As some teams are busy playing postseason hockey, the Dallas Stars are preparing for next season’s run. With the Stars giving up more goals than almost everyone in the NHL, the defensive side of their game is obviously the one that needs improvements. Although I am sure it will be considered, it isn’t likely that the Stars bring in a new starting goalie. They have committed a lot to Kari Lehtonen and up until this season he was one of the better goalies in the Western Conference. That leaves the defense corps and despite improvements down the stretch, I think they are one solid defenseman away from being a true contender. Here are a few scenarios that could materialize in the offseason.
Dion Phaneuf – Toronto Maple Leafs
I don’t like this idea but it has been brought up many, many times so let’s have a look at it. Dion Phaneuf is the current captain and #1 defenseman of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto just endured a tumultuous season that saw efforts being questioned and front office personnel being let go. More change is likely coming, as trade rumors have swirled around Phaneuf and all-star Phil Kessel for a majority of the season. The Dallas Stars have been identified as a potential fit for Phaneuf, so let’s break it down.
The Potential Trade: Dion Phaneuf to Dallas for Trevor Daley, Jamie Oleksiak and the 1st Round Pick (12) in this year’s NHL draft.
Why it Could Work: Like Dallas, Toronto had a tough time keeping the puck out of the net this season so they would want a servicable NHL defenseman in return. Trevor Daley fits that bill and comes in pretty cheap at a $3.3M for two more seasons. Toronto also had one of the worst powerplays in the league and Daley would certainly be able to boost that. Daley’s six powerplay goals was tied for 7th among NHL defensemen. Jamie Oleksiak brings a lot of future potential as Hockey’s Future has him ranked in the top-5 of the Dallas Stars deep prospect pool. Oleksiak has some NHL experience and could be just about ready to take on a full-time NHL role. Ultimately the Maple Leafs are rebuilding and a first round pick in this year’s deep draft is a huge asset for them as well.
The Dallas Stars are in search for a top-4 defenseman and Phaneuf would fit that role. They would want someone with a physical presence and Phaneuf had 48 more hits than the Stars top-hitting defenseman this season. Phaneuf also finished this season with more blocked shots than anyone on the Stars aside from Alex Goligoski. He would bring the edge that the Stars are looking for on the back-end.
What Could Stop the Trade: Toronto may be looking for a better asset than Jamie Oleksiak, as it was rumored during the season that they were targeting Julius Honka from Dallas. Honka was a first round pick in last year’s draft and is already rated the second-best prospect in the Stars system. He has Erik Karlsson written all over him. Jim Nill is likely not going to trade that potential away for a possible marginal upgrade. Unless Toronto retains a significant portion of Phaneuf’s salary, they won’t get Honka out of Dallas.
Jack Johnson – Columbus Blue Jackets
Jack Johnson has played O.K. for the Blue Jackets so far but something just doesn’t seem right there. He puts up points but struggles defensively at times. While that isn’t exactly what the Stars need, I think a change of scenery could go a long way for Johnson. Listed at 6’1” and 238 lbs, Johnson would become arguably the biggest and strongest defender on the Stars. There wasn’t a Columbus defenseman with more blocked shots and only Alex Goligoski had more than Johnson from a Dallas Stars standpoint. Let’s break down a deal that would bring Johnson to Dallas.
The Potential Trade: Jack Johnson to Dallas for Patrik Nemeth and the 1st Round Pick (12) in this year’s draft.
Why it Could Work: Columbus also struggled defensively this season and wasn’t a team in need of offense. Jack Johnson provided a lot of offense for them but struggled defensively at times. Like I mentioned above, I think he could use a change in scenery and his game could be changed to better suit the Stars needs. Alex Goligoski was brought in to be a scoring, puck-moving defenseman and he is now the best defender on the team. I believe that could work with Johnson as well. What the Jackets get is the 12th pick in a deep draft in which they already have the 8th pick. That allows them to load up on potential. Nemeth gives them the stay-at-home defenseman they need who has a lot of upside. The reason it works for the Stars is Jack Johnson, right now, is a significant upgrade over Nemeth. They also have a wealth of young defensemen in the system and likely will need to unload at least one player in the offseason.
What Could Stop the Trade: Columbus acquired Jack Johnson a few years ago and they may not be ready to ship him out quite yet. He certainly hasn’t played poorly for them, he just hasn’t lived up to the expectation that he can be a true #1 defenseman. He still has three years left on his deal at a pretty reasonable cap hit of under $4.5M, so the Blue Jackets will have to decide if it is worth selling him off for youth. Another non-playoff season may push Johnson out of Columbus.
Brent Seabrook – Chicago Blackhawks
Brent Seabrook is in the midst of yet another lengthy Chicago playoff run at the moment. After the season is over, however, there will be a lot of pondering to due in Chicago. Recent reports have Gary Bettman predicting the salary cap will be around $71.5M, which is just a slight jump from the current season. Both Johnathon Toews and Patrick Kane are receiving hefty raises that will see their cap hits go to $10.5M a piece. They also have restricted-free-agent-to-be Brandon Saad, who will get a nice raise after a solid season. Seabrook will be entering the final year of his deal that holds a $5.8M cap hit and Chicago may be forced to pull the trigger on a trade. Seabrook would give the Stars complete balance at the blue line with three right-handed defensemen and three left-handed defensemen. Although it is always expensive to trade within the division, Chicago’s salary cap situation may force their hand.
The Potential Trade: Brent Seabrook to Dallas for Jamie Oleksiak, Ludvig Bystrom, and a conditional 2016 2nd Round Pick (becomes a 1st round pick if Brent Seabrook re-signs in Dallas)
Why it Could Work: The Blackhawks unload a big cap hit for a ton of future potential. Oleksiak will require a new contract next season, but his play at the NHL level so far does not warrant anything too significant. Bystrom is an offensive defenseman with a lot of upside and is still under contract for two more seasons. He isn’t NHL ready quite yet but could make the leap by the time that contract expires. Add in Seabrook re-signing in Dallas (which people have shown a tendency to do lately) and the Blackhawks get a first round pick in 2016. The Blackhawks are not short of NHL defensemen now and this would give them a wealth of defensive prospects at a cheap cost, cap hit wise.
What Could Stop the Trade: The Central Division is completely unpredictable. The Stars finished 6th despite scoring the most goals in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks might be a little wary of giving a top-4 defenseman to a young team who has already shown the potential to light up opponents offensively. I think that will be the only reason the trade doesn’t work, because the Blackhawks are going to be in trouble cap-wise. They were excellent defensively this season while they actually had the second lowest scoring offense in the Central. Because of that, I don’t believe they go the route of trading offensive guys like Patrick Sharp. Seabrook is most likely on his way out, the Blackhawks will just have to decide if the return is enough to ship him to a division rival.
What Do the Dallas Stars Do?
Unlike the previous two seasons, I do not see the Stars going out and making a blockbuster deal for a player like Alex Pietrangelo or Erik Karlsson. There are very few teams in this league that possess a true #1 defensemen and quite frankly they don’t usually give them up. The Dallas Stars are in a position where the offense is so good, they just need to solidify the back-end and the net. Adding one of the above players could really stabilize the defense and allow current defensemen to play in a role they are more suited for. While none of the above-mentioned defensemen come cheap, the Stars possess the resources that would be necessary to land them. It is all in the hands of Jim Nill, who has shown to be more than capable of making bold decisions.
Jordan has been covering the Stars for The Hockey Writers since February 2015. He is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. You can follow Jordan on twitter @jordan_dix