While the Dallas Cowboys regroup, and the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers try to rebuild, the Dallas Stars are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. At the moment, the team occupies third place in the Central Division standings.
Overall, Dallas is tied for the third-most points in the Central Division. The club is also tied for the fifth-most points of any team in a deep Western Conference.
So, how does the front office add to a team that has a pretty good chance to compete come playoff time?
The easiest answer would be to make a splash. New York Rangers forward Rick Nash ($8.2 million), Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green ($6 million) and even Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty ($5 million) are all reportedly available.
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By reeling in one of those big fish, general manager Jim Nill would further satiate a fan base that's hungry to see this core group of players fulfill the promise it showed in 2016. That year, Dallas finished with the most points in the Western Conference, only to be unceremoniously bounced by the St. Louis Blues (6-1) in Game 7 of the second round.
The acquisition cost for those players and many other elite talents on the trading block would be extremely high, both in terms of the number of picks going out the door and the burden of the salaries that would be added to the payroll.
At the moment, the organization seems to have the necessary prospects to wheel and deal. It's when the money enters the picture that things become more difficult.
Spotrack.com says the Stars have roughly $800,000 in cap space. Capfriendly.com says they have $3.2 million. For the sake of this exercise, let's call it $2 million (the average of the two figures).
The franchise’s lack of fiscal flexibility isn’t a criticism of Nill. During the last year, he’s pushed nearly all the right buttons with this roster.
At the 2017 trade deadline, Dallas shipped out forward Patrick Eaves, as well as defensemen Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn. More important, by not spending money on defensemen Kris Russell, Jason Demmers and Alex Goligoski, the fourth-year general manager was able to allocate his fiscal resources elsewhere.
The risky five-year, $31-million-dollar contract he handed to mercurial forward Alexander Radulov in free-agency last summer has been rewarded with immediate returns. Through 58 games this season, the left winger has finally settled in as a legitimate top-six forward.
Nill also shelled out big dollars to sign Ben Bishop, the best goalie on the free-agent market. The Stars might spend more on their netminders than any other team in the league, but thus far, Bishop and Kari Lehtonen have combined for the fifth-best goals against average in the NHL (they ranked second-to-last in 2016).
Hiring Ken Hitchcook, the third-winningest coach in the history of the NHL, to be the team's head coach last April hasn’t hurt either.
That doesn’t mean the Stars front office should sit on its hands. Stanley Cup championship rosters are notoriously littered with minor, yet integral contributors. Nill is just going to have to go bargain shopping.
Three-month rentals, such as New York Rangers speedster Michael Grabner ($1.7 million) or Edmonton Oilers left winger Patrick Maroon ($2.1 million) could provide solid depth up front.
Stars defenseman Marc Methot finally got back on the ice in last Friday's 2-1 home-win over the Blues. In the two games since he's returned from a knee injury, the veteran blueliner has been been a plus-1 in roughly 33 minutes of ice time. He even notched a secondary assist on Stephen Johns eventual game-winning goal against St. Louis.
If his health falters, Dallas could look into acquiring defensemen such as the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ian Cole ($2.1 million) or Ben Hutton of the Vancouver Canucks ($2 million).
Even if the Stars make a move by the Feb. 26 deadline, they’ll still likely head into the playoffs as underdogs.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the NHL playoffs, though, one minor move could at least allow the team to go on a deep postseason run. It would also give casual and die-hard fans alike a real reason to pay attention.
And that's more than you can say for the rest of the pro teams around here.