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Sturm Words: Summer Free Agency Edition

Monday, 07.07.2014 / 12:37 PM / Sturm Words
By Bob Sturm
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Sturm Words: Summer Free Agency Edition
With regards to the Dallas Stars and their 14-month run with the organizational makeover, the news continues to be better than good.

I have to admit that reading glowing reviews on the direction of an organization without equal time to cynicism is quite a change around here (at least for this particular writer). I am sure it won't continue indefinitely, but with regards to the Dallas Stars and their 14-month run with the organizational makeover, the news continues to be better than good. In the last several days, the Stars have again upgraded their mix with Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves, and Anders Lindback. Two top six forwards in one day, and two depth additions as well. Then, on top of that was the unexpected signing of Vern Fiddler, after most expected that he would elect to take more money and ice time elsewhere.

Frankly, the reviews are fantastic with respect to the talent acquisition department, and the continued influx of players who are now ready to add to the troops that took this franchise back to the playoffs this past spring.

Jim Nill and his staff are receiving the accolades for these acquisitions again, like the "summer of Seguin" in 2013, and there is no debate that if you were to rank the transactions in the last 14 months, the number one move should remain the hiring of a General Manager who is regarded across the league as one of the best in the business. The feelings, going back to last spring, were that whoever could convince Nill to take over the helm of their organization would reap the benefits for years and years. That much has delivered to be true so far, with the future seemingly plenty bright.

However, I don't want to forget to recognize the ownership that has made this possible. As I have said before, Joe Nieuwendyk had his stamp on the farm system full of talented kids, but was sabotaged by bankruptcy and indifferent ownership for much of his tenure. Tom Gaglardi wanted his own guy to run things when he was ready to invest heavily on that side, and Nieuwendyk did not represent a fresh start. Gaglardi had Nill identified by Jim Lites and company, and then got the deal done to hire his guy. From there, it would only work with aggressive moves, cash investment, and faith in the process.

And for that, I want to make sure Gaglardi is recognized as vital and imperative to this process. When I was younger, I counted owners of franchises as unimportant figureheads who were just the suits they would show in the crowd and pretty much interchangeable. And maybe, in the 1980s when I had that impression, that was closer to the truth. But, in the present day sports-landscape, either a team has an owner that has ambition to push his team to achievement or you wish you did. An owner's motivation could be to fill his arena (to maximize profits) or to get the Cup, or both. The Stars' last owner was driven to get a Cup and was a fan's dream. But, when he over expanded his sports empire, he was bitten by spending more than he had and he suddenly became a fan's nightmare - An owner who could not be bothered with a team's fortunes because his financial empire was collapsing.

For that reason, we should be slow in our judgements of this owner in the long-term. Only the actions over many, many years will reveal his full body of work. However, based on what we do know, I am tickled that Gaglardi appears to be everything I hoped - a guy who wanted badly to put a great team together and is willing to trust brilliant people to help him do that (the one flaw in Jerry Jones' game). So, enter Nill and then, Lindy Ruff.

But, if you wanted to know if they were satisfied with all of the good signs from 2013-14, then the first week in July 2014 should help you see. No, they are not.

There were several things about the 2013-14 Stars that were very impressive. However, the power play was never completely sorted out, the face-off wins were barely more than the face-off losses, and it could easily be argued that the Stars second line was actually one of the best third lines in the sport.

Enter Jason Spezza.

Below is a complete list of the nine centers in hockey who were both both above 200 points in the last four seasons (at least 50 points a year - including the lockout year) and in the Top 50 face-off men in hockey:

Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Pavel Datsyuk, Jason Spezza, Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Anze Kopitar.

That is the entire list. Now, please examine that list for players who were available on the open market.

Maybe Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza. Spezza, by the way, missed nearly the entire season in 2012-2013, otherwise, he might be well up that chart even higher.

I won't lie, I might have preferred Thornton because of my better familiarity with his complete game, his size, and his three years under contract, and his mastery of the power play; but it doesn't appear he will be moved by the Sharks. Of course, he is also four years older than Spezza and therefore if the Stars can make sure this isn't a one-year rental, then there are tons of things to like here.

They did give up some fine young players, Alex Chiasson the one most are familiar with. For me, I hoped all along to flip Chiasson this summer as the center piece for a number of reasons, including my personal feelings that he was overachieving with his production early in his career (Sell high!) and that the Stars are loaded at wing in their system. He made the most sense to be valuable to others and to be able to center a big deal, and it worked perfectly.

Spezza is not without a few concerns, as trusted voices from around the league have argued he is a bit "too perimeter" these days, but I am more than interested in seeing how a change of scenery suits him. He seems to be exactly what they need as they have lacked a perfect number two center compliment to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and now they seem to have it. Add to that Ales Hemsky on a reasonable three-year deal on a proven winger who turns 31 in August, and the Stars have a second line just like that. Valeri Nichushkin goes to one line and the other wing can go to either Erik Cole, Colton Sceviour, or my pick, young Brett Ritchie by Thanksgiving.

That fixes your depth issue as Eakin/Roussel/Garbutt are a fine number three line that jumps on the opposition number ones, your face-off issue - with Spezza, Fiddler, Benn, and Eakin (who is by far the worst, but partly because he is taking draws against that list of centers above), your power play issue as Spezza can really add something there, and you really haven't lost anything of note off your playoff team.

Wow.

Now, many of you are asking how this fixes the blue-line, and I did not forget I have been pounding that table for years and years. But, the idea that they could grow and develop their defense group without losing any of them in their pursuit of Spezza and Seguin is fantastic work. Now, we expect the full arrivals of Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, and John Klingberg in the next 12 months, with Trevor Daley/Alex Goligoski and Jordie Benn/Brenden Dillon providing strong play on the way into the playoffs last year. It isn't Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but it is homegrown (mostly), reasonably priced, and young with younger pushing them from behind.

The bottom line there is that the best defense is to keep the puck. And the Stars weren't Los Angeles or Chicago in puck possession on Corsi last year, but they were in the Top 10 with the truly strong teams in the NHL. Now, they are adding a formidable second line and the ability to win draws at a very high rate (so they start plays with the puck). This means you are not dropping back and playing defense in your own end all day, and that keeps your defensemen from having to defend.

It looks good on paper, and it looked good on the ice last year. This seems to make too much sense not to try for the prices they paid.

Now, back to Gaglardi - I have received a number of questions about how many players are on the roster and how close the Stars are to the cap ceiling. That's right - the cap CEILING! This tells us that they are looking to make more moves, I would think to gain back some cap room that will allow them to make a move at the deadline to give them that final boost over the finish line next season. Yes, kids, we are back to the days of considering the cap ceiling, not signing Eric Nystrom off waivers to get into compliance with the salary cap floor like the Stars did 2011.

There is great competition to overcome and higher hills to climb than merely the #8 seed, but if this doesn't get you fired up for Opening Night, I don't know what to tell you.

This thing is being built right before your very eyes.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Bob Sturm is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can listen to Bob weekdays from 12-3 on Sportsradio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket and follow him on Twitter @SportsSturm.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 NSH 64 41 16 7 192 155 89
2 ANA 64 40 17 7 189 177 87
3 STL 63 40 18 5 197 159 85
4 CHI 64 38 21 5 188 152 81
5 WPG 64 32 20 12 179 172 76
6 VAN 62 36 23 3 180 167 75
7 MIN 62 33 22 7 176 161 73
8 CGY 62 33 25 4 175 160 70
9 LAK 62 29 21 12 166 162 70
10 SJS 63 30 25 8 175 181 68
11 COL 63 27 25 11 167 182 65
12 DAL 63 27 26 10 196 210 64
13 ARI 63 20 36 7 138 214 47
14 EDM 63 18 35 10 143 208 46

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Benn 63 23 37 -3 60
T. Seguin 55 29 30 0 59
J. Spezza 63 15 37 -5 52
E. Cole 57 18 15 4 33
T. Daley 60 16 17 -10 33
J. Klingberg 49 10 23 1 33
C. Eakin 60 14 14 -2 28
A. Hemsky 57 9 17 -9 26
A. Goligoski 63 2 24 1 26
A. Roussel 61 12 11 -11 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
K. Lehtonen 25 13 10 .905 2.97
J. Enroth 13 25 2 .900 3.30
 
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