The Dallas Stars were in a challenging position as the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline approached. As a result of their situation, the deadline came and went without them making a significant move. With that being said, the homestretch of the 2019-20 season is on deck.
The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline put the Dallas Stars in an odd situation, but we already knew that going into Monday afternoon.
As the month of February got into full swing and the Stars started building a hot streak (they are now 8-2-2 in the month), the prospect of adding another piece at the deadline to bolster their Stanley Cup run began to circulate.
But while names were tossed around, the focus quickly shifted from whether the Stars would make a move to whether they could or not.
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The Stars were buyers at this year’s deadline. They sit third place in the Western Conference as of Monday afternoon, seem to be built for the postseason with their defensive structure and style, and could very well make a deep run into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With that being said, they were in the market to add a player more than anything else.
But their setup didn’t make the idea of buying an easy one to execute. The Stars only had four picks (including none in the second or third round) in the 2020 NHL Draft, have 3-4 top prospects in the system (none of which they would likely be willing to part with for a rental) before a sharp drop-off in terms of immediate value, and not much in terms of high-end value on their NHL roster that they would be willing to deal.
Considering those are the kinds of assets that sellers look for at the deadline, Dallas seemed to be in for a challenge.
That challenge came to fruition as the deadline passed and the Stars, aside from trading AHL defenseman Emil Djuse to the Florida Panthers for a sixth-round pick, stood pat.
“He’s a little bit of an older player and free agent that we signed,” Nill said. “We don’t know if he’s coming back or not next year, so this gave us a chance to grab an asset. Some young defensemen are going to be coming in once their junior playoffs are done. We’ll add some depth that way and give those young kids opportunity.”
“That’s where we think the prospects coming in are going to fill that void,” Nill said. We’ve got [Thomas] Harley and [Dawson] Barteaux coming in, so we think we have some good kids coming in to fill that void.”
And while the Texas Stars, who are in the midst of a push for the playoffs, are losing one of their top-four defenders that had logged 29 points in 48 games and both Harley and Barteaux look to be bound for postseason play in their respective leagues, Nill was prepared to take the risk to add another draft pick to the arsenal.
Aside from that, however, the Dallas Stars didn’t make any other moves.
“We talked to a lot of teams and we had some things going,” Nill said. “Once again, I get back to that in the last couple of years, we’ve made a lot of trades and used up a lot of picks. I went into this deadline with the mindset that we just can’t keep doing that. I like where our team is at and how our young kids are playing. Lots of talk, but in the end, nothing really came close.”
Sure, there were rumblings. Midway through this past week, Dallas was rumored to be a potential player for San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton. Those rumors heated up on Monday morning as the Stars were once again linked to the veteran center.
Add in the fact that a handful of draft picks from the fourth round, fifth round, or even in the 2021 Draft, and the hope seemed to grow that Stars GM Jim Nill might be able to swing a deal. And though Nill had manned the phones throughout Monday morning with a number of teams, a deal was never struck for Thornton.
“There is a lot of speculation out there, but that’s something I’m not going to discuss,” Nill said. “We were talking about a lot of players in there. We came into today anticipating the way things went pretty well. We like where our team is at. Getting Stephen Johns back is a big addition for us and we did a lot of our work during the summer.”
There are debates that can be had regarding whether or not the Dallas Stars needed to make a move to further their Stanley Cup aspirations. Could Nill have dug a little deeper in the market? Will other Cup contenders adding pieces hurt the Stars in the long run? Was there a price that Nill shouldn’t have passed up?
"“If somebody would have came up and blown our socks off, we’re always open. But in the end, I know you need lots of defense. If we’re going to have a long playoff run, you need to have eight, nine, or ten defensemen. We wanted to make sure we had that. To just move somebody for a pick and then have to use a pick to get another guy just doesn’t make sense.” — Nill on the prospect of trading a defenseman at the deadline"
Those topics can be exhausted as much as you please. But at the end of the day, the Stars worked the market with what they had and didn’t find an NHL-caliber deal worth making, though other teams did.
“Some of those situations are because teams had injuries and you have to do something to fill a gap,” Nill said. “That costs you picks and that’s part of doing business. It depends on where your team is at at the time. If you picture yourself as a contender and you have injuries, you have to fill a hole. Everybody has different situations and in the end, the market decides what the price is. That’s the way it was today.”
And is there a worry that other teams in the Western Conference playoff picture got better while the Stars refrained from any new acquisitions?
“We look at our division and it stayed pretty status quo,” Nill said. “The Pacific did some things, but a lot of the moves happened [in the Eastern Conference]. We’re not too worried about what other teams do anyways. In the end, it’s where our team is at and where I think we’re at. I believe in our group and I like how we’re playing.”
He’s not wrong. Aside from St. Louis acquiring Marco Scandella to fill in for Jay Bouwmeester, Colorado adding a third-string goaltender and Vladislav Namestnikov to help fill the void left by Mikko Rantanen‘s injury, and Winnipeg adding two depth forwards in Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo, the Central Division remained quiet for the most part.
And while the moves made in the East could be a cause for concern down the road, they won’t prohibit the Stars from their pursuit of being the last team standing in the Western Conference.
With all of that being said, the Stars’ focus now falls on the homestretch of the 2019-20 season.
As of Monday afternoon, the Dallas Stars sit third in the Central Division and Western Conference. They are 36-20-6 with 78 points and are four points behind the St. Louis Blues for first place in the conference.
They are currently in the midst of a busy, but ultimately successful February. Dallas is 8-2-2 so far this month and has quickly clawed their way into the fight for the first seed in the West. They are averaging 3.00 goals per game since the All-Star Break, veterans like Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski are beginning to step up and contribute on a regular basis, rookie Denis Gurianov and second-year Roope Hintz are two of the team’s top three goal scorers, and the Stars seem to be finding their groove.
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Their lines on offense have remained relatively consistent throughout the past month, they have eight NHL defensemen that can rotate on a nightly basis when needed, and their goaltending tandem boasts some of the best numbers in the NHL. The goal scoring has been evenly distributed up to this point, with only four goals separating their top six scorers through 62 games.
Stephen Johns has become an internal deadline add after battling back from post-traumatic headaches and re-entering the lineup after almost two years away from game action. Johns has been an effective and consistent contributor on the blue line and has helped solidify the top four for Dallas on defense.
Finally, the Stars look like a legitimate contender. Barring an unforeseen collapse, this is a team that looks built for a deep run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. From the balance and structure of their lineup, to their style being one that is emulated by many teams in the postseason, this Dallas Stars team looks to be in line to contend.
With 20 games to go in the regular season, the talk of contending and deep playoff runs needs to be put off for a little while longer. But as of now, this team is built to play past April.
All that’s left to do is prove it in the coming months.
“We like where we’re at, like our depth, like where the young kids are at and what they’ve added to the team, and like how the veterans are starting to play,” Nill said. “We like our group and where they’re at, we believe in them, and we’ll go from there.”