We are now just a few days from the 2022 NHL trade deadline! While it is always unknown exactly how an organization will approach this day, Stars general manager Jim Nill has given us a pretty good idea.
“The team has made a statement,” Nill said. “We’re in a good position.”
Stars Believe in Defensive Depth
It was known that this deadline would likely not be a blockbuster one for the Dallas Stars. They have been on a run over the last couple of months and have a team full of young talent and veteran leadership that they have shown a strong belief in.
However, with the loss of Miro Heiskanen for the foreseeable future (mono), John Klingberg struggling offensively all season, and Andrej Sekera not playing a game since Jan. 28, the situation has recently become blurry. Still, Nill stuck to his guns and showed his confidence in the current status of the team, something that many fans have criticized during his tenure in Dallas.
“That’s why we have to have the depth,” Nill said. “We’ve still got seven capable guys of playing and I know I’ve got three guys down in the minors that can come up and play for us also, so we’re in a good position that way.”
As far as the injuries go, Sekera does look like he will jump back into the lineup any day now as he is with the team on the current four-game road trip. With Heiskanen, it is mostly a waiting game as mono can affect each person differently and the recovery time can range dramatically.
The question for the Stars and Nill now is: do they have full faith that he will be ready to return before the end of the regular season? Because if they do not, that is a huge gap in their team that we have seen cause issues already on their current three-game losing streak.
“He’s got mono and everybody goes through it different,” Nill said. “You hear stories about people being two weeks and everything is fine and you hear other stories. We don’t know. The doctors are monitoring him, they’ve got him, they are looking after him. He is feeling better, which is good. It is week by week, day by day, we’ll wait and see. The doctors have told us that everybody is on a different path. We don’t know what the timeframe is but he is feeling better which is a good sign.”
Stars Expect Holtby to Be Ready
Another situation that has arisen lately has been the lack of depth at the goaltending position. Heading into the season, the Stars had more goalies than any other team in the league with Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby, and Jake Oettinger. Now, with Bishop retiring, Khudobin being dropped to the minors where he has now had season-ending surgery, and Holtby only playing two games since the end of January, that position has gone from four players to just one.
Jake Oettinger has answered the bell. He is 19-9-1 on the season with a steady 2.45 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. Before the current three-game losing streak, Oettinger was putting up unreal numbers, leading the Stars to a huge swing in their playoff picture. Following a victory in his hometown over the Minnesota Wild, his recent stats looked like this.
Still, he is only 23 years old and in his second NHL season. On top of that, he has never started a playoff game and is being asked to do a lot during an intense playoff push. The fact that the Stars have not shown any urge to buy a goaltender at the deadline shows me that they have full confidence in Holtby returning from injury soon and being ready to play some games down the stretch.
While Holtby has not been excellent all season, he has played very well when fully healthy, including early in the season when he was the number one goaltender. If that is true, the Stars should not worry. However, it has to be a little scary for them to trust in Holtby after he has had a few rather mysterious minor injuries throughout the entire season.
“Holtby has been good for Jake,” Rick Bowness said. “Braden is a wonderful teammate and is very supportive. Braden works very hard in practice, and so does Jake. They’re good for each other.”
Could the Stars Make a Move?
The simple answer here is yes. There are multiple spots that would make sense for the Stars to take a chance on. As far as selling, don’t expect anything big. When it comes to buying, Nill is always looking for a way to make his team better.
“We’re status quo,” Nill said. “There is still lots of hockey to be played and we’re just going to monitor things. Things change day by day. The team has made a statement. They have shown that they are into performing and playing the way we should and that helps make my decision a lot easier. But there is still a long ways to go and injuries and other factors and a lot of things become involved. But right now, we are just staying the course.”
If Dallas was to add any players at the deadline, it would likely be in the category of a forward that can score or a strong defenseman that can defend and move the puck in transition (Heiskanen’s strengths).
A few names that come to mind upfront are Andrew Copp (Winnipeg), Vladislav Namestikov (Detroit), Chandler Stephenson (Vegas), and Marcus Johansson (Seattle). Each of these players fit into the category of a cheap rental that could either push someone out of the Stars top six or add a much improved offensive weapon to the bottom six that currently does not score a lot of goals.
On the defensive side, I really do not see them adding another body. As Nill said, they do have some solid depth even without Heiskanen. Ryan Suter, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Jani Hakanpaa, Thomas Harley, Joel Hanley, and Andrej Sekera provide plenty of options. While none of those players are able to replace Heiskanen, the Stars are not in a position to add anyone of that caliber in free agency either.
It feels like Dallas could use a bit of a boost at the trade deadline. If that came in the form of a cheap offensive weapon, that could be the piece they need to spread out their scoring more throughout the lineup, resulting in more goals per game and a better chance to make the playoffs and make a deep run once they get there. However, Nill has been very quiet on this day during his tenure, so really, anything can happen.
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!