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Stars sign Esa Lindell to six-year, $34.8 million contract

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Esa Lindell has become a cornerstone of the Stars’ blueline over the last couple years, so naturally Dallas wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. The Stars announced that he signed a six-year, $34.8 million deal.

That’s his first big contract after his two-year, $4.4 million deal expired. He would have become a restricted free agent this summer.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on May 23) set career-highs with 11 goals and 32 points in 82 games this season. He logged 24:20 minutes per game, including an average of 3:14 shorthanded minutes.

“Esa is a consummate professional who has proven himself dependable in every situation and is just an absolute workhorse,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “When you combine his strength, conditioning, hockey IQ and skill, he has become an integral part of this team. Along with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, the three make up the foundation of a blueline that will not only be a strength for our club, but one that will be as good as any in the NHL for the foreseeable future.”

Speaking of Heiskanen and Klingberg, the Stars now have the trio signed to pretty reasonable contracts. Lindell’s annual cap hit is $5.8 million through 2024-25 while Klingberg is at $4.25 million through 2021-22 and Heiskanen still has two seasons left on his entry-level deal.

Lindell’s deal isn’t too far off from Shea Theodore‘s seven-year, $36.4 million contract signed in September after he scored six goals and 29 points in 61 games while averaging 20:21 minutes. Nate Schmidt (six-years, $35.7 million) and Jakob Chychrun (six-years, $27.6 million) are two other recent comparable, but they’re not ideal examples because Schmidt was set to become an unrestricted free agent while Chychrun was coming off his entry-level deal.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

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

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.

Maroon’s double OT goal brings son to tears

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As hockey fans have found out over the last couple of seasons, Patrick Maroon and his son, Anthony, have a very special bond. After Maroon scored the game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 7 against the Stars, we got to see just how special these moments can be for a father and son.

Moments after Maroon punched the Blues’ ticket to the Western Conference Final, Anthony was seen in the crowd wearing a jacket with his father’s number seven sewn on the back. He was very emotional and you can certainly understand why.

“I was looking at the page with all the players, where they’re from and all that stuff,” recalled Anthony, per The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford. “All I heard was everybody scream. My friend turns around and says, ‘It’s your dad!’ I just started crying.”

Of course, it was just a couple of years ago when Maroon himself got choked up during an interview when he saw a shot of his son celebrating one of his goals. Back then, the veteran admitted that playing in Edmonton meant that he couldn’t see his soon as much as he wanted.

So you can understand why the big winger decided to head home to St. Louis when he became an unrestricted free agent over the summer.

It’s safe to say that the signing has worked out for both parties.

MORE: NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB

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.