5/22/18 – 2019 Dallas Stars Salary Cap Picture and Free Agent Projections

The Stanley Cup Final matchup will be set tomorrow which means only one thing that really matters at this point: the 2018 season is finally almost over. The Dallas Stars have undoubtedly been at work piecing together how they would like the 2019 roster to look for months so I thought it would be as good of a time as any to see what they see by looking at how the salary cap picture looks.

I took the info Cap Friendly had for the Stars to make the table. I used @Cane_Matt ‘s Free Agent Predictions for the Stars RFA and UFA. RFA projections are italicized. Nichushkin is underlined because that’s my guess for what he eventually takes.

2019

Antoine Roussel, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Pateryn, and Kari Lehtonen are UFA. I could see Pateryn coming back if he was fine being a 7th defenseman, but I don’t really see it with the others.

UFA

None of these projected contracts are bad outside of maybe Lehtonen, but look at how much roster space is already taken up. Without moving a defenseman they don’t have room for a regular lineup player so it’s currently hard to see how either Hamhuis or Pateryn fit. Roussel is fine, but with so many depth options who produce at roughly the same level he’s an extraneous expense.

I think we can confidently pencil in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark, and Valeri Nichushkin into the top nine forwards. Jason Spezza should be there. That’s seven regular spots spoken for by guys already here.

Gemel Smith and Tyler Pitlick need to play. Remi Elie at least needs to be on the roster as a spare forward or in the lineup. What about Jason Dickinson? Roope Hintz? Nick Caamano? Jason Robertson? Denis Guryanov? At some point they have to get a shot or why even keep draft picks? The Texas Stars are on the verge of the Calder Cup Final, and right now none of those guys have a realistic path to NHL playing time.

That’s 15 forwards without ever discussing Brett Ritchie, Martin Hanzal, or Devin Shore. Those three are projected to make a little over eight million to be ok. Having depth is good. Having clutter isn’t.

If Hanzal needs to go on long term IR that will eventually open close to five million in cap space depending on how the Stars utilize their assets and open up a roster spot, but for a team that needs to improve offensively there isn’t a lot of room on the roster. The Stars could be pretty active in deals. 18 forwards and the only change is Nichushkin in for Roussel which doesn’t move the needle.

Some of that cap space is going to a goalie, but there is no reason to dedicate much of it to one. Andrew Hammond is probably the best target for the Stars, and Matt has him projected at a little over a million dollars. Do it.

Defensively there isn’t a ton of wiggle room either, but fortunately everyone is inexpensive. Marc Methot isn’t particularly good, and he makes close to five million. If the Stars really want to go off the board and improve the defense even more than by just adding Miro Heiskanen they could look to flip Methot.

The problem with that is….who kills penalties? Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell for sure. Is Jim Montgomery trusting Julius Honka, John Klingberg, or the rookie Heiskanen to kill them off? I probably would, but no one asks me.

We’ll go through the free agent list later this week and see if any fit. Matt already nailed the Evander Kane salary so we’ll treat it like gospel until proven otherwise. Spoiler alert: there isn’t much out there.

 

4/12/18 – Letting Go of Kari Lehtonen

Arguably the most value the Dallas Stars have gotten out of a first round pick in the last 20 years is Kari Lehtonen. Since Jarome Iginla in 1995 the most significant first round picks for the Stars have been Brenden Morrow, Matt Niskanen, Steve Ott, Radek Faksa, Val Nichushkin, and Julius Honka with some Jamie Oleksiak, John Erskine, and Mark Fistric thrown in.

Miro Heiskanen should add some luster to that group. Who knows what ends up happening with Nichushkin or Honka or, really, even Faksa. Ott was a fan favorite, but not particularly good. Niskanen, for all he has ended up doing, didn’t do much of it in Dallas.

So, that leaves Morrow as easily the best first round pick the Stars have made since Iginla. They drafted Morrow 21 years ago. When Joe Nieuwendyk (speaking of Iginla) flipped Ivan Vishnevskiy to the Atlanta Thrashers for Lehtonen he pulled value out of what would have otherwise ended up being another wasted first round pick.

It isn’t much of a stretch to see him as the most value they’ve gotten from a first round pick in twenty years. Lehtonen has given the Stars 445 games, including 422 starts with a record of 216-150-50 which is good for a .912 save percentage and  2.63 goals against average.

And now, he appears to be moving on.

 

Lehtonen has taken a lot of shit in his time in Dallas, but to take a lot of shit in one place you inevitably have to be there for a long time. Lehtonen is second in games played and wins to Marty Turco by about 50. For all the shit he took, he’ll likely finish his Stars career .001 ahead of Turco in save percentage.

The Stars franchise save percentage list is fascinating. For goalies with over 50 games played in Dallas Ben Bishop leads the franchise at .916, followed by Lehtonen at .912. Turco is third at .911 and tied with Roman Turek. Ed Belfour slides in at 5th and .910. You could have given me 25 guesses and the names on this list and I wouldn’t have put them in the correct order before attempt 22 at best.

*It has been determined that Gump Worsley actually leads the franchise in career save percentage. Thanks Erin.

Kari is a complex figure in Stars franchise history. For being around as long as he has Lehtonen hasn’t been involved in many franchise defining moments. He’s been more “moment-adjacent” (at best). The biggest stage of his career in Dallas was game seven against the Blues in 2016 when he gave up three goals on five shots. The main memory I’ll have of Lehtonen is being the primary or split starting goalie for nine years of a decade long stretch of (mostly) franchise futility.

I hate that I feel like that. I know it’s unfair to a player who has 400+ games with the franchise. During my Dark College Period I didn’t watch much hockey so I think Lehtonen is the goalie I’ve seen play the most. And yet, most of my memories are of futility so that futility clouds my thoughts of Lehtonen.

How much of that futility is his fault?

I think of Carey Price putting mediocre Montreal Canadiens teams on his back and dragging them into the playoffs when they otherwise had little business being there. Lehtonen never forced the Stars to ride Eric Nystrom, Radek Dvorak, or Trevor Daley defensively. How is it fair to think less of Lehtonen for not being able to be a superhuman like Price and drag his team kicking and screaming into the playoffs?

I think of someone like Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cup rings with the Detroit Red Wings. No one thinks of him as a God, but you will rarely hear anything negative about him because what’s the point? He has three rings. Clearly he did enough to not ruin three championship caliber teams, and at the end of the day that’s all an elite team really needs. Just don’t burn the house down guy.

Lehtonen’s negatives stand out more because he wasn’t the driver of success or failure throughout most of his time in Dallas. He was always just there.Those guys rarely pull in tenure like Lehtonen did. Those guys don’t often get treated like franchise cornerstones by overzealous front offices. Kari was never a Carey Price or a Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s been paid pretty close to what they’ve made, and that comes with heightened expectations Lehtonen was never going to meet. He was here simply to not burn the house down while being paid like he was well above average. If he makes Antti Niemi money no one bats an eye.

I think in framing the Dallas Stars career of Lehtonen it’s important to keep in mind what was in front of him. Lehtonen never consistently had the team in front of him for him to have a chance to be on a bigger stage (2016 notwithstanding), and he was never a big enough talent to force them to get there either. Lehtonen was a decent goalie who found a home on a team going through their most unsuccessful stretch in franchise history, and because of that longevity he’s going to live on in Stars history for a while.

2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s

One thing I never could have understood when I was growing up is how much people change as they age. I don’t know if you can really grasp it until you experience it. I’ve changed in a lot of ways, and one of those is how I watch sports, for better or worse.

This Twitter exchange got me thinking about that idea.

The Dallas Stars are in a very rough stretch. They’ve played some bad hockey, and when the luck dragons show up on top of that it just looks gross. I mean they outshot Anaheim 40-17 Wednesday night, but still lost 2-0 to a soon to be 38-year-old backup goalie. Younger, more tasteless, me would have cracked a bottle of Southern Comfort open up somewhere during the five squandered early third period power plays.

I fully acknowledge that outcome should make me crazy. It would have made younger me crazy. Two things have sucked most of the emotion out of sports for me: the Texas Rangers and #PeskyStars.

The dramatic heel turn the 2011 World Series took had a, so far, unchangeable impact on me. Obviously there are more personal heel turns that would mean more, but I’ve never experienced anything that dramatically crushing. I’ve gone through my share of bad things (hospital stays, bad parental relationships, poverty, divorce, etc), but the unexpected highest height of the sport immediately becoming the lowest low is something I didn’t recover from emotionally.

I blame the #PeskyStars too. There was nothing really fun about them for many years, and they #GotPesky right as I began seriously writing about the team. Imagine wanting to write (for free) about a sport you love and trying to find things to say about that. Some nights it wasn’t easy.

What happened for me was I withdrew emotionally and tried to just see what was going on. I lost a lot of that fan instinct, again, for better or worse. I don’t enjoy games the way I used to, I enjoy moments and plays.

Watching Miro Heiskanen play those five Olympic games was a treat. Seeing all the intricacies of what he brings to the rink nightly was more rewarding than any specific Stars game has been for me since, I guess, 2009? I don’t even know.

I love watching John Klingberg play. Alexander Radulov is a joy. Guys who bring that spark and visibly have fun (ie mainly Europeans and Russians in particular and Phil Kessel) give me the most satisfaction from hockey these days.

I want the Stars to be successful. I get sucked in watching the Stars dominate a hapless opponent. Even last night as they shredded Anaheim in the third period I was into it. I’m just not emotionally invested in worrying about bad luck anymore.

Good process can lead to crap results. The Stars weren’t perfect against the Ducks, but outshooting a team 40-17 is going to win many games in this league. If they do that every game in a seven game series they’re probably going to win, but even then they still aren’t guaranteed.

Game six in 1999 was won on a goal that shouldn’t have counted by the stupid rules of the time. It’s fun to laugh at Buffalo, but that game only got to overtime because Jere Lehtinen beat arguably the best goalie of all time short side through a tiny hole between his knee and the post.

In game two Craig Ludwig scored. If he doesn’t score on a limp shot from the point that game goes to overtime. If you ever wonder if God cares about sports go rewatch that series from beginning to end. There is no God that anyone would willingly follow who would allow some of those things to happen in a sporting event if they were really invested. The Stars were the more talented team by far but it’s not a stretch to say Buffalo could have easily won.

The cold reality that there is no justice in sports, only good processes that sometimes are out of players’ control. That hit me hard a decade ago. An illegal goal no one wants to review can scar a small city forever. A lazy fly ball to right field can miss a fielders glove by a foot and make a goat out of a regular all star while emotionally crippling an adult.

Sports are fun. I have no more expectations of ultimate success even though I’ll enjoy it, I think. Everything is math and at any point the luck dragons can come up and stomp on the dreams of even the team with the most sound process. We’re just along for the ride.

Eat Arby’s.

Hey, click these:

2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop
2/20/18 – Heiskanen Scored a Goal
2/18/18 – Trader’s Village and Trade Deadlines
2/18/18 – Sundays With Miro, Game 3
2/17/18 – Another Night With Miro Heiskanen
2/16/18 – Jeep’s Blues

2/12/18 – Jamie Goligoski

I’ve only ever rooted against one player wearing a Dallas Stars jersey. Sean Avery was gross the minute the late Ambassador of Fun made the deal happen for his former roommate.

I tend to not really root against any players anymore. I think even now being #Old and #Enlightened I wouldn’t even really root against Avery. I wouldn’t like him, but actively rooting against someone takes a lot of energy I can’t really spare any more with the mental and physical aches and pains of approaching middle age.

Jamie Oleksiak is no different. I never rooted against him. If he was successful it made the Stars successful and I like good hockey. Now, I DID root against his most fervent supporters who somehow couldn’t see him for what he was.

Did I root against him though? Never.

A Venn diagram of his supporters and those who bagged on John Klingberg was a circle. It drove me crazy in the way every Eric Nystrom goal made the ticking time bomb of his inevitable return to earth that more grizzly when it eventually exploded.

I didn’t get to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins fly (waddle?) into the American Airlines Center for their match up with the Stars live on Friday night for the “Return of the Rig” or whatever it was called. As with most things, I got to live vicariously through Twitter until recently.

I stumbled across this and cringed:

I came across this and laughed:

This made me laugh even more:

Despite all of the laughter and merriment, despite all of the schadenfreude, and despite the Stars eventually winning 4-3, Oleksiak was simply there. He merely existed in a universe with much bigger players who made much bigger impacts. You barely noticed him if you watched the game which is probably the best you can hope from him consistently.

Oleksiak was brutal at times for the Stars. Last season and the 21 games he spent in Dallas during the 2018 season he was just kind of there. He hovered around 50% Corsi, Fenwick, Shots, and Scoring Chance percentages while not producing much offense at all with 26 points in a career 162 games.

OleksiakSA

The snippet above from www.hockeyviz.com shows that defensively there are still a lot of chances coming from in close with Oleksiak on the ice. He’s just there taking up space.

And you know, there’s value in that. The NHL needs guys at the bottom of the roster. He was really bad early on, and developed into a back of the roster player. The outrage and fanfare over Oleksiak is overblown either way. He got treated like Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg after a rough start to his career, but at this point being Mad Online about him is a waste of energy.

Oleksiak may turn out to be a useful addition for the Penguins. I wish him nothing but the best. Sidney Crosby may be the best thing to ever happen for his career given that he’s humming along at 56% Corsi when on the ice with him (46% without). He hit what always seemed like the most reasonable ceiling he would hit, and then moved on. The nature of the draft being what it is, Oleksiak closed his story in Dallas as a successful pick.

Hey, click these

2/12/18 – Team USA Men Would Have Been Really Good
2/6/18 – Jaromir Jagr and Tom Brady
2/6/18 – .insert(“Really Bad Chess Pun”);
2/5/18 – Mooterart From Around the Internet
2/5/18 – Tyler Seguin’s 25th goal