Stars Solidify Team’s Core With Cody Eakin Extension

Last Friday’s contract extension of versatile center/wing Cody Eakin could go down as one of Stars General Manager Jim Nill’s best moves of a busy summer. Eakin 24, had career highs in goals (19) and assists (24) last season. The four-year $15.4M extension starts at the conclusion of this season will have a $3.85 annual cap hit.

“Cody is a well-rounded player and has the versatility to play in a number of roles,” said Nill at Friday’s press conference. “He has the ability to shutdown an opponent’s top players, win faceoffs, and kill penalties, all while producing offensively. Cody has been an important part of our team and will continue to be a part of our core for the next five seasons.”

Unlike last season, the Stars have addressed all contracts prior to the start of training camp.

“Cody is a big part of our team. You can take him out of the middle and play him on left-wing.  He’s a real tough competitor and he’s got some offensive skills. The offense should develop even more this season.” said coach Lindy Ruff on 1310AM The Ticket’s Stars Sunday show.

Ruff was also asked if Eakin would continue to play center or possibly play wing on the Spezza line? Ruff replied,” We’ll see. Usually those things sort themselves out, things change, initially my thought is to keep him in the middle.”

In terms of NHL salary comparisons, Eakin’s $3.85M annual cap hit is the same as Pittsburgh’s cap hit for forward Chris Kunitz. It is also slightly more than Montreal forwards Brendan Gallagher ($3.75M), Lars Eller ($3.5M), Ottawa center Kyle Turris ($3.5M) and Nashville center/former Star Mike Ribiero ($3.5M).

Setting the Stage

Since acquiring Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns from the Chicago, Nill has repeatedly referenced the Blackhawks with envy. Meaning, If the Stars were to win three Cups in six years, Nill would welcome the tough salary cap decisions.

While I don’t doubt he would welcome the contract challenges that go along with winning the sport’s ultimate prize, I also think Nill is smart enough not to mortgage the Stars future from a cap perspective.

For now let’s assume the goaltending timeshare works out, the team stays healthy and the defense sustains last season’s second half improvements. If the Stars are able to win the Cup this season, they would enter next season with approximately $15M in cap space. I know, I know, I said “win the Cup”! Just go with it for now.

After sipping some Shiner Bock out of a nearly three-foot silver mug, Nill and Ruff ponder bringing the band back? They could conceivably spend $5M for Goligoski, $3M Demers and $2M Nichushkin, while leaving another $5M left to spread across the remaining seven roster spots (third line wing, a fourth line and three extras). It would be very tight, but not impossible.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting they “should” do that, just suggesting they wouldn’t have to go into full Blackhawks fire sale mode. A more likely scenario would be letting Goligoski walk, to free up that $5M and possibly Demers as well. The Stars will also potentially be looking to sign restricted free agents Brett Ritchie, Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak after this season. Currently all three have 2014-15 cap hits ranging from $800,000 to $875,000.

Longer Term Cap Situation

Looking further out to 2017-18, the Stars currently have Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Eakin, Antoine Roussel, John Klingberg, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi under contract for approximately $33.7M. Assume at least another $8M for Jamie Benn and the Stars would have approximately $30M to sign another fifteen skaters

This is when the goaltending cap hit likely becomes a problem. I’m not opposed to the $10M hit for this season, but having the same hit two seasons from now, with Lehtonen and Niemi in their mid 30’s could be a problem. Surely the hope is one of the Stars young goaltending prospects develops and Nill could move a Fin to the left or right. Regardless, by then the Stars will surely be the only show in town.