Don’t look now, but the NHL season starts in less than three months. More urgently, the NHL expansion draft will occur on Wednesday evening. With that said, the Dallas Stars tipped their hand over the weekend and provided some answers in regards to this season’s direction.
First and foremost, the Stars traded fan favorite center Jason Dickinson on Friday. Dickinson is set to become a restricted free agent on July 28th, and would’ve likely been placed on the team’s unprotected list for Wednesday’s expansion draft. It wasn’t a guarantee that the Seattle Kracken would have snatched him up, but it was a shrewd move by the team to get a third round pick from Vancouver in exchange.
The Dallas Stars set their course for the season with a flurry of weekend moves.
Next, the team did release their protected list. The only surprise here is that goalie Ben Bishop waived his no movement clause. What this allowed is the Stars to protect goalie Anton Khudobin. Evidently, Bishop approached the team about this option. There have also been rumblings about Bishop’s ongoing health issues. In any event, the franchise apparently feels good about moving forward with Khudobin and Jake Oettinger, who is exempt from the list due to service time.
As far as the protected list is concerned, I think General Manager Jim Nill did a good job spanning the old guard and youngsters on the team. Of course, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin are on there, mainly because of their no movement clauses, but they’re all still productive when healthy. But I was also happy to see forwards Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa there as well. Hintz is on the cusp of elite status, and Faksa is more vital than a lot of people understand.
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Finally, the biggest story–albeit not a surprise–was the news that came down on Saturday when the Stars signed defenseman Miro Heiskanen to an eight-year deal worth $67.6 million and an average annual value of $8.45 million. Not a bad deal to sign on the eve of your 22nd birthday, eh? To be sure, the Stars are betting big on their wunderkind rearguard. He’s proven to be everything he was advertised and more with this elite skating and puck handling. He’s not only considered an top-tier modern defenseman, he can jump up and lead the offensive rush when the opportunity arises. He’s the piece that the team has chosen to build around.
Strange as it may seem, the Stars are in good shape as the new season approaches, provided they stay healthy. But we all need to understand that this year is probably the last year of “Stars’ hockey” as we currently know it. The older players are long in the tooth. Benn, Radulov, and center Joe Pavelski are all 32 or older. Tyler Seguin will turn 30 during the season.
Further, head coach Rick Bowness is entering the last year of his contract. The team is built to win now, so wholesale changes will likely happen if they don’t make a playoff run. It’s a lot of pressure for a franchise that doesn’t exactly contend on a year-to-year basis, but they need to return to the playoffs if they want to be taken seriously as a Stanley Cup contender.