Dallas Stars Top Contract Priorities This Summer

The Dallas Stars have many contracts coming to an end this summer. From experienced players becoming free agents to youngsters on expiring deals (many of which are entry-level), there are some decisions to be made that can affect many other aspects of this team going forward. 

Experienced Players Becoming UFAs/RFAs

Atop the list of “veterans” with expiring contracts is 29-year-old defenseman John Klingberg. We recently dove deep into the future of Klingberg here, so we won’t talk too much about him, but he is far and away the most important piece set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. 

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Behind Klingberg, Braden Holtby, Alexander Radulov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Andrej Sekera, Michael Raffl, and Scott Wedgewood are also at the end of their previous contracts. Radulov has already signed with Ak Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League and likely played his final NHL game. But for the others, things get a bit trickier. 

It seems obvious that one of either Holtby or Wedgewood will be re-signed, but not both. There is the wild card of 35-year-old Anton Khudobin, who still has one year left on his contract and is currently rehabbing from surgery. If the Stars choose to go with Khudobin, which would be a huge risk, they could let both other netminders go into free agency. 

If not, they will need to choose between a veteran goalie that showed he can still play at an elite level but struggled mightily with injuries all season and a 29-year-old that is still scratching the surface but provided stability behind Jake Oettinger when Dallas needed it most. To me, the decision is fairly easy. The possible upside of Wedgewood including his stellar play, his will and attitude to prove he belongs, and how well he fits into the Stars room outweighs any possible chance of Holtby returning to his elite form. 

Scott Wedgewood Dallas Stars-Stars Top Contract Priorities This Summer
Scott Wedgewood, Dallas Stars (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Now, if Holtby was to regain his health and confidence and play like his Vezina and Stanley Cup years, the Stars would be bummed to have let him go. However, whichever goalie stays is going to be slotting into the backup role behind their present and future franchise goaltender in Oettinger, which makes the decision that much easier. 

Related: Q&A With Stars Goaltender Scott Wedgewood

On defense, Sekera is the only name outside of Klingberg. The Stars seem ready to move on from the 35-year-old, who only played in 32 games during the 2021-22 season. With a solid group of Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, Jani Hakanpaa, Joel Hanley, and Ryan Suter mixed with a group of youngsters ready to make the jump, it is very unlikely that Sekera remains in Dallas and it is possible that he has played his final NHL game. 

The forward group is where a lot of the drama comes in for Dallas. Do they want to bring back one of their defensive forwards in Michael Raffl? Did Vladislav Namestnikov do enough to earn a full-time spot? In my opinion, both players should be back next season. 

Raffl was a dominant force for much of the year and was arguably the Stars best forward for much of the seven-game series against the Calgary Flames. He is also a rather cheap option to keep around ($1.1 million AAV) and would be a good mentor for youngsters like Ty Dellandrea. But, the Stars could also decide to trust those young players to step into a role and let Raffl go, leaving Luke Glendening, Radek Faksa, and others to mentor them as they go. 

Namestnikov was a solid pickup for Dallas at the trade deadline. He did not record huge numbers but that is not why he was added in the first place. What he did do is solidify the top nine forwards and give them another solid two-way player that can also add some offense. His 5 points in 15 games was not much but he also struggled through an injury and looked to find his game in the playoffs. 

Youngsters Ready for Their Next Contract

There is no doubt that Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson will be signing new contracts this summer. Both are about to become restricted free agents but have proven to Dallas and the NHL that they are elite. The question now becomes, what type of deal will they sign? The Stars could easily decide to lock them in for the long-term with big seven or eight-year contracts as they did with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and others. That option would remove any risk of losing them eventually and could save Dallas money in the long-term. But, as with both of those players above, there is a risk of those deals not aging well and the Stars could certainly use the extra money right now.

Yes, Oettinger solidified himself as the Stars starter and was arguably the best goaltender in the entire first round of the playoffs and Robertson became just the fourth Stars player to record 40 goals and first since Seguin in 2017-18. But, the resume is still very small and the risk is high. Plus, if the Stars are able to convince both players to take shorter bridge deals, they could save some cash to deal out on other names that they may not be able to afford otherwise (cough, cough, John Klingberg). 

Jason Robertson Dallas Stars-Stars Top Contract Priorities This Summer
Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Behind those two top players is the mystery that is Denis Gurianov. The 24-year-old Russian winger scored 20 goals in his first full NHL season and added 17 points in 27 playoff games during the Stars run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. However, since then, he has been a frustrated and mediocre player that has not lived up to his potential. The key for him is that the potential is clearly there. When he was confident, he was one of the fastest and most dynamic players on the ice, scoring highly-skilled goals down the wing while holding a lethal one-timer on the power play. But, his confidence seems easily shakeable and he struggled mightily under Rick Bowness for the last two seasons, finding his way into the healthy scratch role or in the doghouse far too often. 

Related: Stars Players & Management Show High Hopes for the Future 

Because the Stars have a new coaching staff coming in next season, I believe re-signing Gurianov is a no-brainer. He has significantly lowered his worth with his poor play and there is a real possibility that a change in coaching and structure is exactly what he needs to find his game. Expect a short-term deal and a short leash as he may be on his final chance with this club. 

The final interesting name from the NHL roster is Marian Studenic. The Stars signed the 23-year old forward off waivers from New Jersey and he delivered a high-energy and hustle type of game that really helped them down the stretch. He does not bring a ton of offense (three points in 16 games), which can hurt his chances since Dallas has a huge list of highly touted prospects that can fill those bottom spots on the roster. However, he has a tremendous upside and would be pretty cheap to bring back. 

“I think we’ve got a special thing going here,” Nill said. “We’ve been able to transition from one core group to another core group and we’ve got another group of kids coming in. I’m excited about the future.”

Non-NHL players on expiring contracts include veteran Blake Comeau, who did not play any games in 2021-22 due to injury and is likely to retire, Riley Tufte, Fredrick Karlstrom, Jordan Kawaguchi, Alex Petrovic, Colton Point, Ben Gleason, Joel L’Esperance, Nick Caamano, Joseph Cecconi, Alexei Lipanov, and Ryan Shea. We will do a full prospect report later this month. 

What did I tell you? The contract situation for Dallas is messy. There are some huge decisions like Klingberg, goaltending, and Gurianov, but also many other under-the-radar ones that could shape this team for the future. What we do know is that the Stars firmly believe that they are right there and ready to become true contenders for the Stanley Cup beginning in the 2022-23 season. 

“I think it’s a great mix,” said Ryan Suter. “We were actually sitting in Calgary, some of the older guys, we were looking at teams that have won and how many guys above 30 they have, and we’re right there. We have a good mixture of old guys and young guys. Everyone cares, everyone’s on the same page and good things are to come.”

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