As the Dallas Stars get ready for training camp on Sept. 23, management will likely remain quiet until then. General manager Jim Nill made a big splash on the first day of free agency, bringing in big-name players. The addition of Braden Holtby, Ryan Suter, Jani Hakanpaa, Luke Glendening, and Michael Raffl may have strengthened their roster, but it also put them over the salary cap. They are roughly $4 million above the limit, but it is unlikely they will address that until they get a better view of the team on the ice. Here is what the staff will be looking at during camp to determine what moves to make next.
This one is the most obvious area to focus on and arguably the most confusing. The Stars knew they had decisions to make in the crease when the 2020-21 season ended as Ben Bishop was hopeful to return, Anton Khudobin shined in the bubble but struggled last season, and rookie Jake Oettinger played beyond his years. However, when Jim Nill signed the veteran Holtby during free agency, the situation became muddier. Now, they sit with four NHL-caliber goaltenders for two available roster spots. The biggest factor will be Bishops’ health. He has not played since the second round of the 2020 Playoffs and has struggled with injuries his entire career. His status for next season remains unknown, and the Holtby signing does not offer any reassurance. If he is healthy, Bishop will be the starting goaltender. It may be with reduced playing time or other limitations, but he can be an elite goaltender and will get his chance.
If he is not healthy, the team will likely move him onto the long-term injured reserved (LTIR) list, which would allow them to keep their other goalies while removing his large $4.92 million cap hit off the books. Either way that leaves Khudobin, Holtby, and Oettinger to compete for one or two spots.
“There is no definite timeframe. Is he going to be ready to go? He may be. He may not be. And that’s why we had to make sure we covered ourselves.”– Stars general manager Jim Nill
Will they choose experience? Will the youngster prove he belongs at the highest level? We dove into these questions in a previous article, but many factors will go into this decision. The bottom line is when the goalie situation becomes clearer, Dallas will know if they are in a good position or need to shed some salary via trade to fit under the salary cap.
Injury Recovery for Key Players
It is hard to believe that something could be more up in the air than the current goalie situation, but that is the case for the Stars. Over the past two seasons, they have been decimated by injuries that hurt them both in the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 and throughout the 2020-21 season. We spoke about Bishop above, but many other key players will be looking to return to full health after missing time last season. Tyler Seguin played only three games after multiple surgeries, and a delayed recovery held him out most of the campaign. Even when he returned, he admitted that he was not 100 percent, so it is unknown how he will respond.
“I learned a lot about myself and understanding how grateful I am to do the things I love and have this lifestyle and that all came from not being able to live it, not being able to be here with the guys and play the game I love. So the biggest thing was just how passionate I was about the game.”– Stars forward Tyler Seguin
Alexander Radulov played in only 11 games while dealing with a core injury that eventually required surgery to repair. The team not only missed his offensive production but his intensity and energy are infectious.
Roope Hintz battled through a groin injury throughout the season, causing him to miss 15 games and be a game-time decision on a nightly basis. Anton Khudobin needed surgery on his arm following the run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and struggled with the lingering effects of COVID-19 last season. While his surgery was minor, he struggled throughout, and there is no telling which version of him we will see. Other players like Radek Faksa, Joel Kiviranta, Jamie Benn, Joel Hanley, Blake Comeau, and Andrej Sekera also missed time last season. It will be vital to evaluate these players during training camp. If they are healthy and ready to go, the team believes they have a solid lineup. If one or more players misses time or provides less value, management may need to find a trade to ensure the Stars do not struggle with depth as they did last season.
When training camp begins, Dallas’ coaches and staff will focus on these two categories. If Bishop is not healthy, his move to LTIR would essentially solve the team’s salary cap problems. However, does the coaching staff and management feel the team is where it needs to be at that point? What if he is healthy? What if key players are not ready to start the season or are dealing with lingering effects of past injuries? This is what the NHL offseason is all about: unanswered questions, which management must address before October. But, for now, do not expect much to happen until they gain a better understanding during training camp in Frisco.
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!