Last Saturday night, the Dallas Stars were embarrassed at home by the Boston Bruins in a 7-3 beat down. Three of Boston’s goals came on the power play, offering further proof of Dallas’ penalty killing problems. The Stars PK is stumbling along at a rate of 78.8 percent on the season, tied for 24th in the NHL. They’re even worse in the month of February, getting the job done just 74.3 percent of the time (for comparison’s sake, this would tie Dallas with the Ottawa Senators for 29th on the season).
It should come as no surprise, then, that during the Saturday night massacre, the Stars’ television broadcast duo of Dave Strader and Darryl “Razor” Reaugh briefly discussed the possibility of general manager Jim Nill pursuing penalty killing help prior to the February 29 trade deadline. If the Stars are looking to “hire” a (penalty) killer, they should look no further than Montreal.
To paraphrase Jay Z, the Montreal Canadiens have 99 problems, but the penalty kill ain’t one. The Habs’ sixth-ranked PK crushes opposing teams’ power play goal dreams at a rate of 83.4 percent. Part of their success stems from possessing the puck while shorthanded: Montreal’s Corsi For percentage of 15.7 on the PK is tops in the NHL. In addition, their eight shorthanded goals are tied with the Winnipeg Jets for first in the league (stats courtesy of War-on-ice.com).
Though five teams have more efficient penalty kills than the Canadiens, one key fact makes Montreal the ideal trade partner for Dallas: those five teams are all in playoff position. The Habs are rumored to be in the market for a defenseman, currently seven points out of a playoff spot and premier netminder Carey Price is sidelined indefinitely. Given those factors, Jim Nill should find deal-making easier in the 514 than elsewhere. If the Stars GM is looking at Montreal, he’s probably looking at three options: The Rental, the One-for-One Swap and the Big Kahuna.
Dallas’ easiest, lowest-cost option would be Canadiens penalty killer Paul Byron. The 26-year-old Byron is making $900,000 this season and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. The diminutive (5’7″) forward averages just over two minutes per game on the PK. His shorthanded Corsi-for percentage is 15.75 (by comparison, Jamie Benn is tops among Stars forwards at 13.56). Byron has tallied three goals and two assists while shorthanded, including this dagger against Dallas back in December:
Because of Byron’s pending UFA status, he could be had for as little as a mid-round draft pick.
The One-for-One Swap
Jim Nill recently spoke to season-ticket holders in Dallas. Among other comments, the GM stated he was open to a “good hockey trade.” Sending Cody Eakin to Montreal in exchange for Lars Eller could be that trade. Comparing the stats of the two centermen shows the benefits to both teams:
- Cody Eakin…Age: 24…Contract Status: $1.9M salary cap hit this season, $3.85M through 2019-20…60 Games Played, 11 G – 14 A – 25 Pts…Per-Game Average Shorthanded Time On Ice: 1.62…Shorthanded Corsi-for percentage: 10.94.
- Lars Eller…Age: 26…Contract Status: $3.5M cap hit through 2017-18…60 GP, 10 G – 8 A – 18 Pts…Shorthanded TOI: 1.41…Shorthanded Corsi-for percentage: 21.15.
With Eakin, the Canadiens would gain a bit of a scoring boost over Eller, as well as an additional two years of service at a very manageable cap number. On the opposite side of the coin, the Stars sacrifice a bit in the scoring department to gain a better penalty killer, at a slightly lower cap hit, for less term.
The Big Kahuna
This would be the earthshaking deal Stars fans have come to expect from Nill. In this trade, Dallas would send a combination of roster players, picks and/or prospects to Montreal in exchange for Max Pacioretty. The 27-year-old left wing and Canadiens captain has three thirty-goal seasons to his credit. He boasts a shorthanded Corsi-for of 22.13 percent, which is second in the NHL among forwards with at least forty minutes on the PK. Pacioretty is also a top performer with the man-advantage, leading the Habs with eight power play goals. Last, but not least, his team-leading four game-winning goals show he’s good in the clutch.
Pacioretty is essentially Montreal’s version of Jamie Benn and is signed for three more seasons at a very affordable cap hit of $4.5M per, so he would undoubtedly carry a hefty price tag. Significant pieces of the Stars’ future would be involved. The acquisition of the Canadiens captain would severely impact future planning, too. Nill has structured his team so that Jason Spezza’s $7.5M contract comes off the books just as Tyler Seguin is due for a raise. Pacioretty’s contract is up at the same time.
In short, it’s doubtful the Stars could retain the services of Benn, Seguin and Pacioretty beyond the 2018-19 season. Jim Nill has to wonder, though: With those three on the ice, what could the Stars accomplish this spring and over the next three seasons? Oh, the tantalizing possibilities…
Whether the Stars GM opts for a trade deadline blockbuster or a low-cost rental, one thing is certain: Dallas’ penalty kill needs help, and Montreal should be at the top of Nill’s list of potential trade partners.