Dallas Stars Free Agency: Assessing Antoine Roussel’s Situation

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 16: Antoine Roussel #21 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 16, 2017 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 16: Antoine Roussel #21 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 16, 2017 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Over the last few weeks, we’ve broken down the situation of each of six unrestricted free agents in the Dallas Stars organization. We round out the series today by breaking down the situation of Antoine Roussel.

The Dallas Stars have a lot to deal with over the next 15 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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Here at Blackout Dallas, we decided to take a look at each UFA’s situation and break them all down. There are 11 unrestricted free agents in the organization, but we only focused on players that skated in at least one game in the NHL this past season. That put the list at six players.

The interesting thing about this class of UFAs is that all six players have a serious argument both to stay and go. There is a viable reason for Dallas to keep each player, but there is also a reason to release them to free agency and move 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 (you can find the link to their stories at the end of this story).

We’ve already taken a look at the potential futures of Kari Lehtonen, Mike McKenna, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Pateryn, and Curtis McKenzie. Today, we will wrap up our UFA special by look at Antoine Roussel‘s situation after an extensive run with the Dallas Stars.

History With The Team

On July 2, 2012, the Dallas Stars signed an unknown and unproven 22-year-old to their organization. That was French-born forward Antoine Roussel. After spending 2006-2010 in the QMJHL and then spending a year with the Providence Bruins, Roussel earned a contract with the Chicago Wolves (the AHL affiliate of Vancouver at the time). And after one season there, he signed on with Dallas.

Having never played an NHL game before the 2012-13 lockout season, the Stars took a chance on Roussel during the 48-game span. And through it all, he earned his spot on the Dallas roster.

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  • Roussel ended up playing in 39 NHL games in his rookie season, scoring seven goals and tallying 14 points along with a +3 rating. He did it all in an average of 9:24 on the ice per game. His performance as a bottom-six forward and his ability to get physical and serve as an agitator and enforcer boded well for a Dallas team that needed physicality.

    The 2013-14 season brought much of the same success to Roussel. He set what is currently his career high in goals with 14 and points with 29. That included a pretty penalty shot goal against Corey Crawford in front of a raging Chicago Blackhawks crowd (remember the good old days?). But he also finished four points short of leading the NHL in penalty minutes with 209. He did, however, make the most of his opportunities on the ice and finished with the second-most points out of the top 16 NHL skaters in terms of PIM.

    And since the 2013-14 season, Roussel has largely remained consistent with his performances. His point totals from 2013-14 to 2016-17 go 29, 25, 29, 27. Goals? 14, 13, 13, 12 (including the first and only hat trick of his career). Games played? 81, 80, 80, 60 (which was solely due to a season-ending hand injury).

    Roussel’s mixture of speed and aggressiveness made him a decent option for the Stars’ bottom six over the past few years. His ability to get under the opponent’s skin and frequently drop the gloves whenever the team needed a spark gave him an edge and always kept him in the lineup. And on occasion, he would find a way to score the timely goal and give the Stars a boost on the scoreboard. He remained the same with each passing season.

    2017-18 Season Recap

    In this most recent season, however, that consistency didn’t necessarily keep up.

    Roussel, now 28, began his 2017-18 campaign on a relatively quiet note, not tallying his first point until game eight and his first goal until game 14. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t contributing.

    In fact, Roussel’s biggest impact this past season was playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Tyler Pitlick. The trio comprised one of the Stars’ most consistent lines, providing depth and relentlessness on the ice. Ken Hitchcock even began matching the line against the opponent’s top line in an effort to wear down their top talent. The plan ended up working rather well as the trio brought a consistently gritty push to the ice and perfectly balanced their speed, skill, and aggression.

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    “[Radek] Faksa is a smart player and is really good in our own zone, so we don’t spend a lot of time there,” said Pitlick of his line back in January. “[Antoine] Roussel is similar because he’s fast, he’s physical, and he hounds the puck in the offensive zone.

    “So even if we make a chip play or we give it away in the offensive zone, we’ve got guys flying over there and trying to get it back and we cause a lot of turnovers because of that. I think we’re all very similar but at the same time a little bit different too. We all bring a little bit something different but we bring a lot of the same things too and it seems to work.”

    But while Roussel’s energy and physicality were put to good use on the line, there wasn’t much else that he did. In fact, he fell into the worst rut of his career. By the end of the season, he had a career-low five goals and 17 points in 73 games. In addition, he also racked up his largest PIM (126) since the 2014-15 season.

    Roussel ended the season with a 42-game goal drought, having scored his last goal on Dec. 23 against Nashville. In his final 30 games, all he had to boast was three assists and a -4 rating along with a fight or two. He also saw his spot on the penalty kill unit taken by other forwards and his ice time dip to its lowest point since his rookie year (12:26).

    He put together a performance that no NHL player would want to boast, especially in a contract year. Roussel just couldn’t find a way to get it going in Hitchcock’s system and reverted to becoming a one-dimensional player as a result. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do months before needing a new contract.

    Contract Situation

    Roussel is rounding out the fourth and final year of his current contract that paid him $8 million ($2 million cap hit and AAV). This deal was signed in the summer of 2014 and helped the Dallas Stars and Roussel avoid going to an arbitration hearing.

    It was a deal that didn’t handcuff the Stars financially, but is also one where you would have liked to see Roussel do a little more.

    But after you mix his performance with the fact that he is now in the prime of his career, plenty of question marks arise when contemplating a new contract.

    "“It’s awesome. I think it’s going to be, with the lockout season, it’s may be my fourth/fifth year, so it’s pretty cool. I love living here in Dallas, and everything is so preferable here. I just want to stay here as long as possible.” -Roussel on exit interview day 2016"

    The fact of the matter is that Roussel made more than Tyler Pitlick and Stephen Johns combined this past season. When considering his production compared to theirs, that’s discouraging. He is now a UFA for the first time in his career, and there’s no certainty as to what will happen next for him.

    A Realistic Asking Price

    Here’s where things can get tricky. There will likely be a few teams on the market that want to sign him simply because of his knack for agitating the opposition and serving as a workhorse. But will Roussel really be inclined to accept a smaller contract considering the position he’s at in his career?

    There may be a team ready to offer him somewhere around $2 million (or maybe a little higher) that wants to stick him on the fourth line and let him dig into the opponents using his speed and physicality.

    But if we’re being honest here, a two-year deal worth around $1.75 million might be a good spot to negotiate at. Roussel didn’t do much this past season to prove that he’s worth a long-term deal nor that he needs a spike in salary. We’ll have to see, though.

    Pros To Re-signing Him

    There’s one big pro to re-signing Roussel, but it’s not the sturdiest pro to go off of. This pro has to do solely with his reputation and personality.

    Don’t forget that Roussel is the consistent spark plug for the Stars. Without him, who is there to fill the void? You might be able to point out a name or two, but none of them have a track record like Roussel.

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  • He is a fan favorite in Dallas even with his lack of production. He sells tickets and fills seats with his gritty style. Fans are almost always guaranteed to see a big hit, violent scrap, or all-out brawl during a game when Roussel is on the ice. He digs in, gets under the

    Roussel provides the Dallas Stars with something that every team needs: the enforcement factor. He’s always willing to stand up for his teammates and can unnerve most opponents simply by the way he competes.

    “I think he’s a big factor,” Hitchcock said of Roussel on Feb. 3. “He allows us to spread out our minutes more and is very good at killing penalties. He gets the other team’s attention by his work ethic and determination.”

    It’s easy to say that the Dallas Stars could replace Roussel easily, but could they? His energy is almost unmatched throughout the lineup and he leaves everything he has on the ice. He may not score the big goal sometimes, but his efforts definitely push the Stars forward and give the team a chance to step ahead of the competition.

    Roussel is a natural competitor and that’s why he’s so loved by the Dallas Stars community. But is that worth a new deal when he cannot consistently be the kind of forward Dallas wants or needs him to be?

    Cons To Re-signing Him

    Plain and simple, Roussel isn’t playing the style Dallas needs him to play. Last year, he was an inconsistent winger that just couldn’t finish on a regular basis. That’s what the Dallas Stars needed.

    One year ago, Roussel was a player that was considered to be a lock for protection from the expansion draft. But in hindsight, it looks like the Stars should have kept Roussel on the outside. His 2017-18 performance simply didn’t live up to the expectations in a contract year by any means.

    The Dallas Stars have a young crop of forwards (specifically wingers) that are trying to break into the NHL at the moment. These players can likely fill the void in the bottom six left by Roussel (if he doesn’t sign a new deal) and could very well put forth a better and more consistent performance.

    While Roussel is a useful forward when it comes to physicality and agitation, he cannot seem to get things right when it comes to being a consistent scorer and offensive producer. As unfortunate as it may be, that’s what the Stars need. One of their biggest deficiencies in 2017-18 was depth scoring and Roussel didn’t help their cause with a 42-game goal drought.

    He just didn’t get the job done when Dallas needed him the most. Though he’s a gritty winger, there comes a point where that isn’t enough.

    The Bottom Line

    In the end, Antoine Roussel is one of the few depth forwards that is well known around the entire NHL. He’s gained that reputation through his play, but it hasn’t been on the offensive side of the puck. Instead, it’s been his physical, “in-your-face” nature.

    He’s been an asset in the bottom six for the Dallas Stars for the past six seasons and always produced consistent play. But this past season, he hit a rut. That rut happened to come at the worst possible time considering his status going into the offseason.

    At this point, it doesn’t look like the Stars are aiming to re-sign the 28-year-old. There haven’t been any rumblings about the two sides discussing a new deal. With July 1 less than two weeks away, that might mean that the Rooster will be on the market come day one of the opening of free agency.

    There may be a chance that Dallas reaches out to him if he’s still hanging around and they want that aggressive presence to stay in their lineup. But with Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, and Gemel Smith all looking for a full-time gig at the NHL level, there may not be a spot for Roussel in a Stars lineup that will likely get considerably younger this offseason under a young head coach.

    Next: Stars' Potential Options At Backup Goaltender

    But I suppose anything is possible.

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