With the expansion draft and the entry draft now in the books, free agency is up next for Stars GM Jim Nill. Sunday was the first day that teams could start talking to pending UFAs with the window to hold those discussion running through June 30.
While teams can’t sign a UFA during that window, it will be a key part of the process as Nill and his staff try to get a handle on this year’s market as they make decisions about whether to sign a free agent or try to make a trade to fill holes or make upgrades.
“Usually there is a balance, depending on who you are looking for and the market,” Nill said. “A lot of these trades the past few days are cap deals with teams where the money doesn’t add up. It’s going to be interesting to see how that balances out over the next couple weeks here. We’re in a good position. Our core is set, and we’ve got a couple of holes to fill on the wings and that.”
Among the wings Nill plans to look at are a couple of his own unrestricted free agents, Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky. Both Sharp and Hemsky are coming off injury-plagued seasons. Sharp played in just 48 games due to concussion and hip issues last season. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in late March with a recovery time of 4-5 months. Hemsky played just 15 games due to hip and groin issues.
“They are a possibility. They are in that free agent market. We know who they are, which makes it a comfortable level,” Nill said. “We want to sit down with both of them, see where they are. Both were injury situations. If they weren’t injured, they are guys we probably would have signed last year. We are going to see where they are injury-wise and see what the market holds from there.”
The Stars have eight forwards under contract and two restricted free agents in Radek Faksa and Brett Ritchie. They are strong down the middle with Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Faksa as the top three and they have options for the fourth line with their center depth. Some scoring punch on the wings could help.
Nill said over the weekend if he can’t find a way to fill holes at forward this offseason he would be willing to turn to the Texas Stars. That could open the door for guys like Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie, Gemel Smith and others.
There are still a couple of other questions. Mattias Janmark is among that group of forwards under contract and is progressing nicely after missing all of last season due to a knee issue. It appears he’ll be ready for training camp but his knee condition is a rare one, and he’ll have to make it through camp and the preseason before it’s clear he’ll be ready to go.
The status of Valeri Nichushkin remains a question mark. He played in the KHL last season and whether he’ll return to Dallas this season is still to be determined. Nill said the answer should come in the next month.
On defense, the Stars have five players under contract in John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, Julius Honka, Stephen Johns and Greg Pateryn. Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak, and Patrik Nemeth all are restricted free agents. The rumor mill has been spinning with the Stars trying to land a top four defenseman via the trade market, but nothing materialized last week. Now that the dust has settled with the expansion draft and entry draft, there should be some more talks between teams, and there is the free agent market. But it takes two teams to trade, and free agent signings often come with lengthy term and lots of money, so time will tell how things play out.
Nill plans to resolve his goaltending situation this week, cutting the number on the roster from three to two. That, of course, will mean moving either Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen. No surprise that Nill wouldn’t say if that move will via a trade or a buyout.
“I have options,” he said. “I have options.”
Qualifying offers are due for restricted free agents on Monday. Among the key restricted free agents for Dallas, as noted above, are Faksa, Ritchie, Lindell, Oleksiak, and Nemeth.
“I’ve talked to those players, getting real close to one of them and still working on a couple of the other guys,” Nill said. “That’s the process. This will go on into July and August. We know we are going to get them signed.”
Those qualifying offers are due by 4 p.m. Central Time.
Free agency opens Saturday, July 1 at 11 a.m. Central Time.