This is the newest file in THN.com’s continuing breakdown of the off-season plans for all 32 NHL teams. On this day, we’re analyzing the Dallas Stars.
2021-22 Record: 46-30-6
Finish In The Central Division: 4th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $18.5 million
Restricted Free Agents: Jason Robertson, F; Marian Studenic, F; Jake Oettinger, G.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Vladislav Namestnikov, F; Alexander Radulov, F; Michael Raffl, F; John Klingberg, D; Andrej Sekera, D.
What Dallas Has: High-impact youngsters in Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Jake Oettinger and Miro Heiskanen; veteran knowhow in forwards Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and D-men Ryan Suter and Esa Lindell; a new, experienced head coach in Peter DeBoer; and an owner highly motivated to see immediate success in Tom Gagliardi.
What Dallas Needs: A bounce-back season from Benn; a way to keep unrestricted free agent John Klingberg in Dallas; more offense in general; cap-friendly new contracts for their RFAs.
What’s Realistic For Dallas Next Season: It was a mixed bag of a season for Dallas in 2021-22. The Stars won only four of their first 12 games (4-6-2), digging a hole for themselves that it took the entire season to get out from. From the second week in March, they won only three games in a row on two occasions, and otherwise were a Jekyll-and-Hyde bunch. That inconsistency cost head coach Rick Bowness his job after Dallas’ first-round defeat against Calgary, and the pressure will immediately be on his replacement, Peter DeBoer, to earn a better playoff seed in the difficult Central Division and at least make it past Round One next spring.
Nothing is going to be assured with this team, mainly because their core is mostly comprised of players on the back nine of their NHL careers – most notably, winger and captain Jamie Benn, who has a whopping $9.5 million cap hit for the next three seasons , and whose offense has dropped off precipitously in the past three years.
Stars GM Jim Nill also has to find enough salary cap space to hold onto veteran defenseman and current UFA John Klingberg. Dallas’ defense corps is deep enough to withstand the blow that would come with Klingberg’s departure – and that’s real possibility, given Nill must get RFA stars Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger’s signatures on new contracts – but they’ll have a much better shot at improving on their showing in 2021-22 with Klingberg back on board.
And let’s remember, Dallas nudged ahead of Nashville for the fourth seed in the Central last year by just one standings point. Had they finished fifth overall, they would’ve been roadkill against the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche, just the way the Predators were last spring. It’s not good enough just to be a playoff team. They need more from their veterans, growth from their up-and-comers, and that’s just to hold off the Preds and other Western Conference teams from overtaking them in the standings.
Nill has never been shy to make big moves on the trade front, but it’s difficult to see what assets he’d have to surrender (other than his first round picks, which he has all three of in the next three seasons) that wouldn’ don’t hurt him somewhere else on the roster. Dallas’ depth is not the best in the game, which means good health and good puck luck is also going to be crucial for them to improve on their play last year.
Can they do it? Sure, it’s possible, especially if Oettinger continues to shine between the pipes. But make no mistake, the Stars’ window to win with Benn and star center Tyler Seguin is closing, and possibly, closing fast. A lot will have to go right for them, and as we should know by now, that usually doesn’t happen for most teams in the league. But Nill clearly is ready to give his aging core one more shot, and if they fail to deliver, bigger change may well be on the horizon for them in 2023-24.