needs to decide what he wants to do with veteran UFA forwards Travis Moen, Vern Fiddler and Patrick Eaves. RFA winger Valeri Nichushkin needs a new contract, as does Oleksiak and burly power forward Brett Ritchie.

And don’t forget, the Stars are also locked into $10.4 million — annually, through 2018 — for the oft-maligned goalie duo of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen.

Taking all this into account, going young on defense could very well be the plan. Dallas has most of these blueliners on the cheap (entry-level or second contracts) and, given how high the organization is on them, perhaps now is the time to see what they’ve really got.

Stars go back to Kari Lehtonen in Game 6

AP
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Lindy Ruff might not enjoy fielding questions about the Dallas Stars’ goalies, but can you blame people for asking?

The Stars are turning back to Kari Lehtonen as they hope to close out the Minnesota Wild in Game 6.

Lehtonen started for Dallas from Games 1-3. After that, it was Antti Niemi in Games 4 and 5. These are two hit-or-miss goalies who are carrying a combined $10.4 million cap hit.

It hasn’t always been pretty, yet the plan will look a little brighter if the Stars can end this series during a game where the Wild try to keep their season going while honoring Prince.

In other lineup notes, Travis Moen replaces Valeri Nichushkin: