When the Dallas Stars issued their initial qualifying offers to their Restriced Free Agents, there were a few interesting names missing. Jamie Benn and Phillip Larsen were both absent from the first round of offers, but were quickly issued a qualifying offer the next day. The other notable name is Tom Wandell. He hasn’t, as of this writing, received a qualifying offer, and while the Stars still have until June 25th to extend one to him, this curious absence may give us a glimpse into the Stars plans for this offseason. If June 25th has come and gone and Tom Wandell hasn’t been extended a qualifying offer, it indicates that the Dallas Stars are planning to solve their center depth problem through either trades or free agency. A couple of the bigger center names out there rumored to be on the trading block are Sam Gagner and Brandon Dubinsky
Gagner, the 22 (soon to be 23) year old Oilers center, already has five years of NHL experience, but has garnered some tough criticism in Edmonton for his supposed lack of development. He hit a career high 49 points in his very first year as an NHL player, but despite reaching 40+ each of the next four seasons, has thus far failed to reach that 50 points mark. Gagner is an RFA, but his name has been involved in several trade rumors. This could mean he is being shopped around the league or it could mean nothing at all. If he’s available, Gagner will attract significant attention. Only the most pessimistic of critics would doubt that Sam Gagner has a major upside and still has plenty of room to develop and turn into a true #1 center or at the very least, a solid and dependable #2 center. His biggest fault is his lack of true all around play, something a 22 year old has plenty of time to work on.
The other name to look at, Brandon Dubinsky, has been, according to rumors, aggressively shopped around the league. The 26 year old has virtually the same amount of experience of as Gagner, but being older, has developed a more dynamic game. He’s a scorer, a tough guy, and a specialist all in one. He hit a career high 54 points two years ago, but suffered a notoriously disappointing 2011-2012 campaign, hitting career lows across the board (10-24-34). The Rangers are desperate to improve on offense and with players like Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin breaking through, Dubinsky’s role on the team could be diminishing, making him available. He’s been constricted by head coach John Tortorella’s defensive system and in Dallas, the shackles could be let loose, unleashing a very different Dubinsky.
There is no doubt both of these players interest the Dallas Stars. Sam Gagner is arguably the more valuable of the two; his name has been mentioned in straight up swaps for top ten draft picks, a price teams would never pay for Dubinsky. If Edmonton is looking to improve right away rather than grabbing more draft picks, they’ll instead be seeking an NHL proven defenseman. The Rangers, on the other hand, will be looking for more help on offense. Both players are affordable for the Stars, with Dubinsky making second line money with a $4.2 million cap hit, while Gagner will be looking for a raise from his current $2.275 million, probably in a similar range. All that cap space the Stars have makes salary more or less a non-issue.
But what kind of players/picks would it cost the Stars? The answer to that question is, at this point, complete and total speculation. The market could be thin for one player, deep for another and all those factors make the price go up and down. If Edmonton wants a defenseman, players like Mark Fistric would gather interest, in addition to other pieces, unless Edmonton feels Gagner is worth a top pairing defenseman, then the Stars might be out of luck. It’s a tricky proposition, as you can see. New York is seeking help on offense, so the Stars would have to depart with either prospects or roster players, but would the Rangers be willing to accept an aging veteran like Brenden Morrow? Would that even be worth it? Or would the Rangers demand a player like Steve Ott to round out their forward core? It’s all very complicated and speculation can only get us so far. Only one thing is clear, if Wandell is allowed to walk, the organization has no choice but to look for center help elsewhere.
Stars fans, how do you feel about Sam Gagner and Brandon Dubinsky? There’s no doubt they’d be an asset to the Dallas Stars, but are they worth the cost? Should the team instead focus on free agents? Let us know.
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