Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline came and went quietly for the Dallas Stars. The lack of activity left some Stars fans puzzled, but make no mistake, general manager Jim Nill feels the pieces are already in place for a deep playoff run. He’s counting on the old sports adage, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”
“I like our dressing room,” Nill said on Monday, as reported by Dallas News Staff Writer Mike Heika. “My message is, ‘I like where we’re at, and I like our chemistry, so now it’s up to the guys in the dressing room to get the job done.'” The vote of confidence could be the spark the team needs.
Despite their recent struggles (2-4 in their last six games heading into Tuesday night), the Stars are firmly in the playoff hunt with 20 games left on the regular season schedule. They are three points behind the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division, but also only three points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche who were sitting outside of a playoff spot.
Nill’s Big Moves Come in the Offseason
Since his arrival in Dallas, Nill has remained relatively low-key at the trade deadline. The offseason is when he tends to make big moves and this year was no exception as he facilitated the acquisitions of Alexander Radulov, Ben Bishop, Marc Methot, Tyler Pitlick and Martin Hanzal before the puck dropped in 2017-18. In prior offseasons, he added Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, former Star Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.
Nill has made some deadline moves including last season when the Stars were quasi-sellers, moving Patrick Eaves, Jordie Benn, Johnny Oduya and Lauri Korpikoski for draft picks, Dillon Heatherington, Mark McNeill and Greg Pateryn. Two seasons ago the Stars were buyers when Nill traded for veteran defenseman Kris Russell for picks and prospects.
The season before that the Stars again were sellers as Nill moved veteran forward Erik Cole to his former employers the Detroit Red Wings. In return, the Stars received Mattias Janmark, defenseman Mattias Backman (who is no longer with the organization) and 2015 second round pick forward Roope Hintz who is off to a good rookie season with the Texas Stars.
Why Nill Didn’t Trade
One reason Nill didn’t make a move was that the prices were too high. With so many teams still within striking distance of a playoff spot, the market was short on supply and high on demand. When the price for former Chicago Blackhawk, Ryan Hartman is more than a first-round pick, the market is too high.
I thought the Stars might be in on the Rick Nash sweepstakes, especially given his relationship with Ken Hitchcock who coached him with the Columbus Blue Jackets when Nash was growing into a complete player similar to what Hitchcock is doing with Tyler Seguin this season. However, the Boston Bruins made the New York Rangers an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Also, the Stars weren’t going to give up their 2018 first round pick for a depth player with the NHL Draft coming to the Metroplex this summer. Without a pick to offer, next up was Julius Honka. It’s too soon to max out his value with the return being a depth forward. I’d like to see the Stars add some picks leading up to the draft.
The team isn’t missing much. Ben Bishop and Kari Lehtonen have the net covered, and the defense is deep enough that it’s hard to find ice time for over-ripe prospect Julius Honka or Heatherington. The Stars have top-line scoring in Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Radulov. They have a checking/energy line in Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel, and Pitlick. The only real need is secondary scoring which they can get from Spezza (a proven commodity) or Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Mattias Janmark or Hanzal when they are healthy.
Not only were the deadline prices too steep from a return perspective, but it would’ve been steep from a cap perspective as well. The Stars are down to $681,000 in cap space for the rest of this season and next season the only significant contract scheduled to come off the books will be Lehtonen’s $5.9 million. Quality cap management is critical to long-term success in the NHL.
To summarize, instead of overpaying to secure a trade asset, Nill publicly shared his faith in the current roster. Now it’s up to the Stars to shine. In 1948 it was former Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck who created the saying, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.” The Indians won World Series that year. Nill and the Stars are hoping to raise a special 60th birthday toast to the phrase in early June.