Thursday morning, Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill appeared on the Stellick & Simmer show to talk about the team’s future. He had some interesting things to say:
— SiriusXM NHL Network (@SiriusXMNHL) June 16, 2016
“There’s a good chance I’m bringing [up] a lot of young defensemen this year,” was one of the more interesting comments from the Stars GM. Elaborating further, Nill said, “We’re going to get bigger, I think we’re going to get faster…A lot of our growth is going to be internal.”
Jim Nill is a man of his word. Just a few hours after that interview, he sent veteran (and pending unrestricted free agent) defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Arizona Coyotes for a fifth-round pick in next week’s draft. As for the Stars’ remaining UFA defensemen, well, Mike Heika’s assessment is probably correct:
No. Guess is they will not make offers to Russell or Demers. Could look at trade or UFA. Seems they will be patient. https://t.co/FjhCGkBvMS
— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) June 16, 2016
Patience is not just a virtue, it’s Dallas’ only option at this point. On June 22, the NHL Board of Governors is expected to vote in favor of expansion to Las Vegas, beginning in the 2017-18 season. Based on what is already known about the rules for an expansion draft, it’s clear the Stars can’t protect more than three defensemen without exposing multiple high-value forwards. In fact, to protect a fourth blueliner, they would have to make available for selection four of these five forwards: Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie and Radek Faksa. Though they can only lose one player in the draft (two if Quebec joins the league as well), a fourth defenseman simply isn’t worth the risk.
Deals for Defensemen Unlikely
Of Dallas’ remaining, non-UFA, defenders, which three should be protected from the 2017 NHL expansion draft? John Klingberg, Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell would seem to be locks at this point, as all three project to be difference-makers for years to come. If that’s the case, acquiring another defenseman, particularly via trade, only makes sense if that blueliner is a significant upgrade over at least one of the three aforementioned young Stars. In that scenario, Dallas would then be forced to trade one of those players prior to the expansion draft, as any one of them would likely be selected by Las Vegas.
2016-17 will be a season of opportunity for Dallas’ young defensemen. In addition to Klingberg, Johns and Lindell, expect to see lots of Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak, and perhaps prospects Mattias Backman and Julius Honka, as well. Johnny Oduya has one year remaining on his contract, so he’ll provide a steady, veteran influence. The Stars’ opening-night defense pairs could very well look like this:
Nemeth, Lindell and Oleksiak have an average height and weight of 6’4″, 227 lbs. The players they replace (Goligoski, Kris Russell and Jason Demers) average 5’11”, 181 lbs. Clearly, the 2016-17 Stars d-corps won’t struggle against big, physical teams like St. Louis. Can they skate with the likes of the recent Stanley Cup winners, though? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?