The Dallas Stars currently sit 12th in the Western Conference but only trail the division leaders by a handful of points. The season has been an up-and-down rollercoaster and continues to push the team to the brink. Heading into 2022, general manager Jim Nill needs to decide if they still believe they are a legitimate contender. If so, it is likely that some new faces will be brought in to help on this journey.
As a team that struggles to score goals and has one of the best goaltenders, defense, and defensive forwards in the league, the obvious addition would be among the forward group. Many of their decisions will come down to the play of their expected scoring forwards, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Denis Gurianov, and Joel Kiviranta, who are all currently struggling to put the puck in the net.
With a few expiring contracts and Anton Khudobin currently sitting in the American Hockey League, Dallas may have some pieces to play on top of their estimated $2-3 million cap space at the deadline. Their target? A relatively cheap forward that can add goals below their top line. Luckily, there are quite a few that match that description.
Chandler Stephenson- $2.75 million
Chandler Stephenson had a slow start to his career. Over the past two years, however, the 27-year-old forward has come alive. In 2020-21, he tallied 14 goals, 21 assists, and 35 points in only 51 total games for the Vegas Golden Knights. All he has done is improve further this season, currently holding a point-per-game pace with 10 goals and 23 assists in just 32 games. While his contract does not come to an end until 2024, Vegas is soon going to be forced to make some moves when newcomer Jack Eichel is healthy and ready to go.
The tough part of this trade is that Vegas is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and a conference foe of Dallas. They will need to make some trades in the coming months but may be less likely to do so with a team that they may see in the playoffs. Still, if the Stars can find a way to convince them, perhaps with the same goaltender that ended the Golden Knights playoff dreams in 2020, this would be a huge addition to their forward group.
Valeri Nichushkin- $2.5 million
There are a couple of former Stars’ players on this list, the first being Valeri Nichushkin. After an excellent start to his career in Dallas, Nichushkin struggled to score any goals and was eventually dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in 2019. Since then, he has been a far more productive player. While he has not reached his 14-goal career-high, he has produced consistently for an offensive team in Colorado.
Nichushkin recorded 10 goals in 55 games last season and has already tied that mark in just 18 games this season. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and Colorado seems to have plenty of offense to go around. Similar to Vegas, their struggles are between the pipes, and they surely remember when Khudobin ended their playoff run in 2020 as well. If Khudobin can continue to play well in the AHL for the Texas Stars, perhaps the Avalanche would make a move to solidify that position heading into the playoffs.
Vladislav Namestnikov- $2 million
Vladislav Namestnikov is more of a wild card than the previous two names on this list. While he has scored 20 goals in his career (2017-18), his production has dropped ever since. Currently, he has recorded 9 goals and 16 assists during the 2021-22 season. Playing for a rebuilding Detroit Red Wings team, producing with any sort of consistency is no small task. The 29-year-old forward will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and would likely benefit from joining a much more competitive team.
Detroit is a team full of young talent so it is possible that he could be on his way out to make room for prospects to get their feet wet. Perhaps, Dallas could offer them a young player or even a cheap and experienced veteran to help them during their rebuild. The deal may be tough to make but it would certainly help Dallas add some scoring to their lineup.
Andreas Athanasiou- $2.7 million
Speaking of rebuilding teams, the Los Angeles Kings are certainly one of them. With some aging veterans and young prospects, they will likely look to turn this team over to their youngsters in the coming years. Andreas Athanasiou is sort of in between those two groups.
At 27 years old, he has many years ahead of him but also some experience in the league. The former 30-goal scorer has seen his offense dip in the past few years but has tallied six points in the 11 games he has played this season. Since his contract expires at the end of this season, it is far more likely that Los Angeles would look to trade him as a rental at the deadline. While it is no guarantee that he will come in and score loads of goals for Dallas, he certainly has more offensive upside than some of their current depth forwards.
Reilly Smith-$5 million
While Reilly Smith comes with a much larger $5 million cap hit, he is still an interesting player to look at here. The former Star has done nothing but score goals during his time across four NHL clubs. Currently, with the Golden Knights, Smith has recorded 20 goals in every season (excluding the shortened 2020-21 season). This season, he has tallied 10 goals, 14 assists, and 24 points in the first 32 games.
The skilled forward is a big part of his team but in order to make room for Eichel, some big changes will need to be made. Dallas would need to make some moves on their end as well to make room for his contract but the 31-year-old would provide scoring, experience, and a high flash of skill that is missing from their current lineup. With Vegas currently struggling to keep pucks out of their net, the Khudobin card could be played to entice a team that truly believes they are close to winning their first championship.
There you have it, the top five trade targets for the Stars in 2022. While it is possible that Jim Nill decides to stick with his current roster, he is sure to be on the lookout for a way to improve. After staying relatively quiet in recent trade deadlines, he and his staff know how vital it is to add the right player if they become available.
Much of this conversation will come down to where the Stars stand later in the year and the play of their offensively-talented forwards but every team is looking to get better as they head toward a potential playoff run. For Dallas, it seems they need a boost in scoring. If that comes from their current lineup, excellent. If not, there are some players out there that can certainly help.
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Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!