Dallas Stars Free Agency: Assessing Curtis McKenzie’s Situation

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 05: Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie (11) tries to pump up his teammates after a fight during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators on Tuesday 05, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Nashville beats Dallas 5-2. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 05: Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie (11) tries to pump up his teammates after a fight during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators on Tuesday 05, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Nashville beats Dallas 5-2. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

It’s time to break down the situation of each unrestricted free agent on the Dallas Stars in the coming summer. Today, we dive into the situation of forward Curtis McKenzie after an extensive career cycling through the organization.

The Dallas Stars have a lot to deal with over the next 20 days or so.

As it goes with every offseason, each NHL team faces a plethora of decisions. The period for making each decision could last a few days or may take months to mull over. But each decision can play a critical role in the team’s chances at future success.

These decisions can range anywhere from draft day moves to trade acquisitions. But they also involve free agents, both on the team and on the market.

In the 2018 offseason, the Stars have a unique free agent class to process. They have a healthy stock of restricted free agents that either need qualification or to be signed to longer-term deals. But on top of that, there are a few unrestricted free agents that all pose a difficult argument.

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We’ve decided to take a look at the situation of each UFA and break them all down. There are 11 unrestricted free agents in the organization, but we will only focus on players that skated in at least one game in the NHL this past season. That puts the list at six players.

The interesting thing about this class of UFAs is that all six players have a serious argument to both stay and go. There is a respectable reason for Dallas to keep each player, but there is also a solid reason to release them to free agency and move on in a different direction.

And that’s why GM Jim Nill‘s job will be all the more challenging. If he lets a player go, he needs to be prepared to find a replacement, whether in house or on the market. And if he re-signs a player, he has to maneuver around the cap and make the deal feasible for the team. On top of that, he also has to be sure that the player is ready and able to fill the role that needs filling.

The six UFAs on the list include Kari Lehtonen, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Pateryn, Antoine Roussel, Mike McKenna, and Curtis McKenzie. We will wrap up our coverage over the next day or two.

We’ve already taken a look at the potential futures of Kari Lehtonen, Mike McKenna, Dan Hamhuis, and Greg Pateryn. Today, we will look at forward Curtis McKenzie after a long tenure in Dallas.

History With The Team

Though this may come as a shock to you, Curtis Mckenzie has been with the Dallas Stars organization for a long time. In fact, he was a sixth round selection by the team in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. So, he has almost a decade of time with the franchise under his belt.

And throughout those nine years, he’s been on quite an extensive trek. After spending his first four years at Miami University (Ohio) playing college hockey and putting up decent numbers, McKenzie received a call-up to the Texas Stars.

He played with Texas for five games in 2012-13 before having his breakout season in 2013-14. The 159th pick tallied 27 goals and 65 points in 75 regular season games as he helped the Stars charge into the postseason and eventually win the Calder Cup.

159. player. Pick Analysis. LW. Miami University (Ohio). Curtis McKenzie. 119. Scouting Report

The 2014-15 season served as his first call-up to the NHL. He ended up playing 31 games with Texas and 36 games with Dallas that season, posting four goals and five points along with a -8 rating at the NHL level.

McKenzie spent a large portion of 2015-16 with the Texas Stars and once again impressed, putting up 24 goals and 55 points in 61 games.

In the 2016-17 season, McKenzie received his best chance at NHL time up to that point. He played in 53 games, scoring six goals and tallying 16 points along with a +5 rating. He did all of this while skating an average of 10:51 each game.

Going into 2017 training camp, it was unclear what McKenzie’s future would hold. He had been given two chances at the NHL level (though neither were necessarily the best opportunity) but couldn’t seem to fit the role Dallas wanted.

2017-18 Season Recap

And that gave way to an interesting 2017-18 year for Curtis McKenzie. At the end of training camp and the preseason, it was clear that the Dallas Stars were overstocked with forwards. Many of these forwards were also considered to be “bottom six” material, meaning there were only so many open spots.

In the end, McKenzie was chosen as one of the odd men out and was assigned to the Texas Stars. Shortly after arriving in Cedar Park, McKenzie was named captain of the AHL squad. And for good reason, too.

Throughout the season, he thrived both as a leader and as a prime producer for the Stars offense. In 51 games, he scored 25 goals and registered 48 total points. He finished the year with a +11 rating and was second on the team in both points and shooting percentage.

His numbers looked excellent during the regular season and he found a way to carry his hot play into the Calder Cup Playoffs. In 22 postseason games, he had 11 goals and 20 points as he helped in leading Texas to the deciding game seven of the Calder Cup Finals before falling just short. McKenzie had a few overtime winners on the way to the Finals and showed off what kind of player he can be. His production was consistent and impressive and he turned out to be one of the best players in the entire AHL playoffs.

McKenzie also saw a brief stint at the NHL level, too. With injuries leaving holes in the roster, the Dallas Stars went with the hot hand from Cedar Park and called him up for seven games. He picked up two assists and a +3 rating but wasn’t able to find the back of the net, though he skated a discouragingly low 8:06 per game.

But still, it was an impressive year for McKenzie in the AHL. He once again proved his potential and his performance should be enough to earn himself a new contract. The only question is: where will that new contract come from?

Contract Situation

McKenzie is only one of a handful of UFAs in the Dallas Stars organization right now, but he’s an important one to watch.

At the age of 27, he’s just now hitting his prime. And though he’s a former sixth-round pick, he is showing that he still has an upside that has yet to be tapped into by Dallas.

In his most recent contract was a one-year deal with a cap hit and AAV of $700,000. That number has risen very slowly and steadily over the past few years, considering his first cap hit was $645,000 back in 2013-14.

It was a good deal financially for the Dallas Stars, but McKenzie will be looking for more after his stellar postseason performance.

A Realistic Asking Price

This is a tricky question. For one, we know that McKenzie is a good player in the AHL. He can play a variety of roles and gives the team a boost both in skill and leadership.

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But at the same time, he’s yet to prove his efficiency on the NHL stage. Part of that is his lack of getting a real, regular chance when he’s called up, but another part has to do with his ability to produce. Can he succeed as a scoring winger at the NHL level?

At the moment, there may be a few teams taking a hard look at McKenzie as a solution to their bottom six. He could very well provide sturdy depth for a number of teams, so that may increase the price.

But it shouldn’t be an incredibly large amount. McKenzie will probably get a contract for no more than two years and might fall into the cap hit/AAV range of $1 million to $1.5 million. That seems like a fair price considering his talents and situation, but it could very well be higher or lower. There’s no telling what some teams are thinking about the UFA right now.

Pros To Re-signing Him

I’ve always thought of Curtis McKenzie as a version of Antoine Roussel. He’s a gritty winger that finishes his checks, gets physical and aggressive when necessary, and can find a way to come up with a timely goal when the team needs it.

Their playing styles match up well and give the Stars an enforcer and agitator to use at their disposal.

And that’s one of the biggest pros to re-signing McKenzie. If Dallas splits ties with Antoine Roussel this summer (as they likely will), they may need someone to fill his role on offense. But unlike Roussel this past year, they will need this player to also be a somewhat more consistent scorer.

If McKenzie can find a way to translate his AHL play to the NHL level, he could make a fine addition to the bottom six in Dallas and give the Stars an extra edge when rolling out their four lines.

Another big pro (though this one probably wouldn’t hold) is to continue using McKenzie as a leader in the AHL. McKenzie was one of the main drivers of the Texas offense this past season and molded into an impressive leader along the way. To have him back in Cedar Park would be a major benefit to the Texas Stars as they try to bounce back from a Calder Cup loss heading into next season.

Cons To Re-signing Him

The major con on that last pro, however, is that McKenzie likely isn’t looking to play in the AHL next season. He spent this past year there and used it to prove his abilities and his desire to be a regular NHL skater.

Do you really think he wants to continue making AHL-level money and playing there regularly when he could very well find an NHL gig?

The only problem with McKenzie and the Dallas Stars is that he’s yet to earn a full-time spot on the roster and has been playing in the organization since 2012. Yes, he’s done well in the AHL. But his NHL play hasn’t been entirely convincing.

The Stars also have a large and growing crop of young forwards trying to break into the league as well. A handful of them beat out McKenzie for spots on last year’s roster at the beginning of the year. Remi Elie, Gemel Smith, and Jason Dickinson, to name a few.

By the looks of it, Dallas isn’t necessarily planning on including McKenzie in their long-term plans or their vision for the future. His play is admirable and his services are valued at the AHL level, but that’s about the extent of it.

The Bottom Line

Curtis McKenzie was drafted by the Dallas Stars almost a decade ago. Since that draft, he’s proven to be a valuable AHL asset and has been granted a handful of NHL opportunities.

After an impressive 2017-18 campaign with the Texas Stars in the regular season and postseason, McKenzie’s UFA status has become even more intriguing. There is potential that he will be given a bridge deal of some sort come July 1 and make a decent amount of money.

But will that be with the Dallas Stars? Considering the Stars’ stock of young talent on offense right now and McKenzie’s role in the organization over the past few years, it doesn’t seem as though they are considering bringing him up as a full-time player. And, as it should be, that’s likely what McKenzie wants.

At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McKenzie sign with an NHL team willing to give him a bigger role at the top level. He’s earned it, after all.

Next: Ranking The Best Stars Games Of 2017-18: 10-6

And though it may be difficult to watch the Stars let him go after all of the good he’s done for the organization, it may be the best move, especially for him. We’ll see what these next two weeks bring.

FURTHER READING: Mike McKenna’s UFA Situation, Kari Lethonen’s UFA Situation, Dan Hamhuis’ UFA Situation, Greg Pateryn’s UFA Situation