It’s like playing a game of Texas Hold ‘Em in the Wild West as the Dallas Stars approach the trade deadline. Country singer Kenny Rogers once sang “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” The franchise is teetering on an opportunity to do real damage this postseason but don’t necessarily hold the chips to impose their will on the table. The team only has four picks in the upcoming 2020 draft and the 2020-21 salary cap can become congested.
To begin to understand the kind of poker player that Stars general manager Jim Nill is, take a look at his interview with TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
“The biggest question is what’s the price of acquisition? There’s a balancing act there. Draft picks are becoming more and more valuable in today’s game. That’s what we got to balance,” Nill said. “There’s a short-term risk/reward to that and a long-term risk/reward that we always have to balance between the cap, the draft picks.”
Where Things Stand
After an overtime win against the St. Louis Blues, the Stars currently look to be a lock in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a win that certainly felt that doubters of head coaches Rick Bowness and the team would finally be silenced.
The Stars are on pace to put up 101 points in the standings. However, several of the other Central Division teams are within striking distance of the playoffs themselves. Based on how teams have performed this season, the Nashville Predators are projected with 90 points, the Chicago Blackhawks 88 points, the Winnipeg Jets 87 points, and Minnesota Wild 85 points. In order to keep these teams out of the Stars’ third-place position, Dallas needs to stick to what’s working.
On the other side of the debate is the fact that the Stars are only six points behind the first-place Blues. With 27 games remaining on the team’s regular-season schedule that spread can easily be overcome. In fact, if the Stars were playing in the Pacific Division they would be the leaders. Therefore, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Stars to be in contention for the Western Conference’s No. 1 overall seed.
This crossroads of the Stars’ current standings is part of what’s maddening. It feels like for the majority of the season the team is one piece away from truly being a Stanley Cup contender. The big question, can and will the front office be creative enough to pull out the perfect trade deadline move?
What Dallas Needs
What the Stars are looking for more than anything else is a consistent goalscorer. The defensive zone has been the backbone for this team. The rise of defenceman Miro Heiskanen and the magical return of Stephen Johns has been an ace-up-the-sleeve combination paired with arguably the best goalie duo in hockey. The team also has solid depth on defense with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell. The Stars allow the third-fewest goals per game in the NHL.
The Stars, without question, need some offense. The teams scores the fourth-fewest goals per game in the entire league and the third-fewest in the Western Conference. It’s been a point of criticism for the entirety of Bowness’ tenure as head coach. To make matters worse, the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area is begging Tyler Seguin to find the back of the net. Seguin has yet to score a goal this decade and some fans are saying he should be scratched.
However, the reality of making a trade for more offense might not be in the works. Nill, in his interview with LeBrun, also stated that he feels the roster could step up in the offensive zone.
“I think there’s more for high-end players to give there,” Nill said. “And even our support players, I think there’s more to give there, too. I think we can be a more determined team in the offensive zone, possession time and all that. … I think we can still be more of a possession team in the offensive zone and I think that’s where our game will change a little bit.”
When dissecting Nill’s words, fans might wonder if he is having some buyer remorse for trading the team’s third-round draft pick for Mats Zuccarello. Yes, Zuccarello added additional firepower during the playoffs but it wasn’t enough to get the Stars past the Blues. If Nill is going to wager his first-round draft pick, it will have to be move he can guarantee.
The Safe Bet
There is an option on the table that could add to the Stars’ offensive power without making a massive wager. The franchise could offer a third-round pick along with two minor league forwards in exchange for the New Jersey Devils center Black Coleman. The 28-year-old is not worth a first-round pick and he only has a salary of $1.8 million.
This is the move that would keep Nill in the game without risking everything. However, a safe bet isn’t always a smart bet. Fans in Dallas will wonder if Coleman can even make a large enough impact on the roster to make the move matter. Once more, is a third-round pick worth that price?
Whatever move Nill makes in the front office will have ramifications for the Stars heading into the playoffs. But if the front office in Frisco chooses to go all-in, they will be gambling the future of the team for a Stanley Cup.