Veterans Continue to Dwindle in Dallas

For the Dallas Stars, 12 could become five in little over one month.

The Stars’ roster consisted of 12 players 31 or older this season, but that number looks to be going down dramatically this offseason. Two seasons ago, the Stars had five additional veterans that were no longer on the roster entering this season. Technically, Patrick Eaves didn’t turn 31 until May 1, but he is included because he was a valuable part of the team this season and has a chance to return in the fall.

This Season’s Veterans 31 or Older

The Stars traded Erik Cole and Sergei Gonchar earlier in the season for younger returns. Rich Peverley’s health concerns put his playing future in question, but it would be wonderful, absolutely wonderful, if we could see him on the ice again. Travis Moen arrived in the Gonchar trade, but he wasn’t a regular in the lineup and isn’t guaranteed a better situation next season. Travis Morin only skated six games with Dallas, and it looks like he might have been permanently surpassed by other options for a roster spot after a few short unspectacular stints in the NHL.

Of the remaining elders, Eaves and Shawn Horcoff are free agents this summer. If they are not brought back, that leaves five players 31 or older that the Stars could ice regularly next season: Vern Fiddler, Ales Hemsky, Jason Spezza, Trevor Daley and Kari Lehtonen. After a disappointing 2014-2015 season in which the Stars iced the 11th-youngest team in the NHL, there will be even more emphasis on leadership and experience from the remaining veterans.

It is very possible Jim Nill decides to bring back the versatile and hard-working Eaves after seeing how well he fit in on the top line and his ability to play on any line in any situation. Horcoff could be brought back to fill a bottom six role, but that would come at the price of a major pay cut and could hold back a young player that could have a bigger impact.

Those That Remain

The Stars are blessed with several players who are good on the faceoff dot. Spezza is the clear go-to for Dallas to win a draw, but Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin and Fiddler are solid, and Tyler Seguin to improve and gain more experience at center. Spezza led the team this season, winning 54% of his draws. Seguin won 53.8%, and Fiddler wrapped up the top three winning 51.9%.

Some may consider Spezza’s season a letdown, but there is no denying his positive impact on the team and that he looked more comfortable as the season wore on. He finished the season with 17 goals and 45 assists in 82 games. His superb performance in the World Championships could help propel him into a more productive 2015-2016 campaign. His faceoffs were key for one of the league’s top offensive teams, and he greatly helped turn what was a lackluster 23rd ranked power play last season into the league’s 12th-best this season.

Fiddler is the oldest player on the Stars after Horcoff. He isn’t really known for his offense, but he scored a career-high 13 goals this season and the third-highest point total of his career with 29. More importantly, his skill set provides a few specialties that may go under the radar a bit but are crucial in team success. Fiddler provides a relentless and effective forecheck, character and experience in the locker room, and he is one of the best penalty killers for the Stars.

Hemsky had a disappointing season considering the three-year, $12 million contract he signed last summer. He registered 11 goals and 21 assists in 76 games in a highly inconsistent season. He will be expected to improve his play and produce more (and consistently) next season. The hope is a full season of transitioning to a new team under a new system should only help Hemsky as he could be with Spezza again on the second line next season.

Daley is the team’s oldest defenseman at the age of 31, and he is the longest-tenured member of the Stars. Daley’s red-hot start to the season led to nine points in the first 10 games. He went on to set career highs in goals (16), assists (22), points (38), power play goals (6), short-handed goals (2), and shooting percentage (14.2%) in only 68 games. He also averaged the second-highest ice time on the team with 22:52. It’s tough to imagine Daley will match this season’s performance, but his experience will be leaned on as the Stars continuing to use young defensemen.

This season was Lehtonen’s worst since coming to Dallas and one of the worst seasons of his career. In 65 games, Lehtonen registered a career-worst .903 save percentage and his second-worst GAA of 2.94. The Stars simply need better from Lehtonen as a veteran and their number one goaltender. This season put his future in question. Many fans and analysts believe Nill could be looking to either upgrade or reinforce the goaltending in Dallas, so it will be interesting to see how Lehtonen handles the situation leading into next season.

Though the young core is carrying the Stars, veteran leadership can help take a team over the edge in becoming a playoff team or contender. With the number of veterans at least 31 years old dwindling from 17 over the past two seasons down to possibly five next season, more will be expected from the remaining veterans. The good news is the Stars are in good hands with the few they could have left.