Stars Must Make Smart Decisions With Free Agents

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill has some big decisions to make in the upcoming offseason with depth pieces like Jamie Oleksiak, Andrew Cogliano, and Blake Comeau hitting the unrestricted market, among others, and a restricted free agent pool that includes Miro Heiskanen, Joel Kiviranta, and Jason Dickinson. As is the norm in the signing period, teams will sign players for much more value than their stats suggest. Using Evolving-Hockey’s brilliant value projection tool which uses a player’s Standing Points Above Replacement (SPAR) to calculate their projected contract value, we are going to be analyzing the key players that Mr. Nill has to sign and which of them gives him the most bang for their buck.

Blake Comeau

Comeau is an interesting player. At 35 years old, you will not find many better in the Stars bottom six when it comes to the defensive side of the puck, but you will also not find many worse on the offensive side of the puck. For most of Comeau’s career leading up to his arrival in Dallas, he was a positive offensive influence, only racking up a negative Offensive Goals Above Replacement (OGAR) once out of his 11 seasons prior to joining the Stars. Since then, Comeau has achieved negative OGAR’s in every season he has sported the green, white, and black.

Blake Comeau Dallas Stars
Blake Comeau, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Evolving-Hockey has Comeau valued at $1.2 million, and I believe he just isn’t a great option for the Stars when it comes to fixing their depth scoring issues and they would be much better off picking up a younger, more effective offensive option to complete an already defensive-minded bottom six.

Jamie Oleksiak

Oleksiak was the Stars’ best defensive defenseman in all situations in the 2020-21 campaign, with a 3.8 Defensive Goals Above Replacement (DGAR). He seems appealing, but the real problem with Oleksiak is the effect he has on the Stars’ prized 21-year old defenseman Miro Heiskanen on the offensive side of the puck. Heiskanen was frequently paired with John Klingberg in his rookie season and the two were excellent in 2018-19, racking up 63.5% of expected goals while on the ice. Heiskanen achieved a 3.7 OGAR in that season and with a full season of being Oleksiak’s defensive partner, the promising left-handed defenseman has seen his OGAR drop to a minus-3.8, the worst on the Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak Dallas Stars
Jamie Oleksiak, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As far as I’m concerned, Oleksiak is a decent investment if he is played as he is, which is a bottom pairing defenseman – if you play him with a guy like Heiskanen, you could risk downgrading Miro’s offensive potential. Oleksiak is valued at $100,000 by Evolving-Hockey’s value projector, so signing him for anything above $1 million is a bust for the Stars.

Andrew Cogliano

Andrew Cogliano achieved a positive SPAR value this season for the first time since 2015-16 with the Anaheim Ducks as he is currently valued at $800,000. Cogliano’s speediest days are behind him, and the 33-year old winger who was once known for his exhilarating speed and ability to put the puck in the net has now shifted to a more defensive game since joining the Stars. Cogliano had the best defensive season of his career this year, with a 3.6 DGAR, a significant increase from the 0.9 he racked up in the 2019-20 campaign.

Andrew Cogliano Dallas Stars
Andrew Cogliano, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Cogliano is no longer worth the $3.3 million he was being paid prior to this offseason, he still proved he is worth a roster spot as a defensive bottom-six player who can kill penalties, and his offensive woes could be the result of being linemates with guys like Radek Faksa and the aforementioned Blake Comeau, who have been pretty lackluster on the offensive side of the puck. Faksa has been especially unproductive, as he ranks lowest among all Stars forwards in OGAR and DGAR by a sizeable margin in his first year since signing a hefty five-year, $16.25 million contract that has proven to be anything but a good investment for the Stars.

Sami Vatanen

Since being claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils by the Stars, Vatanen put up zero points in nine games, totaling six points in 39 games total in the 2020-21 season, but he was a positive influence on the defensive side of the puck with a 1.4 DGAR. In the 2015-16 season, the season before he signed a massive, four-year, $19.5 million deal (worth about $4.9 million per season), Vatanen achieved a SPAR value of $10.2 million while playing for the Ducks, and as soon as he signed that big deal his numbers dropped immensely, never achieving over $2 million SPAR value across five seasons with the Ducks, Devils, and Stars after three seasons above $5 million.

Sami Vatanen New Jersey Devils
Sami Vatanen, former New Jersey Devil, January 20, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season was again a contract year for Vatanen and his 2020-21 DGAR and OGAR were both his highest since the aforementioned 2015-16 campaign. A one-year, $2 million deal similar to the one Vatanen signed last offseason with the Devils would be a great investment for Nill and the Stars but they must refrain from signing Vatanen long-term as his past issues with sustainability and motivation cannot be ignored.

What’s the End All Be All for the Stars?

The fact is, the Stars need to assess not only which players are going to be worth the money but how are they going to use these players if they sign them. Oleksiak, if signed, is a great defensive defenseman but if the Stars want to continue to see growth from Heiskanen, they need to place Oleksiak on a different pairing. Comeau needs to go, and aside from Cogliano, the Cogliano-Faksa-Comeau line needs a complete overhaul as it was lack of depth scoring that cost the Stars a playoff spot this season.

If the Stars can sign Cogliano, Vatanen, and Oleksiak to short-term deals that hover above or below their value range, then it’s a great look for Jim Nill. If they end up making the same mistake as they did with Radek Faksa last offseason by signing a depth player to a long-term deal that immediately proves to be a bad investment, then the Stars can get used to missing the playoffs in disappointing fashion as they did in the 2020-21 season.

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