The NHL trade deadline is always a very intriguing part of the season. That is even more true this season. With all that COVID has done to change the 2021 campaign, there are even more layers added to the deadline. From quarantine rules when crossing the border, salary cap changes, and the new division alignment, COVID will come into play when teams are deciding what moves to make or not make.
The Dallas Stars remain in the grey area that they have been in most of the season. They are seventh in the Central Division, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings, they have a mediocre and confusing 11-12-10 record, and they are having a hard time scoring again. However, they are also only seven points out of the final playoff spot and have four games in hand on all of the teams they are trailing.
Nashville has just shown how quickly a season can turn when they went on an 8-1-0 streak and jumped into a playoff spot after many people were writing them off as sellers at the deadline. To go along with that hope, the Stars have many other reasons why they should stay relatively quiet at the deadline this season. Here is a look at a few of them.
Do Not Buy
The Stars were able to wiggle their way out of a tough salary cap position this offseason without losing their big-name players and while re-signing Anton Khudobin. However, that was just a band-aid. The team still sits right around the cap line (in fact, they used all but $277 of free space) and has the large contracts of Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin to add when they return in the near future. The actual numbers of the cap are complicated as Dallas deals with long-term injured-reserve players, bringing players up and down from the AHL and the NHL taxi squad, and then adding Bishop and Seguin to the mix when they return in the coming weeks.
What it does mean is that the team has very little to work with. In order to have any space to sign a new player, Dallas would have to move a few pieces, which seems unlikely. With this cap space, it would be difficult for them to trade for any big names on the market. If they were to make a move, it would most likely be for a depth forward or defenseman in return. On top of that, the Stars believe that they have their core group of players intact and do not need to add any big pieces.
This is one area that has devastated the Stars’ roster during the last two seasons. This season, they lost Seguin and Bishop for nearly the entire campaign. Alexander Radulov has only played in 11 games and has a nagging injury that will not be fixed until after the season. Roope Hintz has been in and out of the lineup nearly every game in a similar situation where he is playing through an injury until the end of the season. Joel Kiviranta missed time early in the season and recently again. Add to that the few games missed by Jamie Benn, Andrew Cogliano, Andrej Sekera, Blake Comeau, and John Klingberg, and you can see the mess that is the Stars lineup.
With all of that in mind, the team knows that they cannot count on having their full roster available if they were to make the playoffs. It would be hard to convince general manager Jim Nill to make any significant purchase at the trade deadline knowing that they may walk into a first-round matchup with Tampa Bay or Florida and not have some of their key players. Best-case-scenario for them is to have everyone in the lineup but still be playing with an injured Radulov and Hintz while trusting that Seguin and Bishop are able to be difference-makers immediately off of their off-season surgeries.
Cliches are cliches for a reason; they are true. Puck luck is no exception to this rule. Puck luck refers to the breaks and bounces that a team gets in any given game. For the Dallas Stars, though, the puck luck has been missing the entire season. It seems that every time there is a chance for a bad bounce against, it happens. Whether that is a puck bouncing off of a Stars player and into the net, a deflection off of an official into a bad spot, or the many of the other breaks that can swing a hockey game. On the other side, whenever there is a chance for a bounce to go their way, it does not. The opposing goaltender gets the skinny part of his stick on the puck that the shot hits the post so square that it bounces straight back rather than into the net, or the deflection skips just wide of the open net.
Puck luck is a necessary part of a successful playoff run. Any team that has made it to the top will tell you that they would not be there without some injury luck and puck luck. The Stars have shown no signs of having either this season, so buying a big piece for a playoff run just does not seem to be in the cards for Nill.
Do Not Oversell
The other side of the line is being a seller. Dallas has been in this position before, where they have dealt many key pieces in order to rebuild and develop for the future. That is not the position that they are in right now. The team is fresh off of a Stanley Cup Final run and has a core group of players that can keep them as contenders for seasons to come. If Dallas decided to sell big and trade off some key players, it would show a different perspective from the front office as to how they view this team. I do not believe that is the case. I think this team knows what they have, and they believe that this tough season is more of a hoax than their playoff run last season.
Some Stars players have been thrown around in the trade rumors this season, especially as Dallas has continued to struggle to pick up points and gain ground on the playoff spot. Here are some of the names mentioned most for Dallas.
I do not understand this one. Klingberg has been the Stars’ top defenseman for years now and continues to produce at a high level every season. He has one more year n left on his contract and will be looking for a raise in his new deal. The Stars do have Miro Heiskanen’s contract extension to worry about this offseason, but they should still have room to extend Klingberg as well.
If Klingberg wants to leave and join another team where he does not have a Miro Heiskanen to steal the spotlight, then that would be the only reason Dallas would let him go. They would get a significant return for him in a trade, and perhaps they want to move him before he leaves in free agency, but I just do not see it happening. Either way, I think he stays.
Another one that does not make much sense to me. I understand that Lindell is not as well-known as Klingberg and Heiskanen, but I believe he is the best defensive force on this roster. At only 26 years old, Lindell has been on the top pair along with Klingberg for years. He can play a ton of minutes, is the Stars’ best penalty killer, and has even seen time on the power play. I think the return could be pretty big for Lindell, but the Stars would have to truly believe that Jamie Oleksiak or Thomas Harley could fill this hole if they were to let Lindell go.
Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau, Andrej Sekera, Mark Pysyk
This list makes way more sense to me. All of these players are veteran depth players for the Stars. They all provide a lot to this team, especially Cogliano and Comeau, who make up ⅔ of their very successful ‘F-C-C’ checking line. However, those roles can usually be filled by younger players eventually, and the Stars have some good ones with Jason Dickinson, Ty Dellandrea, Rhett Gardner, Nick Caamano, Joel Lesperance, and Tanner Kero, among others who have not yet played in the NHL.
The return for these depth players would not be huge, but it would clear up some cap space for a team that has to re-sign some key players in the near future. I believe this decision will depend a lot on where the Stars feel that their winning-window is. If they truly believe that their best chance to win a Stanley Cup is in the next 2-3 seasons, I think they keep at least Comeau and Cogliano on board, and perhaps the two defensemen as well. If they think their window is bigger than that, they could opt to fill those roles with younger names and develop those players over the next few seasons.
This would be similar to the depth players above in that the Stars would not get much in return for Oleksiak. He has found his game in his second stint with Dallas on the second pair with Heiskanen. Oleksiak will be a free agent this summer and carries a $2.14 million cap hit. This means that the team that trades for him would only have him around for the playoffs unless they decided to re-sign him. For Dallas, I do not think this makes sense to do.
Oleksiak has proven himself to be a legitimate top-four defenseman, and I think they should wait until after the Seattle draft to see what their team looks like and then try to re-sign him if he is still available. It is a risk since he could be picked up before then, but Dallas cannot sign him before the expansion draft because he would become a much bigger target for Seattle to pick if he had a non-expiring contract.
Everybody knew that Khudobin’s name would be flying around this season in both the trade deadline and the expansion draft talks. The Stars have Bishop as their top goaltender, and with the emergence of rookie Jake Oettinger this season, it is even more obvious that they have some decisions to make. It seems that Khudobin will be one of three names (Joe Pavelski, Jason Dicksonson) that will be the top choices for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft this summer. With that said, there are two ways to look at it for the Stars.
If they believe Khudobin will be selected in the draft, they could try to shop him around so they could get something in return for him. However, if they were to do that, they would leave their top scorer and one of their best young two-way forwards exposed to Seattle. They could also market Khudobin to Seattle as much as possible to try to protect their other two assets from being picked. This would depend greatly on what the trade return would be for the 34-year-old netminder.
If they do not believe that Khudobin will be picked, trading him seems to be a good option. Oettinger looks ready to take the next step and become a full-time backup in this league, and Ben Bishop should be fully healthy heading into next season. The risk of this move would be that Bishop has a significant injury history, and if he were to go down this season or next, it would leave the rookie to take over. He has proven himself worthy so far this season, but he is also 22 years old and has no experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs besides a couple of late appearances when the game was over last season in the Edmonton bubble.
The main reason they signed Khudobin was to be an insurance for Bishop when he inevitably missed time, but it was also important to limit his games when he is healthy. The two goalies have split the games nearly 50/50 in their two seasons together in Dallas, which has kept them both fresh and reduced some of the chances of Bishop getting injured. Either way, it would be a risk for the Stars, as they will have very little control over who Seattle picks this summer.
Looking at where the Stars currently stand this season, their salary cap, and their core group of players, it is unlikely that they will be making any big moves at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. With that said, general managers are always on the lookout for ways to improve their teams in the present and for the future. Nill has made some sneaky moves in his time with Dallas, and it would not surprise me much to see him do it again.
Either way, after the deadline, the Stars and their fans should have a better insight into how their organization feels about the team right now. If they decide to sell some key pieces, it may be that they do not feel they are ready to make another run. If they stand pat or make some smaller moves only, it should be clear that they believe the team is still in win-now mode. With how well they have played at times this season, despite their record, it seems likely that things will fall in the latter.
Sam Nestler is a 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 NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!