The Dallas Stars’ roster will see a surprising turnover after finishing the season one goal shy of their first Western Conference Final appearance since 2008. Only considering players who played at least 20 NHL games in 2018-19 (Marc Methot’s injury-riddled year being the one exception), there are three new arrivals and six confirmed departures with the potential for two more. It’s not unheard of for a contender to replace over a quarter of its roster, but what’s unique is the high-profile nature of several of the incoming and outgoing skaters.
Additions to the Stars
In what easily could have been considered the free agency grand prize in another offseason, the Stars inked Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million contract. The 35-year-old comes to Dallas following 13 seasons with the San Jose Sharks where he amassed 355 goals and 761 points over 963 regular-season games; he had also served as the team’s captain since 2015.
The Stars strengthened their pursuit of Pavelski once the prospect of re-signing deadline acquisition Mats Zuccarello grew unlikely; however, the former should prove to be more beneficial to the organization. For starters, the Stars now retain the conditional first-round pick that would have been awarded to the New York Rangers if Zuccarello had re-signed. Additionally, the terms of Pavelski’s deal will help the Stars when the new Seattle franchise holds its expansion draft in 2021. The Wisconsin-native agreed to modify the no-movement clause in the final year of his contract so that he won’t count as a protected player.
I believe [the Stars] actually found a player who will be more impactful than Zuccarello. Yes, Pavelski is turning 35, but he takes incredible care of himself and he plays a game that should age well. He’s a center who can play wing, and that makes him more versatile, and he is a tremendous leader.
While it may be tough to see Zuccarello sign with a divisional rival in the Minnesota Wild, Pavelski is hardly a consolation. He put up 38 goals last season and has anchored the powerplay and penalty kill in San Jose for over a decade. He is widely known for being one of the most effective net-front presences in the league and may provide some of the best secondary offense the Stars have had in years.
If there were ever an example of a low-risk, high-reward signing, this would be it. Corey Perry was brought in on a one-year deal that is heavily structured on performance bonuses. The 14-year veteran is guaranteed $1.5 million but stands to make up to $1.75 million in additional salary if he and the team meet all requirements. This serves as both a safety net for the team if Perry continues to be nagged by injuries and an incentive for the 2007 Stanley Cup champion to perform.
Though he’s struggled recently, Perry is just three years removed from a 34-goal campaign. Only Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov contributed more than 15 goals for the Stars last season, so if Perry can summon some semblance of consistent scoring it’ll be mammoth value for the cost.
In addition to his Cup with the Ducks, the former Hart Trophy recipient won a gold medal with Canada in the 2014 Olympics where he played alongside Jamie Benn. Perry has totaled 372 goals and 776 points in 988 regular-season contests, all with the Ducks, and is set to play his 1,000th NHL game against his former team on Oct. 24 at American Airlines Center. With Roope Hintz showing promise, the additions of Pavelski and Perry finally give the Stars a competitive top-six.
Much like Perry, Andrej Sekera is a player who was bought out in 2019 after dealing with significant injury problems. Also, he comes with the same price tag of $1.5 million, though his potential for bonuses is only $500,000.
While he may not have the name recognition of a Pavelski or Perry, the Czech defenseman has been a top-pair minute-muncher for much of his career. Sekera averaged over 21 minutes of ice per game, added 35 points and was a plus-14 when the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs in 2016-17. Since then, Sekera has only dressed for 60 games, but general manager Jim Nill is confident that both Sekera and Perry are poised for comeback seasons.
These are some of the best hockey players in the world, and they’ve got a lot to prove. They’ve both gone through tough injuries, were bought out by their teams, and they’re not done yet. That’s what excites me. They’re guys who want to prove what they can do, and they’ve got a resume that proves it, and we’re kind of the benefactors of that.
It’s very possible all three of these free agents’ best hockey is in the rear-view, but it’s doubtful the Stars made these decisions expecting them to have career years. Instead, the lure was the leadership and support they can provide the pieces already in place.
Zuccarello’s time in Dallas may have been brief, but his instant chemistry and 14 points in 15 games made for a memorable tenure. The Stars attempted to re-sign the Norwegian forward until it was clear the two parties weren’t going to reach a deal. He has since joined the Minnesota Wild on a five-year, $30 million contract.
Zuccarello and the Stars seemed like a match, but, as mentioned previously, the term was the fatal factor. At the time of negotiations, the Stars only had six players under contract past the 2020-21 season: Seguin, Benn, Radulov, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Ben Bishop (Pavelski is now added to the list). Between the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, prospect development and future contract negotiations, there were simply too many unknown variables to award Zuccarello the fifth year he was holding out for.
After spending the first 11 years of his career suiting up for the Ottawa Senators, Spezza is returning to Ontario—this time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Mississauga-native is headed home on a one-year deal worth $700,000. His five years with the Stars saw a significant decline in his offensive production; he totaled 81 goals and 228 points in 379 games but had only 53 points over the past two seasons. There is no denying Spezza’s off-ice influence, but Pavelski and Perry can take on that responsibility while contributing more offensively.
The trade for Methot wound up being hugely unfortunate for both the Stars and Methot. Obtaining him from the Vegas Golden Knights (who flipped him from the Senators) in 2017 for a second-round pick and goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson seemed like a bargain at the time, but the former top-pair defenseman required two knee surgeries that limited him to a mere 45 games in victory green—only nine of which took place in 2018-19. As a result, the Stars have made the decision to let Methot walk to free agency, but with no rumored takers, Methot is considering retiring and moving into sports media.
Ritchie showed promise in his first full NHL season in 2016-17, scoring 16 goals in 78 games and finishing a plus-11. Unfortunately, the Stars’ second-round pick in 2011 has only pitched in 11 goals and 20 points in 124 regular-season games since. Further, in 53 games last season Ritchie averaged just 9:36 time on ice per game. With prospects like Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Jason Robertson either earning more ice time or knocking on the door, the clock struck midnight for Ritchie. He will now head to Boston for one year where he will earn an even $1 million with the Bruins.
Nill brought Valeri Nichushkin back from the KHL last summer on a two-year contract paying $3.9 million, but the promise he showed before leaving for Russia in 2016 seemed to have disappeared. Nichushkin failed to score a goal in 57 games in 2018-19 and only pitched in 10 assists, ultimately leading to his buyout. This means the 2013 10th overall pick will only cost the club $700,000 in 2019-20 as opposed to $2.95 million. With no news of NHL interest, it’s likely Nichushkin will return to the KHL.
On June 24, the Stars traded Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for pending restricted free agent Ryan Hartman. This move would prove to be nothing more than a small salary dump by the Stars as Pitlick had one more year remaining on his contract at $1 million while Hartman was allowed to sign with the Wild in free agency. Pitlick had been a serviceable bottom-six forward over the past two seasons, but the $1 million he was set to receive was better used on July 1.
Hopes were high that the 2016 Stanley Cup champion could eat valuable minutes for the Stars during their playoff push, but Ben Lovejoy never quite reached the level necessary to garner a new contract. The veteran defenseman played in 13 postseason games after being acquired from the New Jersey Devils but only had one assist and was a minus-7. The Stars have yet to officially rule out the possibility of bringing Lovejoy back, but it seems unlikely with Stephen Johns making progress and the addition of Sekera.
Nichushkin may not have been the Stars’ only first-round pick to fall out of favor last season. The 2014 14th overall pick was a healthy scratch for the final 35 games of the regular season as well as all 13 games in the postseason. As the organization’s only remaining restricted free agent, Honka was given a qualifying offer of $874,000, but arbitration is on the horizon. Whatever the resolution, it appears Nill is shopping the 23-year-old, so don’t expect to see him in a Stars uniform for much longer, if at all.
Though the Stars took the St. Louis Blues to overtime in Game 7, their depth was still called into question. However, the decisions made this summer appear to have put the club in much better shape heading into the 2019-20 season. The big loss of Zuccarello is seemingly remedied with the addition of Pavelski, Perry and Sekera are supposed upgrades over Spezza and Lovejoy, and Dickinson and Hintz will have the opportunity to do much more with the minutes that were being spent on Nichushkin and Ritchie. At least on paper, the roster has improved in several spots while keeping intact the big pieces at the top of the lineup.