What Now For the Stars?
FRISCO—No, it wasn’t a dream. Yes, the Dallas Stars’ season actually did come to a screeching halt with a 6-1 loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals to the St. Louis Blues last Wednesday at American Airlines Center. And now that the season is over, the work begins anew for general manager Jim Nill and the organization.
First up is the 2016 NHL Draft, where the Stars will pick 25th, but won’t have another selection until the fourth round. Last week, Dallas signed Russian forward Denis Gurianov, its top pick from the 2015 draft. Gurianov will play in North America next season, but it’s tough to say how NHL-ready he is.
Dallas has eight unrestricted free agents, including defensemen Jordie Benn, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell. Role players including Patrick Eaves, Vernon Fiddler and Colton Sceviour are also free while youngsters Valeri Nichushkin, Jamie Oleksiak and Brett Ritchie are restricted.
On Friday, Nill was asked what factors he will use in determining who stays and goes, but the tactful third-year GM said this was not the time to answer such queries.
“I want to talk to all the players. I want to evaluate the organization, where it’s at. We’ll make those decisions going forward, but now is not a time to go into that,” Nill said. “It was a good season. I think we’re in a good spot. Do we have to get better? Yes. We all have weaknesses, that’s the way the league is, but we were one win away from being in the conference finals, so better things will happen.”
Dallas will probably bring back Demers or Goligoski but not likely both. Russell, who came over from Calgary at the trade deadline, wasn’t great in the playoffs and the Stars should let him walk.
As for the role players, Eaves and Sceviour should both be re-signed. Fiddler has been a great veteran during his time here, but with youngster Radek Faksa coming into his own late in the season and playing well in the playoffs, Fiddler is now expendable and probably won’t return.
But the one burning question on the minds of Stars fans is what to do with the goalie situation. Will Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi both return? Combined, they eat up $10.4 million of cap space over the next two season, so they would be tough to move, but not impossible. After all, Nill has brought Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp in via trades in his first three off-seasons on the job.
However, according to third-year Stars head coach Lindy Ruff, the two-goalie system is something that worked and a setup likely to continue going forward. “We finished second overall, we had two goalies that won us 25 games,” Ruff said. “We had two goalies that I think were the backbone of where we got to. Every time you lose a game you want something back and I think that’s hard, but these two guys did a real good job for us.”