All things considered, the Dallas Stars are having a pretty mild offseason, with no trades and no big free-agent signings. The important thing Dallas has done this offseason is re-sign their restricted free agents (RFAs). The three forwards, Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, and Roope Hintz, make up an important core of the Stars offense and, even though they are forwards, defense in some cases.
Each of the three RFAs signed this offseason bring something different to the Stars roster. While their contracts are a bit different, the message is clear: Dallas is shoring up its future in order to keep going deep in the playoffs.
Of course, Dallas will continue to be known for its high-profile names like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg. However, the players behind them in the lineup are more than just depth players.
Drafted 13th overall in the 2012 draft, Faksa became a regular on the Stars’ roster in 2015-16. He is a versatile center and has played many roles for Dallas so far. In 2019-20, he really found his stride on the ‘FCC’ line with Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau.
During the regular season, the ‘FCC’ line was Dallas’ shutdown line. All three forwards have a good eye for defense and an ability to move the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone within a shift. That kind of performance definitely contributed to the Stars having the second-fewest goals against during the regular season.
Faksa is a two-way forward in the prime of his career. At 26, he has many more years left at a high level. The contract he signed in October is for five years and has an AAV of $3.25 million. This is a great contract for both sides for many reasons.
First, it is clearly what Faksa wants. He told the Dallas Morning News:
“I would love to be with the Dallas Stars forever,”from ‘Stars center Radek Faksa wants to play in Dallas ‘forever’’, Dallas Morning News – 10/12/20
That is the type of attitude general managers and coaches love to see in players, and Faksa isn’t just talk, as he plays every game with passion and intent. Going forward, it is clear that Dallas will continue to have a dedicated center that is willing to give for his team.
Second, $3.25 million is a fair price. For comparison, the Stars are currently paying their top-line center, Joe Pavelski, $7 million. Faksa is mostly utilized as a third-line center who focuses on shutdown play, so the Stars aren’t expecting to get high-level offense from him, but they do expect a competent and reliable player and $3.25 million is the goldilocks price to pay for that kind of player.
Finally, this is a five-year deal with a modified no-trade clause which means Dallas has shored up Faksa through the 2024-25 season when he will be 31. That’s the prime of his career, and if it looks like he’s slowing down, it’s a good time for Dallas to try someone else. However, with his desire to stay in Dallas and his willingness to buy into the system Rick Bowness is using, it’s a good bet he could spend his whole career as a Star.
One caveat to Faksa’s story: the Seattle Expansion Draft. There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the next expansion draft, however, there will be valuable Stars left exposed. It’s unlikely that Faksa will be one of those, though. However, if he is and Seattle is looking for a reliable shutdown center with a good contract, he’s a great option and that might end his run in Dallas.
Gurianov, a Russian winger, is a young guy. 2019-20 was his first full season with the Stars after playing three seasons in the AHL. Without a doubt, he made a difference for the club, most notably in the playoffs where he had four goals in Game 6 against the Calgary Flames and scored the overtime winner to send the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final.
However, Gurianov showed a lot of maturity in the regular season as well. He is 23 – still relatively young in the hockey world – but managed to rack up 20 goals in 64 games. He actually led the team in goals for the 2019-20 season and had great chemistry with several different linemates.
His contract is for just two years with an AAV of $2.55 million and ends with him as an RFA. For his age and experience, this length makes sense – he showed a lot of potential and fits well with the team, but they don’t want to lock him down long-term now with just one full season under his belt. Plus, having his status at the end of the contract be restricted means the team is likely thinking of re-signing him or at least wants first dibs.
For a team that is currently lacking in wingers – the Stars currently list only two right-wings on their prospect list – Gurianov is an important piece going into the 2020-21 season. In the Stars lineup, he slots in well as the second line right-wing with Hintz and Joel Kiviranta. The three were productive during the playoffs, and with Tyler Seguin out for the start of the season, they will likely see more ice time and bigger responsibilities.
Drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft, Gurianov is at the point in his career where he has the chance to prove his worth. With only a two year deal he will be playing for a new contract now and hopefully that translates to high productivity on the ice.
The last of the RFAs to be signed, Hintz’s contract is similar to Gurianov’s in that it is a bridge contract more than anything. It is meant as a stopgap in negotiations because the team wasn’t ready to commit to a long term deal. However, he is making a bit more with an AAV of $3.15 million and is signed for three years.
Hintz is 24 and has a great opportunity in front of him as he will likely be the second-line center with Seguin out. He is a big body, has a decent faceoff win percentage, and can make plays happen as much as he can score goals on his own. At his age with this contract, this is the perfect time for him to grow and improve to show he deserves a long term deal.
There is a good chance that he will spend some time on the top line centering Jamie Benn next season. The 2020-21 season will really be the time to see how far he can go, and based on playoff ice-time it seems like head coach Rick Bowness is ready to test Hintz with more responsibility.
Hintz falls into the category with defenseman Miro Heiskanen as the next generation of Stars that Dallas is marketing. If he can continue growing as he did in the last few years, it is likely the Stars have a true star in their hands.
These three players are not household names, even for some Stars fans, however, they are the true backbone of a team that is primed to win a Stanley Cup in the next few years.
The contracts they each signed this offseason are perhaps a bit conservative on Dallas’ part. However, each one is the right move for the Stars because it gives them stability in the next few years while Benn and Seguin age out of their official ‘prime’ and they set the team up for success further down the line.