On the heels of a disappointing season and infirmary of injuries Dallas is well-positioned for the expansion draft. They’ll likely protect all their key pieces while exposing mid-range young players who haven’t significantly impressed, or veterans not counted on highly in their long-term plans. Without a compelling fourth defenseman to retain they’ll adopt the seven forward/three defense/one goalie strategy.
Usually reliable center Cody Eakin had an awful year including a knee injury that limited him to 60 games and just three goals with nine assists. He’s signed through 2020 with a $3.85M annual cap hit, and may tempt Vegas as a young, veteran leader at pivot looking to bounce back. The expansion draft projects as thin on legit centers. Dallas needs to ask themselves if the potential extra savings on their $16.6M-plus cap space hit is worth risking him. I’m betting Eakin’s exposed.
Instead they protect their enforcer with scoring skill Antoine Roussel whose $2M hit expires next offseason. His nearly thirty-point contributions over the past four years, including some valuable top-six time during Dallas’ injury plagued 2016-17 and team-leading 115 PIM lends versatility and grit.
A restricted free agent, 23-year-old Brett Ritchie’s 153 hits and team-leading plus-eleven should fetch increased middle-six minutes in Coach Ken Hitchcock’s defense-oriented system. Combining effective physical play with a team-third-best 167 shots in just 12:53 average TOI at a still modest price should insure his protection.
With expansion-ineligible Devin Shore’s 33-point (13 goals, 20 assists) year, ability to excel at center and wing, and late-season play on the Benn – Seguin line making him a worthy top-six candidate for 2017-18, not forgetting two first-round picks and an early second joining Dallas, the Stars are growing greener. As Ales Hemsky (33), Patrick Sharp (35), and Jiri Hudler (33) are all UFAs there will be opportunities for Dallas forward prospects and developing young vets.
Shore’s 23-year-old frequent linemate Radek Faksa, also with 33 points (12 G, 21 A), including 101 hits and 67 PIM, and was solid on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle. He should re-sign, be protected, and retain a key spot at a reasonable price in Dallas next year.
The final forward spot comes down to 26-year-old Curtis McKenzie (an excellent forechecker, PIM generator, and modest scorer in 53 contests), soon 32-year-old journeyman Adam Cracknell, or the promise of 22-year-old wing Valeri Nichushkin nearing the end of his KHL deal. In keeping with their increased youth I’ll bet they protect Nichushkin, hoping to lure him back to North America and noting Vegas’ early emphasis on Russian players, while hoping McKenzie isn’t selected.
They’ll keep John Klingberg, Stephen Johns and 23-year-old RFA Esa Lindell. Lindell finished second to John Klingberg’s 49 points in defenseman scoring with six goals and 12 assists, and second in average ice time among all Stars’ skaters with 21:53. Lindell also joined Klingberg on Dallas’ highest scoring pair.
After spending most of the past three seasons in the AHL, former Blackhawk second round pick Johns led the Stars in hits (159) and blocks (130) in his first real big-league campaign. At 25, he’ll serve as another young vet blazing a trail into the future.
This leaves 13-year vet Dan Hamhuis, late year Montreal acquisition Greg Pateryn, and young RFAs Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak exposed. Hamhuis can contribute valuable blue line minutes still but with one more year at a $3.75M hit and ice time and scoring totals slipping a bit, like Eakin, it’s worth making Hamhuis available as an experienced potential leader with a mid-range price tag for Vegas.
Between 6-7, 260-pound Oleksiak’s 19 career points, and Nemeth’s promise of shutdown defense featuring 14 career points with no goals, there isn’t much scoring there. While the former has shown flashes of promising play while deploying his massive frame, neither has skated in more than 41 games in any of their combined nine partial campaigns with Dallas and will likely be exposed.
The Stars will protect Ben Bishop and leave exposed contractual burdens Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. As it stands, Dallas may need to buy out either Niemi or Lehtonen, so losing one to the Knights would save buyout money and cap space. The odds are understandably low Vegas will bite.
Predicted protected players with annual cap hits
Jamie Benn (NMC) – $9.5M through 2025
Jason Spezza (NMC) – $7.5M through 2019
Tyler Seguin – $5.75 through 2019
Brett Ritchie – restricted free agent
Antoine Roussel – $2M through 2018
Radek Faksa – restricted free agent
Valeri Nichushkin – under KHL contract
John Klingberg – $4.25M through 2022
Stephen Johns – $750,000 through 2018
Esa Lindell – restricted free agent
Ben Bishop (NMC) – $4,916,667 through 2023
Top two options on who they would most likely lose
Eakin or Oleksiak.
If Dallas were to make a trade with Vegas to select/not select a player, who would it be and why?
Lehtonen or Niemi. If they really value Lehtonen as a capable backup for Ben Bishop, they’ll try to broker a Vegas deal for Niemi’s $4.5M cap hit. If the reverse, or there’s another plan afoot, they’ll attempt to peddle Lehtonen’s $5.9M hit. With Marc-Andre Fleury looking like a future Knight and other quality goalies available, it will take a major trade kicker to move either.
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