The Christmas break, bye week and all-star break are in the Dallas Stars’ rearview mirror. From their precarious perch in the Western Conference’s first wild card spot, the playoffs are within reach. Could general manager Jim Nill swing a deal to improve the Stars’ playoff chances between now and the February 26 trade deadline?
Some have suggested the team might benefit from the addition of a left-shooting veteran defenseman. The emergence of Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn as a reliable shutdown pair, coupled with the solid play of the Esa Lindell and John Klingberg tandem, make any such blue line acquisition a luxury, rather than a necessity.
What the Stars really could use is a veteran top-six winger. With several teams already in “sell” mode and others expected to test the waters over the next few weeks, Nill has several options.
Evander Kane: Stars’ Expensive Gamble?
Perhaps the biggest name among so-called “rental” forwards is Evander Kane. The pending unrestricted free agent winger has 16 goals and 20 assists through 51 games and is the struggling Buffalo Sabres’ top trade chip. While the Stars could benefit from Kane’s scoring ability, three factors make him a long shot to move to Dallas: competition, price and playoff performance.
If Nill chooses to pursue Kane, he’ll have to compete with several other general managers. Competition will drive up the Sabres’ asking price, which is already expected to be quite steep.
A high-priced rental of Kane’s stature could be a risk worth taking, except for one thing: He’s never played an NHL playoff game. Not one. Not ever.
It’s not Kane’s fault he’s spent his entire NHL career to this point on subpar teams, but the Stars can’t afford to overpay for a rental player with no playoff pedigree. If Kane does come to Dallas, it’ll likely be as a free agent on July 1, not as a trade deadline acquisition.
An Intriguing Trio of Tex’s Rangers
The New York Rangers are very much in the playoff hunt but, as NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports, they’re expected to test the market on several players. Three Rangers wingers could be of interest to the Stars: Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Mats Zuccarello.
Of the trio, Nash is perhaps the most intriguing. Though his name isn’t on the Stanley Cup, the veteran power forward has played in 73 playoff games over the last five seasons, tallying 14g-24a-38pts in that span.
Nash’s postseason stats aren’t what you might expect from a top-line winger, but he could benefit from a reduced role in Dallas, skiing in the wake of the Benn-Seguin-Radulov speedboat. Also worth noting is the history Nash and Stars coach Ken Hitchcock share. They spent the better part of four seasons together with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nash became captain in the latter half of Hitchcock’s tenure.
Like Nash, Grabner is another pending UFA who could help the Stars. Though slotted into a bottom-six role, the speedy Austrian makes the most of his minutes, notching 27 goals in 2016-17 and 21 through 50 games this season. Grabner’s budget-friendly $1.65 million cap hit more than makes up for his relative (to Nash) lack of playoff experience, and a Stars fourth line of Remi Elie – Devin Shore – Grabner could be exactly the sort of “secret weapon” with which playoff battles are won.
Last, and least likely to be traded, is Mats Zuccarello. The diminutive (5 foot 8, 179 pound) Norwegian has excellent vision, as indicated by his assist totals over the last five seasons. While the Rangers’ top-line right wing can score goals himself, his ideal role is that of a set-up man, passing the puck and collecting an assist. With 45 power play points over the last three seasons, “Zucc” would give the Stars another very dangerous option on the man-advantage.
Zuccarello, who has one year remaining on his contract at an easy-to-swallow $4.5 million cap hit, would carry the highest price tag of the Blueshirts’ trio in any trade. Whether or not the Stars are willing to pay that price is debatable, but there’s no doubt that the skilled winger would make them a much more dangerous team.
Another Stars-Canadiens Trade?
Trade rumors have swirled around Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty since last season. With the Habs 10 points out of a playoff spot and falling, a move seems imminent.
Pacioretty, who has scored 30-plus goals in each of his last five full seasons, is on pace for just 26 this year. Despite the decline, the Canadiens’ captain leads his struggling team in scoring. Like Zuccarello, Pacioretty has one year left on his current contract at a cap hit of $4.5 million.
The combination of Pacioretty’s goal-scoring ability, proven leadership skills and cap-friendly contract make him a very attractive option for the Stars. Nill and Marc Bergevin pulled off a mutually-beneficial swap last season; perhaps they’ll do it again.
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.