When Jim Nill started as general manager of the Dallas Stars in April 2013, this team was without much of an identity or direction. Fresh off missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season, Joe Nieuwendyk, the GM at the time, was relieved of his duties to make room for Nill. Though Nieuwendyk did an excellent job in rebuilding the farm system and is a big reason why the Texas Stars won the Calder Cup this past season, he was somewhat handcuffed in what he could do in free agency with the Dallas Stars. Most of his time as general manager was spent without an owner of the franchise, so he operated under a much smaller budget than Nill has currently. Unfortunately, under Nieuwendyk, the Stars were not able to be a consistently good enough team to make the playoffs. Nill has made several huge moves to rectify that problem in just a little over a year, and there is no reason to think he won’t continue that success.
Jim Nill’s two biggest moves, personnel wise, have been the acquisitions of Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. In just a little over a year, Nill has added not one, but two elite centers. In today’s NHL, you need depth down the middle to compete for the Stanley Cup. The last five Stanley Cup champions had some of the best centers in the game including Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron. Nill has now equipped the Stars with that kind of depth down the middle, and next summer he will look towards improving the pieces surrounding that depth.
Nill has already expressed his desire to get a deal done to extend Jason Spezza past this season. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that he gets that done at the same cap hit Spezza is at currently (7.00 M/yr). Let’s also assume the salary cap remains at $69.00 M, although there is a big chance it will go up. The Stars will be freeing up $19.825 M in cap space next season, with only 5-6 roster spots to fill. Now a majority of these roster spots will most likely be filled by up-and-coming prospects, but the amount of cap space available gives Nill the option to go after anyone he thinks will improve the club. I believe those targets will be one top-six forward and a top-4 right-handed defenseman. I’ve identified a few players in the 2015 free agency period that Nill could target to make his third summer with the Stars yet another success.
1) LW/RW – Bobby Ryan (Current Cap Hit: $5.1 M) – Bobby Ryan will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015 and is figured to be at or near the top of his free agent class. The Ottawa Senators have shown they want to extend Ryan, but that situation has been difficult to read, and a lot of people believe he will test free agency. The Stars would love to add another former Senator to their top-6, especially one as talented as Bobby Ryan. Ryan has scored 170 goals and added 167 assists in just 448 games in his NHL career. If he is available come July 2015, he will most likely command the biggest contract out of the entire free agent market. The Stars will have the cap space and Dallas continues to grow as a popular destination for players, so it’s hard to imagine they won’t be in the running for Ryan’s talents.
2) D – Mike Green (Current Cap Hit: $6.083 M) – Remember when Mike Green scored 31 goals as a defenseman in 2008-2009? It does seem like a long time ago. Since that season, he’s had just two seasons in which he has played more than 70 games. His games played total for the other three? Just 116. When healthy however, Green has proven to be one of the top right-handed offensive defencemen in the game. With over 300 points in just slightly above 500 games played, he could instantly improve a back-end that hasn’t had a 50-point defenseman since 2007 when Sergei Zubov put up 54. And at just 28 years old, he still has a lot of hockey left to play. Green could be one of those players who has just run into a little bit of bad luck on the injury front and may just need a change in scenery. He shouldn’t require even close to what his current contract is at, and there is a chance that he could be signed at a value price. If that is the case, I would like to see the Stars take a chance on him to boost their top-4 defense and add a right-handed threat to the defense corps.
3) D – Zbynek Michalek (Current Cap Hit: $4.0 M) – Zbynek Michalek is likely not a name that is going to stand out to many people. He has never reached 30 points in a season, nor has he achieved 10 goals in a season before. What he does bring to a lineup is consistent, solid defensive play. In his past nine seasons, he has missed a grand total of 83 games. In the past three seasons, he has finished in the top-35 in block shot totals for defencemen. Him being right-handed allows one of our left-handed defenseman to move to their more natural side. Michalek would bring stability and depth to a defensive group that really just needs consistency. He shouldn’t take up too much cap space, and a short one or two-year deal for Michalek would be a stable bridge to the defencemen of the future such as John Klingberg and Jamie Oleksiak.
Obviously a lot can happen between now and the summer of 2015. Trades could take place, prospects could step up earlier than expected, or the current group of defencemen could have a breakout season. However, it’s hard not to imagine what is ahead when you look at what Jim Nill has done so far with the Stars. He has pushed all of the right buttons so far, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the future.
Who do you think the Stars should target in 2015? Leave your comments below and thanks for reading.