Like a lot of situations Jim Nill deals with, his pursuit of a second-line center this summer is going to be tricky. The Stars’ general manager has to manage salary cost, contract term, cost of possible prospects in trades and expectations of in-house talent. Is the best solution to give a long-term contract to a 28-year-old center such as Colorado’s Paul Stastny in free agency when you know you have potential prospects three years away in Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore? Is the best solution accepting a shorter contract on a player such as Ryan Kesler, knowing the cost in a trade with Vancouver might be some of your best prospects? Or is the best solution trusting Cody Eakin to carry the weight until Dickinson and Shore are ready, knowing your team might struggle with second-line scoring and power-play success? It’s a predicament for Nill, but one he tries to solve every day. “It’s a priority for us,” he said of center depth. “I think if you want to be a contender, you have to be deep down the middle. That’s something we’ve talked about over and over again.” Last summer, Nill decided to move Jamie Benn from center back to left wing. To do that, he pursued Vincent Lecavalier in free agency (eventually losing out to Philadelphia) and then swung a deal for Tyler Seguin. Seguin, now 22, was the perfect fit and finished with a team-best 84 points. He solves a great deal of the problem going forward, and he shows that Nill can find a solution for both now and the future. “You have to do a lot of juggling, and you have to find the right fit,” Nill said. “That’s being prepared to move, and also being patient enough to find the right situation. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Here are some options the team could study: Jason Spezza The Ottawa captain could be on the trade block as the Senators look to reboot. Spezza was taken second overall in 2001 and has been on some very good Senators teams. He is almost exactly a point-a-game player with 687 points (251 goals, 436 assists) in 686 games. While he’s coming off a season in which he had 66 points in 75 games and was minus-26, he is far from the downside of his career. He turns 31 on June 13. At 6-3, 216, Spezza would bring size and skill to the second line, which is important for matchups in the West against San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf. He’s also a right-handed shot and has gotten progressively better at faceoffs throughout his career. He won 54 percent of his draws last season and took 1,436 faceoffs. With Seguin, a right-hander, winning 41.5 percent last season, and left-handed Vern Fiddler (52.2 percent) possibly leaving, the combination of Spezza and Benn (a lefty who won 52.8 percent) would be pretty solid for the Stars. So what’s the cost? Spezza has one year left on his deal at $4 million in salary and $7 million in cap hit, and the Stars would want a contract extension. The Senators also would probably be asking for a veteran player, a top prospect and a draft pick. It’s certainly something worth watching. Paul Stastny The potential belle of the free-agent ball, Stastny still could re-sign with the Avalanche before July 1. Or he could open the bidding for his services as a 28-year-old center coming off a spectacular playoff performance in which he tallied 10 points (five goals, five assists) in seven games for the Avalanche. Stastny is a dependable scorer with 458 points (160 goals, 298 assists) in 538 career games, but he has often been seen as overpaid at $6.6 million a season and possibly disposable with Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly as other Avalanche centers. So while the Avalanche would love to have him back, it might not feel comfortable giving him a raise. But would the Stars? Just matching the $6.6 million would make him the highest-paid player in Dallas, and that might not be enough to get him signed. With the cap going up near $70 million, there are teams that might woo Stastny heavily. That said, you also wouldn’t have to give up any draft picks or players. You also can look at the roster this season (with Sergei Gonchar at $5 million, Ray Whitney at $4.5 million, Shawn Horcoff at $4 million and Erik Cole at $4 million), and say that there are worse ways to spend $7 million. The Stars still have Gonchar, Horcoff and Cole for next season, but then the payroll opens up. So if you’re going to make a mistake on a player, isn’t Stastny the perfect player to risk that mistake on? Ryan Kesler The steady Vancouver center turns 30 in August and appears to be in the prime of his career. He has had shoulder surgery and a foot injury in recent seasons, but he’s been remarkably durable in a career that has spanned 654 games and produced 392 points (181 goals, 211 assists). While Kesler is not a prototypical point producer as a No. 2 center, he has six seasons of 20 goals or more and tallied 41 in 2010-11. He’s coming off a season in which he had 25 goals among 43 points in 77 games with Vancouver, and many listed that as a disappointing year. Kesler was rumored as a trade target this season, and much of the talk at the trade deadline centered on whether he would accept a move. That’s a difficult part of the situation, and nobody really knows what Kesler’s mind-set is. Kesler is 6-2, 202, right-handed and a solid faceoff man (he won 52.6 percent of 1,406 draws last season). He won the Selke Trophy in 2011 as best defensive forward in the NHL. He would be a fantastic mentor for Eakin, as it appears the Stars would love to turn Eakin into a Kesler-like player. What would the cost be in trade? A lot depends on what the new management in Vancouver is seeking. The Canucks might want NHL-ready talent such as Alex Chiasson or Brenden Dillon, or they might want top prospects such as Brett Ritchie and Jamie Oleksiak. Or they might want a little of everything. Kesler has two years left on his deal at $5 million a season. And while you would like to try to get a contract extension with him now, you could get him in, see if he’s a good fit and then sign an extension next season. If not, he would still have trade value.
Center depth 'a priority' says Stars GM Jim Nill; How they can fix problem
Dallas Morning News | May 25