Re-signing restricted free agent Jamie Benn (left) is Dallas' top off-season priority. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
From 1996-97 to 2003-04, the Dallas Stars were regularly among the highest-spending teams in the league, investing in top talent to maintain their stature as perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
For the past three seasons, however, ownership issues forced the Stars to economize with their payroll, hovering near the salary cap minimum. It hurt their efforts retaining star center Brad Richards and attracting veteran free agents.
Businessman Tom Gaglardi became the team’s new owner earlier this season and he and president Jim Lites both recently gave the impression they could significantly increase their payroll this summer.
Lites said team’s situation was different than it had been in recent years, as they’re no longer run by the league and have a new owner willing to spend.
The Stars currently have nearly $44 million tied up in 16 players. If next season’s cap ceiling remains similar to this season’s $64.3 million, it leaves them with nearly $20 million in available cap space.
Their most expensive re-signing will be left winger Jamie Benn, who’ll be owed a substantial raise coming off his entry level contract, shaving as much as $5 million off that available space.
Re-signing key players, however, isn’t their only focus. Gaglardi confirmed his club had identified some players they would “pursue hard,” suggesting they could be in the bidding for top unrestricted free agents like New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Nashville’s Ryan Suter or Washington’s Alexander Semin.
As Bob Sturm noted in a blog on Fox Sports Southwest, the lack of depth in free agent talent, but suggested there are teams being squeezed by the salary cap that could try to dump salary.
It’s believed the Stars could seek a top-six forward and a No. 1 defenseman. Parise, Suter or Semin would address those needs, but even with their cap space they will be hard-pressed to win a bidding war for Parise or Suter. They would, however, have a good chance at signing Semin. They could also have better luck finding what they need via trades.
The Stars’ cap space gives them room to absorb the $7.8-million cap hit of Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Rick Nash, provided he were willing to accept a trade to Dallas and if they were willing to pay the hefty asking price to get him.
Montreal Canadiens fans would love to see the Stars take center Scott Gomez and his $7.4-million cap hit off their hands, but given Gomez’s declining production, Habs fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
The Canucks could be shopping goalie Roberto Luongo ($5.3 million per), but the Stars already have a quality starter in Kari Lehtonen. Vancouver might also try to move Keith Ballard and his $4.2-million hit, but he’s not the type of defenseman the Stars want.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier? At more than $7.7 million per season for eight more years, that’s probably too rich for the Stars’ blood.
Better trade targets (if available) are San Jose Sharks left winger Patrick Marleau (two years at $6.9 million per), Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny (two years, $6.6 million per) and Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (two years at $6.7 million per).
Whatever moves Stars management makes, expect it to be more active in the trade and free agent markets than in previous summers.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.