Jamie Oleksiak’s second stint for the Dallas Stars ended on Wednesday after his selection in the expansion draft. Oleksiak had consistent playing time during the 2020-21 season, registering 148 hits and a career-high 88 blocked shots.
The 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman was drafted 14th overall by the Stars and spent parts of eight seasons in Dallas trying to find stability in the lineup. He was traded by current general manager Jim Nill to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2017-18 season, ending his first tenure with the Stars. Nill then reversed the trade the following season after injuries had hobbled his defensive core. For the past two seasons, Oleksiak solidified himself as a top-four defenseman in the league.
“We’ve been watching him closely, and he’s a more mature, well-rounded player,” Nill said in 2019. “He went to another team — sometimes that has to happen — and he’s become a better player. Pittsburgh is a very good team, and that rubs off on you. But he’s become a better player, and you have to give him credit.”
Oleksiak was a heavily rumored trade piece for a Stars team that missed the playoffs in 2020-21, but they showed interested in re-signing him in the offseason. The Kraken’s offer was too much for Dallas to match. Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Kraken offered Oleksiak a five-year, $4.6 million AAV contract.
There is a possibility that the Kraken could have chosen winger Jason Dickinson over Oleksiak. Dickinson was traded earlier in the week to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Dickinson is still young and has a much more palatable salary cap hit, but there’s no guarantee that Oleksiak would sign back with the Stars. He could have tested free agency and been offered the same contract by the Kraken, let alone any other teams that lack hard-hitting defensemen. With the potential to lose two players for nothing, Dallas pulled the trigger and traded the forward for a draft pick.
In losing Oleksiak, the Stars extended Miro Heiskanen on an eight-year, $67.6 million contract. The Stars have around $5.8 million in salary-cap space heading into free agency. They have enough money to re-sign the remaining unrestricted free agents currently on the roster or pursue replacements for Dickinson and Oleksiak. Former Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter is a viable option to replace the defenceman. Suter is 36 but was just bought out of a large contract and may settle for a cheaper deal with a competitive team. The Stars can also look to upgrade at forward with their cap room.
While Heiskanen and Esa Lindell on large contracts, and John Klingberg’s contract set to expire after this season, the Stars couldn’t keep Oleksiak around on a big contract. Even if the Stars negotiated an extension with Oleksiak before the end of the season, he would have still been exposed in the expansion draft, as Dallas chose to protect Heiskanen, Lindell and Klingberg.
Oleksiak has played alongside Heiskanen for the past few seasons, so breaking in a newcomer for the second defensive pairing will take some time. The Stars have in-house options in re-signing Sami Vatanen, who they claimed off waivers at the trade deadline from the New Jersey Devils. Andrej Sekera and Joel Hanley can also step up into a bigger role, but they aren’t proven enough to handle large amounts of ice time, and there would be more pressure on Heiskanen to keep the defense from getting exposed. Stars assistant coach John Stevens said that Heiskanen is talented enough to fit any defensive alignment.
“There are some advantages but at the end of the day, you’ve got to look at your personnel,” Stevens said. “Who can handle what responsibility? A guy like Miro, it seems like it’s seamless for him. He can play left or right. It doesn’t bother him. If you ask him, he doesn’t care. He can play either side and play well.”
Oleksiak held a big role in the Dallas Stars’ defense. He uses his size as an advantage and isn’t afraid to block a shot or get physical along the boards. He had a good partnership with Heiskanen, but the Stars couldn’t match the contract offered by the Kraken. His long-term contract was hard to pass up, but the Stars are confident in finding his replacement. He helped the Stars as a lock-down defender during their run to the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final, and his impact on the team will be hard to recreate.
Dallas Stars writer at ‘The Hockey Writers’. I’ve previously covered college sports at the University at Albany. I secretly love to analyze trades from the past and observe the impact on a team’s future.