When this short hockey season began, I thought the new-look Stars would be an entertaining enigma.
The club hits the season’s halfway mark next week (I said it was a short season), and recent developments have caused me to change my assessment. The Stars are a highly entertaining enigma.
Tuesday’s surprising Michael Ryder-for-Erik Cole trade only confirms this. It’s a sign of something for sure. I just can’t tell you what it is.
My first inclination was to report that it’s a deal that never could have happened in the faltering years of Tom Hicks’ ownership. Ryder is a free agent after this year. Cole has two more years on his contract at a salary of $4 million each, though his cap hit is $4.5 million.
They are players who, as GM Joe Nieuwendyk said, provide “similar production, different styles.” Cole is more of a power forward, in-front-of-the-net kind of guy. He scored 35 goals for Montreal last season, even more than Ryder’s 33, but most of his career he has not come close to that. He had scored more than 25 just three times in nine previous seasons and had three goals in 19 games for the Canadiens.
Still, the fact that the team was willing to put his salary on the books for two more years had to be a good sign, right?
Well, if you factor in that Ryder will probably be in line this summer for three years at the same per year or slightly more, then it’s actually a future savings for the Stars.
“There are a few things in play here.” That was the first thing Nieuwendyk said to me when I spoke to him at the club’s practice rink in Frisco. And one of those things is a much more sensitive issue.
Brenden Morrow, like Cole, is 34. Like the 6-2, 205-pound Cole, he plays a power forward role, although, lacking Cole’s size, he does it more with grit. Morrow is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. If the team is happy to take on Cole’s contract for two more years, will the Stars value their captain the same? Or is he on his way out?
Nieuwendyk didn’t rule out further trades before the deadline, which comes — I’m not kidding here — April 3. That’s 13 games before the end of the season.
He did say that he intends “to do right by the captain.” That could mean any number of things, actually.