Jamie Oleksiak is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer after his second stint with the Dallas Stars. It is unclear whether or not he will re-sign or find a new home, but it is likely that nothing will happen until the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft has concluded on July 21. This should keep the Kraken from selecting him since he would become a free agent nearly immediately following the draft. The Stars will then have the sole negotiating rights for Oleksiak until free agency officially begins on July 28. There are many teams that are interested in the big defenseman and what he has to offer. In the end, will he re-sign with Dallas or is there a better fit out there?
“I made a point during the season to just focus on hockey and, right now, I think the season just ending so soon, taking some time to decompress,” Oleksiak said when he was asked about free agency immediately following the season. “We’ll circle back with my agent in a couple of weeks, touch on what’s going to happen this summer. As of now, I haven’t thought much about it. It’s going to be a crazy summer, especially with the expansion draft. It’s been a unique year in general, so I’m sure there’ll be a lot of things we’ll have to analyze.”
What He Brings to the Table
After spending a brief time away with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Oleksiak has impressed in his second stint with the Stars. He found his place on the second pairing with Miro Heiskanen and solidified the top four for Dallas. His inconsistencies and inability to use his large 6-foot-7, 255-pound frame were the biggest concerns the first time around. Although he was always among the biggest players on the ice, he averaged only 50-70 hits per season. In his first season back, though, the “Big Rig” racked up 153 hits in 69 games and more impressively, nearly reached that number in 2020-21 in only 56 games. This trend continues when looking at his other stats as well.
Before this season, he averaged only 16:09 of ice time in his career. This season, he averaged 20:29, among the leaders on the team. Offense is not his strongest suit, but he does have the ability to chip in once in a while. He scored five goals in the Stanley Cup Final run last season including a late game-winning goal in Game 2 against the Calgary Flames. He also shows his skill once in a while, scoring beautiful goals like he did this season against the Nashville Predators.
Overall, Oleksiak brings a heavy-hitting force to the back end. He improved his career minus-14 rating up to a minus-3 this season and had a career-high 88 blocked shots. All stats aside, though, he puts himself in the right position and makes the correct play more often than not. He is also known to stick up for teammates, being one of few players in the league today that is regularly willing to drop the gloves. Previously cast aside, he has proven to be worthy of a top-four spot on any defense core.
Why He Re-Signs with Dallas
The Stars have made it clear they would like to bring Oleksiak back next season. He was a huge player for them during a tough year and would solidify their defense core, which has been their strength over the past few seasons. With the organization’s salary cap space being estimated at only $15 million, a few things need to happen for a deal to work out. First, they will need to re-sign Heiskanen to a bridge deal rather than a large extension. If he signs a long-term deal, it would likely come with a large $8-9 million cap hit. A shorter deal seems to benefit both sides with the salary cap remaining flat going into this season. If Heiskanen agrees to a shorter contract, he could sign his larger extension in a few years and possibly receive a larger payout than he would this summer.
Another big impact is John Klingberg. With only one season remaining on his contract, there has been a lot of talk about his future with the Stars. It seems that both he and the organization would like to come to an agreement, but it could be more complicated than that going forward. If Dallas wants to re-sign him, are they willing to risk waiting until next summer with the chance of losing him to free agency? If not, they will need to find the space for a new contract at some point before or during the 2021-22 season. This would likely fill the cap space for the Stars and not allow them to bring back a player like Oleksiak.
It seems to be the smartest move to wait until next summer with Klingberg as the large contracts of Alexander Radulov and Joe Pavelski could possibly come off the books. This would also allow them time to move Anton Khudobin who seems to be the odd man out in the goalie room with Ben Bishop returning from injury and Jake Oettinger proving he is ready for NHL action. While a lot can happen to find space in the salary cap, these are the most likely scenarios to allow Oleksiak to return to Dallas, something that the Stars want to do.
“Jamie’s a guy that we want, he’s a big part of our core,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “I think he’s a big part of our top-four, our defense is as good as any defense in the league when you look at it. He’s a big part of that. So he’s a player we’re hoping we can get re-signed here.” (from ‘Behind the scenes of Stars’ NHL trade deadline: Why Dallas GM Jim Nill decided to stay quiet’, Dallas Morning News, 4/12/2021)
Why He Signs with a New Team
This one is pretty simple. While the factors above need to work out for the Stars to re-sign Oleksiak, there are a lot of moving pieces. With the cap space being limited, it will not take much to force him into free agency. The biggest question is always, do both sides want to make a deal? The Stars have been upfront about their interest in bringing him back and it seems that Oleksiak feels the same way. With that being said, there has been a lot of interest from other teams since before the trade deadline this season.
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As shown above, Oleksiak brings a lot of skill and potential that could help any NHL club. There will be a lot of interest this summer and the Stars will have to do their best to convince him to stay. For him to leave Dallas, I believe he would need to receive an offer he cannot refuse or the Stars would simply not be able to afford him. I think he has become a huge part of the team’s future and everyone in the organization believes that the next year could be their best chance to win. Because of this, the chances are slim but it is a possibility that he decides to take his talents to a new city.
I believe Oleksiak will re-sign with the Stars. He has proven that he is a perfect fit with Heiskanen on the second pairing for one of the top defense cores in the entire league. The Stars will have high expectations this season and seem to be in a spot to make a deep run in the playoffs. It is hard to convince a player to leave a team in that position and I do not believe Oleksiak is going anywhere.
“Coming back to Dallas, I had that confidence and I knew I could play but I knew also we had a lot of great defensemen here, too,” Oleksiak said before the 2021 Trade Deadline. “I just try to fit into a role and do what I can to help the team win. As cliche as that sounds, that’s all that you can really focus on.” (from ‘Stars’ Jamie Oleksiak, traded twice in 13 months, understands realities of the deadline’, The Athletic, 3/23/2021)
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!