Ah, the biggest positional question for the Stars this offseason: goaltending.
The situation can be viewed in a couple ways: that the Stars are so solidly built that needing a backup goalie rises above any other glaring (and easily addressed) need, or that Ben Bishop’s injury history makes it so that backup goaltending becomes a higher need than on other teams around the league. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
Regardless, the Stars will be shopping for a capable backup goalie this offseason, either bringing back Anton Khudobin, promoting Jake Oettinger or finding an external option.
Here’s a look at the Stars’ goaltending situation.
Status: Signed for three more seasons at a $4.917 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a 10-team no-trade list.
Outlook: When he’s healthy, Bishop is one of the league’s best goaltenders, as proven by his multiple Vezina Trophy nominations and his gaudy .921 career save percentage. The issue is that Bishop has struggled to stay healthy.
In each of his three seasons with the Stars, Bishop has missed significant time with injuries. In 2017-18, it was down the stretch that he was sidelined with a knee injury and watched as Dallas collapsed out of a playoff position. In 2018-19, it was at various points in February and March that led to Khudobin starting 37 games on the season. This season would have been Bishop’s healthiest in Dallas (one missed game in the regular season), but then he was hurt for nearly all of the playoffs.
Despite the injury concerns, Bishop remains a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. The best way to deal with an injury-prone goalie is not to get rid of him (especially with a cap hit that ranks 15th in the league), but rather give him a worthy insurance policy. Bishop is still a very good goalie, and he was probably the league’s best just one year ago.
Status: Signed for two more seasons at a $925,000 cap hit, then a restricted free agent.
Outlook: Oettinger just finished his first year of professional hockey, playing 38 games for AHL affiliated Texas and leading all rookie goaltenders with a .917 save percentage. He played in two playoff games in Edmonton, the first two of his NHL career.
Conventional goalie development suggests that Oettinger would need another year of seasoning in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL in 2021-22 to serve as Bishop’s backup for two seasons. Because of the pandemic, that plan may not be as bulletproof now.
If the AHL doesn’t have a season, there would be no development to be had for Oettinger (unless the NHL creates a substitute or if he plays in Europe). Also, if the NHL is gung-ho about playing a full 82-game season, then there would be plenty of back-to-backs during the regular season.
The concern about elevating Oettinger too early would be that he wouldn’t play enough games to get better. But if there is no AHL and there are a lot of back-to-backs, the playing time in the NHL would present itself rather easily. At that point, it would be about whether Oettinger can capably play goalie in the NHL.
Colton Point: Signed for one more season at a $925,000 cap hit, then a restricted free agent
Outlook: Point spent most of the season at ECHL affiliate Idaho, and is a depth goalie at this stage of his career. He was one of the five goaltenders at training camp in July, but served as insurance if any of the four in front of him got hurt or sick.
Stars free agents
Anton Khudobin (unrestricted free agent): Khudobin was the hero of the Stars’ playoff run, stepping in for the injured Bishop and leading the Stars within two wins of the Stanley Cup. He finished with a .917 save percentage in the playoffs as he collected the first 14 playoff wins of his career. At 34 years old, he is six months older than Bishop but has never owned a full-time starter job in the NHL.
It’s never been about desire in this situation. The Stars want Khudobin back. Khudobin wants to be back in Dallas. Both sides have said that on the record.
As described before, cap space will be tight for the Stars after signing restricted free agents Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and Radek Faksa and accounting for performance bonus overages. There are ways that the Stars can clear space (spreading overages across two seasons, buying out veteran players, trading contracts or using long-term injured reserve), but it all depends on if they deem Khudobin a necessity or a luxury.
Khudobin is likely looking at a contract worth at least $3.5 million annually, and potentially looking at a two- or three-year deal. Since he is not 35 years old, Khudobin is not eligible for a contract laden with incentives.
Might Khudobin be searching for a starting job after his strong postseason? Well, it’s not so much about looking for a role than it is looking for a bigger contract. Teams will pay more for starting goaltenders than they will for backups, so it’s reasonable to assume that a deal that pays Khudobin like a starter will treat him like the starting goaltender.
If Khudobin is looking for a shot at the Stanley Cup as the starter, there are few contending teams that are in the market for starting goaltending. Carolina? Minnesota? Calgary? Edmonton? Maybe Vancouver depending on its own free agents or Colorado if they dump one of their two goalies?
On the issue of contract term, Khudobin would be exposed in the expansion draft next year if the Stars keep Bishop and his no-move clause on the roster. So even if Khudobin signs a multi-year contract with the Stars, the Kraken could pluck him to start their new team. But hoping Seattle does that puts an awfully lot of control (and leverage) with the Kraken when the entire league just saw how much leverage helped Vegas get off the ground in its first three seasons.
Landon Bow (restricted free agent with arbitration rights): Bow fits perfectly as the No. 4 goaltender in the organization. He’s not blocking anyone, and serves as a suitable partner for Oettinger. Could the Stars find someone else? Sure, but we’d be nitpicking at this point.
Free agent targets
Henrik Lundqvist: The 38-year-old Rangers legend was bought out by the club this week, making him free to sign with any team in the league. At his age, Lundqvist’s main ask should be playing on a Stanley Cup contender and it’d be hard to overlook the Stars after their run making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
Lundqvist would still be making $1.5 million from the Rangers and would be eligible for performance bonuses in his contract, which could massage his cap hit on the Stars this season. The issue would be whether the Stars want to trust a goalie who has posted sub-.910 save percentages the last two seasons, albeit in front of a porous New York defense that can’t compare to the Stars’ structure.
Cam Talbot: The Stars saw a lot of Talbot in the playoffs, and the goalie was the main reason that Calgary was able to extend the first-round series to six games. Talbot ran out of gas at the end of the series, allowing some very savable goals in Games 5 and 6. He profiles as an above-average backup, save for one terrible season in 2018-19, when his save percentage was .892.
Thomas Greiss: Greiss ultimately was the backup goalie in the playoffs for the Islanders, as Semyon Varlamov started 19 of the 22 postseason games for New York. Greiss was one of the league’s best backups the last two seasons (first to Robin Lehner and then to Varlamov), in the same sphere at Khudobin and Jaroslav Halak in Boston. The Islanders play a defensive game like the Stars. Greiss probably won’t be drawing starting job offers elsewhere, and would be cheaper than Khudobin.
Braden Holtby: Holtby’s situation is tough to read. His pedigree says he should look for a starting job. His performance and usage last year say he’s a backup. If he’s willing to take a substantial pay cut and role reduction, the former Vezina Trophy winner could take a short-term deal in Dallas to rebuild value and take another shot at a big-ticket contract in the future.
Matt Murray: The Penguins have to make a decision on Murray, a restricted free agent while Pittsburgh has just $2.6 million of cap space. The issue with Murray is two-fold: He’s arbitration eligible, meaning there’s a lack of certainty surrounding his eventual cap hit should he choose to go to arbitration, and he’s 26 years old and could block Oettinger’s path to the NHL.
Add in that Pittsburgh would likely want prospects and/or picks from Dallas since they can’t afford to take a roster player, and a trade would eat at the Stars organizational depth.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Ah, the Fleury and Murray carousel. Vegas re-signed Lehner, making Fleury a $7 million backup, too much to pay for a team already close to the cap. The Stars wouldn’t want to take the entire cap hit, and would likely ask the Golden Knights to retain salary on the deal. Not sure Vegas would want to keep money on a salary dump.
The Stars defense again remained the engine of the team, both in setting the defensive structure in the defensive zone, and in jumpstarting the offense in transition and from the offensive blue line. It should stay mostly intact thanks to existing contracts and a top prospect on the way.
Status: Signed for five more seasons at a $5.8 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: The Stars ask Lindell to play the heaviest minutes on the team, including a ton on the penalty kill and alongside John Klingberg at 5 on 5. He’s limited offensively and struggles to move the puck out of his own end at time, but is durable and can help win battles at the net-front. Next season will be the last season the Stars can trade Lindell without his permission, and also the last season Lindell is the team’s highest-paid defenseman (when Miro Heiskanen gets a new deal).
Status: Signed for two more seasons at a $4.25 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Klingberg — like many of the Stars top players — struggled in the regular season, but came alive in the playoffs with four goals and 17 assists in 26 games, revving the Stars offense with an array of stretch passes from his own zone and point shots from the blue line. Klingberg would have been talked about more had it not been for Heiskanen’s breakout postseason, but now enters a couple of interesting years. Klingberg is the team’s most valuable tradable asset given his age, his talent and his contract. If the Stars want to shed salary and restock their picks and prospects, Klingberg is one of the best choices. But Dallas would also be losing one of their best players.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $2.35 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Johns returned in the regular season after missing 22 months due to post-traumatic headaches, playing 17 games from January to March and proved himself a serviceable top-four defenseman in the NHL. In the playoffs, Johns did not play after Game 1 of the first round against Calgary and the Stars’ injuries have not been disclosed, meaning Johns’ availability for next season has not been publicly revealed.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $2.137 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: While playing alongside Heiskanen in the playoffs, Oleksiak looked like a legitimate second-pair defenseman, confident in his offensive reads and physical along the boards in the defensive zone. It’s what the Stars need from Oleksiak while playing next to Heiskanen, and something that shifts the way the Stars think about their defense going into next season. Think about last training camp, when Oleksiak was on the bubble for being a healthy scratch. That’s no more.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $894,166 cap hit, then a restricted free agent.
Outlook: The Stars need to enjoy this next season since it’s the last one Heiskanen is on his entry-level contract. After this season, the team’s best overall defenseman will probably cost around $10 million, forcing a cap crunch on a team that usually hovers around the limit. There’s not much left to say about Heiskanen’s sophomore campaign that turned him into a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate, and a potential Conn Smythe winner had the Stars won the Stanley Cup. Heiskanen is elite, and won’t be going anywhere.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $737,500 cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Fedun was the team’s perfect extra defenseman last season, playing when the team needed him to, and sitting out the rest of the time (and not stunting his growth because he is not a young prospect). He’s right-handed, and at a cheap cap hit, will be one of the Stars better valued assets in a static cap world.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $700,000 cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Much like Fedun, Hanley is a serviceable extra defenseman who proved he could play third-pairing minutes in big playoff games, as he played the Stars’ final 12 postseason games after replacing Fedun in the lineup. Hanley should have a chance to make the NHL roster during training camp instead of being sent through waivers to the AHL.
Stars free agents
Andrej Sekera (unrestricted free agent): Sekera was a buy-low option for the Stars last summer after he was bought out of his contract by the Oilers. He signed a $1.5 million contract (plus $750,000 in bonuses) and played mostly third-pairing minutes and on the penalty kill. It would not be surprising if the Stars wanted him to reprise that same role next season.
Roman Polak (unrestricted free agent): Polak played 41 games in the regular season for the Stars before choosing to stay in the Czech Republic instead of returning to the NHL for the return to play. He signed a multi-year contract to play for a Czech team, and won’t be playing in the NHL.
Thomas Harley: The team’s first-round pick in 2019 was one of the final defensemen in training camp last September and made Dallas’ 31-man postseason roster (though he only appeared in one round robin game against Colorado). He’s big, he can skate and he can be an offensive threat, but a defensive liability. In his one game against the Avalanche, the game looked a bit rich for him. Can he work his way into a full-time role?
Free agent targets
The Stars may not need another depth defenseman, but we know Jim Nill likes to have plenty of options on the back end in case of injury, as proven by the 2018-19 regular season and last month’s playoffs. Nill may also want to sign insurance in case Harley isn’t ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Dallas is likely in the market for a cheap, bottom-pair defenseman on a one-year contract that can kill penalties. Of defensemen who played in the Stanley Cup Final, only Lindell, Heiskanen and Oleksiak kill penalties. Remember the signings of Polak and Sekera? Yeah, like those.
Ron Hainsey: Hainsey is 39 years old, so it would be adding age to an already old roster, but has been durable, missing just 10 total games in the last three seasons. He made $3.5 million last year for Ottawa but will likely be taking a pay cut on his next deal. Hainsey ranked 10th among defensemen in shorthanded time on ice.
Andy Greene: Greene turns 38 on Oct. 30, so the same age caveat as Hainsey applies to Greene. The former Devils captain was traded to the Islanders at the trade deadline in February and averaged 17:40 per game for Barry Trotz in the postseason.
Mark Borowiecki: The Senators have already said they will not be bringing back the nine-year veteran. Might the shot-blocker and hit-thrower fit on the Stars’ third pairing?
Zach Bogosian: Bogosian has shown he can be an extra defenseman on a Stanley Cup contender, having just done so with Tampa Bay. He also doesn’t do much offensively and was a scratch in the Cup Final after he lost a defensive zone assignment in Game 1.
Dmitry Kulikov: Kulikov once looked like a future building block on defense for Florida, but has seen his offensive production dip with stops in Buffalo and Winnipeg. His age, 29, may price him out of the Stars’ budget.
Jan Rutta: He’s a journeyman defenseman who has limited NHL experience (127 games) despite his age (30) and won a Cup with Tampa Bay. Not the best choice, but perhaps not the worst one.
The forward group is area of the Stars roster that maybe needs the most help, and is also the one that is most concrete thanks to long-term, big-ticket contracts to veterans. Dallas finished 26th in scoring during the regular season, as many of the top forwards trudged through career-worst seasons.
Status: Signed for seven more seasons at a $9.85 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a full no-movement clause.
Outlook: Seguin led the Stars with 50 points in the regular season, but still posted his least productive season since he was a rookie in Boston. During the playoffs, Seguin was hindered by injuries (undisclosed at this point) and was goalless in the last 15 games. The overall production wasn’t what the Stars wanted in the first year of Seguin’s contract, but the team’s No. 1 center won’t be going anywhere.
Status: Signed for five more seasons at a $9.5 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a full no-movement clause.
Outlook: In the Western Conference Final, the Stars captain was the team’s best forward with three goals and two assists in the five-game series against Vegas. But in the Cup Final, Benn was quiet with zero goals and just one assist against Tampa Bay. His overall postseason performance assuaged fears that Benn could no longer be a top-line forward, but his regular season showed that his dominance is no longer consistent.
Status: Signed for two more seasons at a $7 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a full no-movement clause.
Outlook: The team’s prized free-agent signing last summer scored 14 goals in the regular season. He scored 13 in the playoffs alone, making the high-cost contract worth it given his clutch goals in almost every playoff series. Pavelski’s no-movement clause ends at the end of 2020-21, meaning he can be exposed to Seattle, but he will be stationary this season.
Status: Signed for two more seasons at a $6.25 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a 15-team no-trade list.
Outlook: If the Stars wanted to move a sizeable contract, Radulov’s may be the one to move up front. The three players paid more than him are ironclad in their trade protections, and the players paid less aren’t as offensively gifted. Radulov scored many, many big goals for the Stars in 2019-20, both the regular season and the postseason, but took many untimely penalties and was goalless in the final eight postseason games. He’s still a productive player who can provide offense to a Stars team that still needs it.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $3.25 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent. Has a six-team no-trade list.
Outlook: It wouldn’t make as big of an impact as a Radulov move would make, but Cogliano’s $3.25 million cap hit looks too big for the on-ice role he provides for the Stars. He was a healthy scratch for a few games in the playoffs, and averaged 12:20 of ice time in the postseason, lowest among all Dallas forwards. He is a big voice in the Stars dressing room, and the organization values that. But might he be able to fetch picks or prospects in a trade? Or would a buyout make sense to save $2.167 million against the salary cap?
Status: Signed for one more season at a $2.4 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Comeau was missed in the Cup Final’s last four games, when he was sidelined after a big hit in Game 2 against Tampa Bay. He’s been serviceable for the Stars on the penalty kill and is trusted by the coaching staff to close out games late, plus his $2.4 million cap hit is manageable.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $1.5 million cap hit, then a restricted free agent.
Outlook: Dickinson is the team’s ultimate versatile weapon up front. He can play wing, he play center. He can be a complement on a top-six line, he can be on a checking line. He’s still young (25 years old), on a good deal and under team control.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $925,000 cap hit, then a restricted free agent.
Outlook: The Finnish import may have locked his place on the Stars roster with his playoff performance, which included a hat trick in Game 7 against Colorado, plus the game-tying goal in the series-clincher against Vegas. But outside of those plays, Kiviranta was strong on the forecheck and on the boards, making him a potential replacement for Mattias Janmark.
Status: Signed for one more season at a $750,000 million cap hit, then an unrestricted free agent.
Outlook: Dowling, like Fedun and Hanley on defense, is an ideal extra forward since he’s been able to play after long layoffs between games. He was passed over by a handful of other Stars forwards when injuries struck in the playoffs, and only played in two postseason games. He could be a roster casualty if Stars prospects like Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson make the jump to the NHL.
Stars free agents
Radek Faksa, restricted free agent: Faksa will be due a raise from his contract that paid him an average annual value of $2.2 million, and the Stars must give Faksa a qualifying offer of at least $2.4 million to retain his rights. Faksa’s AAV could land around $3.5 million, depending on term.
Roope Hintz, restricted free agent: The closest comparable contract to Hintz is Philadelphia’s Oskar Lindblom, who signed a three-year contract worth $3 million annually with similar per-game production. Hintz was the team’s best offensive player at the start of the season, but cooled off and finished the postseason on a 12-game goalless streak.
Denis Gurianov, restricted free agent: Gurianov was the team’s leading goal-scorer during the regular season and scored nine playoff goals despite just one goal in his last 14 games. He has less of a proven record than Hintz offensively and doesn’t kill penalties like Hintz does. Gurianov’s contract is tougher to predict since not many players looking for their second contract score 20 goals in a rookie season that is also a contract year.
Corey Perry, unrestricted free agent: The Stars took a chance on Perry last summer after he was bought out by Anaheim, and he struggled in the regular before coming alive in the Cup Final with three goals against the Lightning. If the Stars are looking for an offensive winger, they already have one in Jason Robertson that costs less than a veteran like Perry.
Mattias Janmark, unrestricted free agent: If the Stars decide that they can fill forward holes with internal options like Kiviranta, Dellandrea and Robertson, Janmark will be destined for another team. But if the Stars think that the kids aren’t ready, it wouldn’t be shocking for them to see if Janmark can be a financial fit given his on-ice fit due to his possession metrics and defensive ability.
Ty Dellandrea: Dellandrea is done with his junior career and really impressed Stars brass in July during training camp before the Stars went to Edmonton. He played in an exhibition game against Nashville in July, but has still never played in a NHL game. The 2018 first-round pick may be ready to jump to the NHL.
Jason Robertson: While Harley and Dellandrea were drafted higher, no other Stars prospect is as NHL-ready as Robertson is. He tied for the team lead in goals with AHL affiliate Texas and could provide a boost on the power play in the NHL. His skating is always an issue, but Robertson’s vision and play-making is ready for the NHL.
Free agent targets
Given the salary cap crunch and the young internal options, it’s possible that the Stars don’t go after any free-agent forwards. But Jim Nill has shown a penchant for veteran depth players, both up front and on defense, that could come on reasonable contracts.
Bobby Ryan: The winger was bought out by Ottawa this week, and would appear to be a low-cost option for contending teams like the Stars. Ryan might make the most sense for Philadelphia, which is close to where he grew up.
Tyler Ennis: Ennis is coming off back-to-back one-year contracts worth less than $1 million and had a renaissance of sorts with Ottawa and Edmonton last year, posting 37 points in 70 games.
Matt Nieto: The speedy winger was a consistent 20 to 25-point producer with Colorado in a bottom-six role, and has decent possession numbers despite a largely defensive role.
Craig Smith: Nashville already said they would not bring back Smith, and he fits into the middle class of free agency this offseason. He’s a 31-year-old usually good for 30-something points a season, but he may be out of the team’s price range.
Pat Maroon: Stars fans may not like Maroon given his roles in eliminating Dallas in 2019 with St. Louis and 2020 with Tampa Bay, and the team may not need a slow-footed bottom-six player that played 12:35 for the Lightning in the playoffs. But general managers value Stanley Cups and he has two in the last two seasons.