- The Dallas Stars have announced several changes to the business side of the front office, including hiring former captain Brenden Morrow as the Director of Business and Hockey Development. Morrow played 835 regular season games for the Stars across parts of 13 seasons, captaining them for seven of those. He finished his career with 575 points in 991 games. A gold medalist at the Olympics, World Championship and World Cup, Morrow certainly has a winning pedigree when it comes to hockey.
Julius Honka hasn’t fit in with Dallas as well as he or the team had hoped. It now appears that the Stars are ready to move on from him. Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News reports that Dallas is trying to trade the defenseman.
While it appeared that the 2014 first-rounder would get a chance to establish himself as a full-time NHL player with Stephen Johns’ concussion ultimately costing him the entire season, the exact opposite happened. He was in and out of the lineup early on and never really got much going. Eventually, head coach Jim Montgomery decided that he’d seen enough and Honka was made a healthy scratch for the final 35 games of the regular season as well as all 13 postseason contests.
Although it’s certainly possible that they could carry eight defensemen next season and keep the 23-year-old on the roster to avoid losing him for nothing, the more ideal scenario for both sides is likely a clean break, much like they did a few years ago when Jamie Oleksiak was in a similar situation. He got more of a chance in Pittsburgh and GM Jim Nill ultimately made a trade to bring him back last season.
While Honka’s trade value is far from at its peak, he’s still likely viewed as someone with some upside and while he’s a restricted free agent, his contract shouldn’t come in much higher than his $874K qualifying offer. The fact that he’s a right-handed shot should also help his value. There won’t be a huge market for his services but getting something for him now over sitting him for long stretches or risk losing him for nothing on waivers is probably the lesser of two evils for Nill and the Stars at this point.
The Dallas Stars have re-signed Jason Dickinson to a two-year deal worth a total of $3MM. Dickinson was a restricted free agent and had filed for arbitration, but will no longer require his hearing on July 20. GM Jim Nill released a short statement:
Jason is a conscientious player who plays a very detailed, 200-foot game. As last season progressed, he began impacting games night in and night out, and he really established himself during the playoffs. We fully expect him to continue to build upon that and be a big part of our team for years to come.
Dickinson, 24, looked for a time like he might be one of the countless first-round picks that never make much of an impact in the NHL. Selected 29th overall in 2013, he had played just 38 career games coming into the 2018-19 season and had just five points. As Nill says though, that has all changed as he finally established himself as a real full-time option for the Stars and a core piece moving forward. The two-way forward took on a much bigger role in the playoffs and ended up with five points while averaging close to 16 minutes a night.
With a new pair of veteran wingers added to the Stars forward group and an emerging Roope Hintz, Dickinson will need to continue to work hard for every shift of ice time next season. That said, he’ll now be surrounded by even more talent and should be expected to shatter the career-high of 22 points he set last year. The Stars have struggled to find reliable secondary scoring for some time, but will hope Dickinson can add that while not losing any of his defensive acumen.
Dallas now has just two restricted free agents left to sign, most notably defenseman Julius Honka. It’s not clear where Honka fits into the picture for the team next season and with less than $1MM left in cap space there very well could be a trade coming at some point.
Dillon Heatherington didn’t bother filing for arbitration recently and instead has re-signed with the Dallas Stars. The depth defenseman inked a one-year two-way contract with the club that could take him right into unrestricted free agency depending on what happens this season. The Stars would need to play Heatherington in 69 NHL games this season to avoid Group VI unrestricted free agent status next summer. He will earn $700K at the NHL level this season, according to CapFriendly.
The 24-year old Heatherington has played in just 11 NHL games over the last two seasons, but is a key part of the Texas Stars’ blue line. Suiting up 73 times for them in 2018-19 the 6’4″ defenseman recorded 24 points and 75 penalty minutes while wearing an “A” as one of the alternate captains. Texas is likely where he is headed again this season, though he’ll have to clear waivers at the beginning of the season in order to go there.
Originally a second round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Heatherington has not yet been able to crack an NHL roster for very long. He’ll try to make that a tough decision this fall, but it will be difficult. The Stars have several strong options on the left side already, including newcomer Andrej Sekera. If one of them struggles or suffers an injury though, you can bet Heatherington will be one of the first few call-ups.
The Dallas Stars have to be happy about taking a waiver on a little-known college free agent out of St. Lawrence University two years ago. Gavin Bayreuther has proven to be a more than capable pro, successfully translating his game from NCAA level. After back-to-back strong AHL campaigns, as well as 19 NHL games this past season, Bayreuther has been rewarded with a new contract. Dallas has announced a one-year, two-way extension with the blue liner. Financial terms have not been disclosed.
Bayreuther, 25, is a New Hampshire native and the cousin of former Stars teammate Ben Lovejoy, who also grew up in New England. An undrafted prospect out of The Holderness School, Bayreuther played on season in the USHL before enrolling at St. Lawrence, where he immediately became a force on the blue line for the Saints. Over four seasons, Bayreuther compiled 111 points in 142 games and twice led the team in scoring. His play caught the attention of Dallas, who signed him to a two-year entry-level contract after graduation. It paid off immediately, as Bayreuther continued to dominate as a puck-moving defender, recording 32 points in his first pro season to lead all defenseman in scoring for AHL Texas, proving he was an NHL asset. He added another 25 points in just 53 AHL games this year, but also added five NHL points over 19 games with Dallas.
The challenge moving forward for Bayreuther is no longer to prove he belongs in the NHL, but to prove that he is more worthy of starts and ice time than his many competitors. The Stars are deep on the blue line, led by the likes of John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Miro Heiskanen. Veterans Roman Polak and Andrej Sekera will also have a leg up in the position battle, as will the re-acquired Jamie Oleksiak. That potentially leaves one roster spot available for Bayreuther, Taylor Fedun, injured Stephen Johns, and still-unsigned restricted free agents Julius Honka and Dillon Heatherington to fight over. It won’t be easy for Bayreuther to crack the NHL roster or even ensure that he spends considerable time at the top level this year, but if he continues to produce regardless of the level, the Stars may be left with little choice but to give the young rearguard a regular role.
The Dallas Stars are making an addition to their AHL coaching staff and doing so by promoting from within. The Texas Stars announced today that Neil Graham has been named as an assistant coach for the team, leaving his previous post as head coach of the organization’s ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads. During his tenure with Idaho, Graham led the Steelheads to a 166-91-31 record over four seasons, including three consecutive 40+ win seasons and playoff berths. The 34-year-old is climbing through the pro coaching ranks quickly after spending just one year as an assistant at Mercyhurst College before taking the same role with Idaho for three seasons before his promotion to head coach. A standout player at Mercyhurst in the late 2000’s, Graham played three seasons in the minors before turning to coaching. He has an opportunity with Texas, replacing the departed Bob Jones, to learn under the tutelage of Derek Laxdal and continue growing as a coach in what appears to be a promising career in the making.
- Veteran grinder Darren Archibald has been on and off NHL contracts throughout his pro career, often having to settle for AHL contracts with a chance to earn his way back to the top level. After playing in a dozen games last season split between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators, recording just two points, Archibald entered the UFA market again facing the tough task of landing another two-way deal. As a result, it’s not surprising that Archibald has settled for a one-year deal with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the team announced. As far as AHL opportunities go, the Marlies tend to be one of the more talented, veteran-laden clubs with substantial media attention, giving Archibald as good a chance as anywhere in the league to prove he can still play in the NHL. In the meantime, the big winger will continue to be both a physical threat and net-front scoring force at the minor league level.
- The Springfield Thunderbirds have announced extensions for end-of-the-year additions Liam Pecararo and Dylan MacPherson. The duo each signed one-year AHL contracts with Springfield back on April 3rd, and have now renewed those same one-way minor league pacts. Pecararo, 23, wrapped up his NCAA career with 30 points in 37 games for Northeastern University last year and recorded a point in his AHL debut. The Massachusetts native stays close to home in Springfield and hopes to be a force up front. MacPherson, 21, has great size for a defenseman and showed over the past two years with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers that he is capable of consistent offense as well. A right-handed shot who can both move the puck and defend in his own end, MacPherson is a valuable commodity for the Thunderbirds.
A week into free agency, the vast majority of PHR’s Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents are under contract. Unsurprisingly, many of those left unsigned are on the wrong side of 30 or even at or approaching 40. Veterans tend to be later additions in free agency, as teams aren’t rushing to sign them to long-term deals to be core pieces, but rather seek to use them to plug holes in the lineup after the fact. As of now, there are nine names in the Top 50 that are legitimate candidates for retirement. Some have offers on the table and are taking their time to make a decision, while other may not have much of a market and could have to choose between a PTO or calling it a career. How many will choose retirement this summer?
Justin Williams, 37, enjoyed a tremendous 53-point season with the Carolina Hurricanes this past season and looked far from done. GM Don Waddell hinted that the captain will return next season, but until pen meets paper it remains a question mark. Williams was a key piece of the Hurricanes’ run to the Eastern Conference Final last season and would be a major loss for the team. However, he could opt to go out on top as a player who has seen very little drop-off in production through his 30’s and hit his highest point total since 2011-12 last season. Williams can still play, but the question is whether he wants to.
Joe Thornton, 40, not only wants to play next season, but wants to play several more years. The future Hall of Famer has already had an illustrious career, but has yet to win that elusive Stanley Cup. Thornton would like to return to the San Jose Sharks, one of only two teams he’s played for in his 21-year career, and the Sharks should be able to find the space to bring him back after moving out salary via trade and free agency departures. However, Thornton’s asking price will play a part – he did top 50 points again last season – as will the Sharks’ interest in bringing back another retirement threat. Patrick Marleau, 39, left San Jose two years ago to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has since been bought out and all signs point to a desire to return to the Sharks. These two legendary Sharks are both capable of continuing their NHL careers, but can San Jose fit them both and are either willing to sign elsewhere at this point in their careers?
Brian Boyle, 34, enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2018-19 and netted a second-round pick at the trade deadline. He clearly still has value as a big, smart two-way forward, but the lack of attention he has garnered thus far in free agency is curious. Boyle did not make as much of an impact in Nashville post-trade as he did in New Jersey and teams may be skeptical of his production moving forward. Between a cold market and recent health concerns, Boyle may be considering calling it a career while he’s still considered an elite defensive forward. However, it would be a surprise if there isn’t a team in the NHL who could still use Boyle’s ability.
Dion Phaneuf, 34, is fresh off of a buyout and should be available at a bargain rate as he continues to cash paychecks from the Los Angeles Kings. Phaneuf stated earlier this off-season that he would be happy to land with a contender, but is also open to taking on a mentor role with a young team. That would seemingly make him a candidate to join a number of D-needy teams. Yet, a week into free agency there has been almost no noise surrounding Phaneuf. The veteran still plays a strong checking game, but his offense and mobility fell off a cliff last season, resulting in drastic career lows in production and ice time. Teams may be hesitant to invest at his current asking price. Phaneuf may be looking at a decision between a short-term, minimum deal or walking away.
Ben Lovejoy, 35, is also coming off an uninspiring season. The Dallas Stars still felt he was worth a deadline gamble, but Lovejoy failed to make much of an impact offensively with either the Stars or Devils pre-trade. An experienced journeyman defenseman, Lovejoy still plays a strong defensive game and has great awareness in his own zone. However, when it comes to moving the puck he can be prone to turnovers and when asked to contribute offensively, he offers little. At this point in his career, Lovejoy is an ideal No. 7 or 8 defenseman. However, does he want to continue his playing career only to be used sparingly as a depth player? That’s the question.
Thomas Vanek, 35, is a tricky case. While his 36 points this season marked a career low, it also came in just 64 games and was one of the top marks for the Detroit Red Wings. Vanek has been a tough player to get a read on in recent years because he has moved around so much and played in a variety of roles. The eye test, combined with a plethora of rumors so far this summer, suggest that he can keep playing. But does a decorated veteran really want to continue being a hired gun and deadline deal year after year? If Vanek can find some security in a short-term contract, he will stick around in the NHL and likely continue to be a great value as a player capable of 50 points. However, the respected veteran may also be ready to call it a career if the right fit doesn’t exist.
Niklas Kronwall, 38, and Deryk Engelland, 37, are both in the same boat. They will either return to their current teams – the Red Wings and Golden Knights respectively – or they’ll retire. Neither is looking to move at this point in their careers, nor can they command salaries that their teams cannot pay. Instead, the duo are both valued for their leadership and loyalty and can still play well enough in a regular role or, more likely, thrive in a depth role. The question for both is simply how much they have left in the tank and whether it’s time to quit while they’re ahead.
So what do you think? Nine players, all with good reason to retire but also to keep playing, with various market factors at work. How many suit up in the NHL next season and how many make a final announcement in the coming weeks?
- Back issues caused Stars center Martin Hanzal to miss all but seven games last season. Those may be the last games he winds up playing in Dallas as Mike Heika notes on the Stars’ team website that Hanzal, who is now in the final year of his contract, is unlikely to play at all in 2019-20 and that he’ll spend the entire year on injured reserve. That means that the 32-year-old could be placed on LTIR to free up some extra wiggle room on the cap for next season. However, there will be a risk to doing so with Miro Heiskanen, Corey Perry, and Andrej Sekera having achievable bonuses in their contracts. Using LTIR would save cap space in the short term but create an overage for 2020-21 if anyone meets those incentives.
Veteran defenseman Marc Methot had a tough go of it in Dallas, playing in a combined 45 games over the last two seasons with the team. Battling lingering injury issues in his left knee, Methot has been sidelined for most of the past two years and hit the free agent market this summer with next to no noise thanks to questions about his health moving forward. To make matters worse, Methot underwent a cartilage replacement surgery last month that will extend his on-ice absence even further.
With all of these prominent questions and concerns, it should come as little surprise that the 34-year-old is at least considering retirement. Marc Brassard of leDroit reports that Methot is continuing to rehab after his recent surgery, but is unsure if he will be able to play next season. That does not mean that the respected veteran couldn’t continue to work at getting in game shape and try his hand at next summer’s market. After all, Methot is just a few years removed from being one of the league’s top shutdown defenders, a title he held for the better part of this decade with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators. However, Brasssard believes that he is strongly considering hanging it up instead.
Brassard also points out that Methot has a desire to work in sports media, which could also drive his decision to retire. Methot will get a try out on Thursday, when he joins TSN 1200 Radio in Ottawa as a guest host. The appearance could also act to further update his playing status, so stay tuned.
As expected, Bogdan Kiselevich has returned home to Russia as soon as he could. The 29-year-old defenseman is back with CSKA Moscow after just one year in the NHL, as the team announced a new three-year deal. Kiselevich was clearly not impressed by his usage in North America, as word got out quickly after the season that he would return to the KHL, before even testing the NHL market. In his “rookie” season, Kiselevich played in 32 games with the Florida Panthers and contributed eight assists. Although some of his other underlying numbers suggested that Kiselevich was being underutilized in Florida, he worked mostly as the team’s No. 7. He was then traded to the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL Trade Deadline, slotting even lower in their depth chart, and did not play a single game in the regular season or postseason. Seeing as a fully healthy Kiselevich played just one game after January, it’s understandable that he was happy to return to a top role for an elite KHL club loaded with former NHLers.
- Count Zack Mitchell as another NHL castoff looking for a larger role in the KHL. After skating in 34 NHL games between two seasons with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17/2017-18, Mitchell was relegated to the AHL for this entire past campaign after signing with the Los Angeles Kings last summer. Still a relatively young player at 26 who also has consistent AHL production and NHL experience, Mitchell likely felt he could do better. As a result, Mitchell has signed a one-year contract with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL, the team announced. A team that missed the playoffs last season and has few elite players or familiar NHL faces, Neftekhimik needs a elite addition and hopes Mitchell can fill that role. If he can lead them back to the Gagarin Cup stage behind a highly productive season, Mitchell will likely be able to find a deal back in North America next year.
- The Detroit Red Wings took a shot on young Slovakian goaltender Patrik Rybar last season after he had dominated the Slovakian and Czech pro ranks for several years. However, he ended up not getting much use as the fourth-string keeper in the organization. Rybar played in 37 AHL games and did not see any NHL action. In his minor league appearances, he also failed to put up the stupendous numbers that may have attracted another NHL suitor, posting a .908 save percentage and 2.49 GAA. Fortunately, those numbers were enough to turn heads in other major European leagues. Rybar has opted to sign with Karpat of the Finnish Liiga, the team announced. Karpat was the top team in the Liiga last year through the regular season and their play in net from Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Veini Vehvilainen and former NHLer Jussi Rynnas played no small role. With both of those keepers now gone, the Karpat net looks to belong to Rybar, with promising young goalie Justus Annunen, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, as backup.
- Mark McNeill’s precipitous drop from relevance continued last season and he is taking a drastic measure to rediscover his game. A 2011 first-round pick, McNeill was considered the top prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks for many years. Yet, to date he has just two NHL appearances to his credit. However, the heavy forward still put up good numbers in the minors in the Blackhawks’ and Dallas Stars’ systems. That is, until the past two years, when McNeill bounced around from Dallas to Nashville to Boston and posted back-to-back career lows of 25 points. Now, he must repair his image and show he can be a reliable scorer and has chosen Austria as the place to do just that. McNeill has signed with EHC Linz of the EBEL, the Black Wings announced. Linz counts Bracken Kearns and Justin Florek as their only other NHL veterans, so the opportunity will be there for McNeill to be the teams’s best player next season.