Two summers ago, the Dallas Stars were fresh off a playoff miss and went “all in” as free-agent spenders, landing Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal. The move didn’t work. They missed the playoffs despite the expensive new additions. A year later, with expectations arguably lowered, the Stars made the post-season in what might’ve been an improve-or-bust season for GM Jim Nill and, perhaps, for the veteran forward group including stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, as hinted at when CEO Jim Lites publicly called them “horses—“ midway through the season.
The Stars persevered, won a playoff round and came within an overtime goal of reaching the Western Conference final, falling to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues. Given how grim things looked for Dallas just half a season ago, there’s a sense that the current group can’t waste this momentum. Radulov and goaltender Ben Bishop are 32, Benn is 29 and Seguin is 27. It thus makes perfect sense that the Stars are committing to an “all in” approach with two big-name veteran forward signings July 1.
The Stars have inked Joe Pavelski, 34, to a three-year, $21-million contract carrying a $7-million AAV. They’ve also added Corey Perry, 34, on a one-year, $1.5-million deal with performance bonuses.
Structurally, the Stars have addressed their area of greatest need. They’re strong from the net out, having allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL and boasting the league’s No. 5 penalty kill in 2019-20. Bishop just completed one of the best seasons of his career and got stellar backup support from Anton Khudobin, who returns for one more season of his contract. And we all know how promising Dallas’ blueline is with Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell leading the way. But the forward depth has been a significant problem for several seasons now.
In 2019-20, even with Benn having arguably the worst season of his career, he, Radulov and Seguin accounted for 42.6 percent of the Stars goals. At 15 goals, Radek Faksa was the only other Dallas forward to even hit double digits. The problem reflects years of disappointing production from the team’s early-round forward picks. Valeri Nichushkin returned from the KHL to score zero goals last season, and Denis Gurianov has flirted with “Quad-A” status. Riley Tufte hasn’t played a pro game yet. Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz progressed nicely this past season, playing important top-six roles in the playoffs, but the point is that Dallas hasn’t harvested a legit all-star-caliber forward in the draft since Benn in 2007.
Dallas addressed the problem at the trade deadline by landing Mats Zuccarello, who fit beautifully when healthy, but the conditions of the trade essentially blocked him from re-signing. If they brought him back, a 2020 third-round pick Dallas sent to the New York Rangers would’ve become a first-rounder. It thus made more sense to replace Zuccarello merely for money as opposed to spending money and a first-rounder to retain him.
Pavelski is a natural fit and an ideal No. 2 center who can also play the right wing. His 38 goals in 2019-20 were the second most of his career. This decade, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Patrick Kane have scored more goals. Even though he’ll be 35 when the season starts, he has plenty to offer, especially on a short-term deal with a team squarely in its Cup-contention window. The San Jose Sharks essentially priced their captain out of town when they re-signed blueliner Erik Karlsson, as the RFA deals for Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, plus the possibility of retaining UFA Joe Thornton, didn’t leave enough cash for Pavelski to stay without taking a mammoth discount.
Perry, 34, is obviously a shadow of the dynamic, agitating power forward who won a Stanley Cup in 2007, gold medals with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 and an MVP and Rocket Richard Trophy in 2011. He hasn’t hit the 20-goal mark since 2015-16, and knee surgery limited him to 31 games this past season. Among the 495 forwards who played at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Perry ranked 452nd in individual points per 60, one spot ahead of Cody McLeod. So this version of Perry obviously isn’t the all-star of old, but that doesn’t matter now that he doesn’t carry an $8.63-million cap hit after the Anaheim Ducks bought him out. He’s a relatively low-risk signing who could rebound to be a 20-goal threat on the second or third line.
Adding two mid-30s forwards past their primes might not be the wisest move for most franchises but, given Dallas’ current situation, Pavelski and Perry make a lot of sense. There’s no turning back. On paper, this is arguably the most dangerous Dallas team of the Nill/Seguin/Benn era.
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