The 2013 NHL Entry Draft and the beginning of free agency season are still a week away, but the offseason is already in full swing for the Dallas Stars and their new general manager Jim Nill.
Nill’s already been busy, trading for and signing veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar, as well as finishing his month-long search for a new coach by signing Lindy Ruff on Friday. He will continue to be active at the draft, possessing four picks in the first two rounds, as well as in free agency, as the Stars have a couple roster holes that need to be filled, namely at the second line center position.
One move that hasn’t happened yet, but should be a high priority for Nill and the Stars over the next few weeks, is the re-signing of 30 year-old left wing Eric Nystrom.
While he doesn’t have the magical hands of Jamie Benn, or the two-way acumen of Loui Eriksson, Nystrom does bring a toolbox of intangibles to the table that the Stars will sorely miss if he isn’t brought back for the 2013-2014 season.
Nystrom, an unrestricted free agent, has been a stalwart on the Stars’ 3rd line over the last two seasons after being acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild. Teaming up with veteran center Vernon Fiddler, the duo of Nystrom and Fiddler has been the closest thing that Dallas has had to a shutdown line over the past two seasons, often going up against the top lines of opposing teams. While they do get outmatched and overpowered at times, they have still been the team’s best options when it comes to fulfilling that specific role.
The duo’s defensive usage has also spilled over to the penalty kill, with the two leading all Stars forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game last season. Nystrom alone logged a heavy average of 2:10 per game on the penalty kill, helping lead the Stars to a respectable 17th place in the league in that area, a slight drop from their 13th place rank in 2011-2012.
But where Nystrom really sets himself apart from Fiddler, however, is his physicality. Nystrom’s 122 hits last season was 3rd on the Stars, but were tops among forwards, well above Antoine Roussel’s next place 75.
And while the Stars don’t have a de facto enforcer on the roster, Nystrom is one of the few Dallas players that is ready, willing and able to drop the gloves if the situation calls for it.
Nystrom’s style of play is focused primarily on the defensive side of the game, but he is still capable of occasionally chipping in offensively, which can’t be understated in a league where depth scoring is becoming more and more crucial. His 7 goals last season isn’t a flashy number, but it still ranked 4th on the Stars. The season prior was a real breakthrough offensively for him, scoring a career-high 16 goals.
Financially, Nystrom earned $1.4 million last season, and likely wouldn’t demand a huge raise on top of that. With plenty of cap space available, the Stars would have no trouble comfortably bringing Nystrom back into the fold.
What Nystrom brings to the table isn’t unique in the league, as physical, veteran 3rd-liners with secondary offensive abilities can be found on almost all teams. But the reason why they are found on most teams is because of the importance of the role. While the Stars do have a few younger players that play similar styles with Roussel, Ryan Garbutt and Lane MacDermid, all three are still unproven at the NHL level, leaving Nystrom and his 408 career games as the most qualified Star for that job. Signing Nystrom for another one or two years would act as an ideal safety net, allowing those younger options more time to comfortably develop into the role without being asked to do too much.
Nill could dip into the free agent waters and find another player that plays the same role, but taking that route wouldn’t make sense when you already have Nystrom, a player that the majority of the current Stars roster is already familiar with. Locker room presence is something that cannot be measured by analyzing statistics or watching game film, but through the wonders of Twitter and behind-the-scenes video features it becomes clear to anyone closely following the Stars that Nystrom is a very popular presence with the rest of the team.
While there are going to be much higher-profile free agents that Nill and the Dallas Stars will be pursuing come July 1st and onwards, re-signing Nystrom should be just as important of a task on their offseason to-do list. Nystrom plugs more than a few different holes on the Stars roster, and losing him to free agency would be a huge detriment to the team going forward.