The Ben Bishop signing made it clear Dallas was all-in, and nabbing Hanzal only strengthens that notion.
Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill was off the mark last summer, letting multiple veteran free agents leave and failing to improve his goaltending. It appears this off-season is all about doing the opposite. Nill already acquired goaltender Ben Bishop in June to address the goaltending woes, and the Stars made another significant move as free agency kicked off Saturday, inking center Martin Hanzal to a three-year contract with a $4.75-million AAV, as reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
Hanzal, 30, was among the most coveted unrestricted free agents this summer. At 6-foot-6 and with outstanding faceoff ability, he possesses a unique skill set. That’s why the Minnesota Wild decided to surrender a first- and second-round pick at the trade deadline to rent Hanzal’s services. His offensive numbers didn’t wow there, but he did the things he usually did well, which was win faceoffs and make a positive impact on the possession game. He posted a 5.6 Corsi relative mark 5-on-5 after joining the Wild, meaning his he was 5.6 percent better than the average Minny player.
Hanzal has the offensive skill to be most teams’ second-line center but is a gem if he’s asked to play a third-line role, which appears to be the case in Dallas with offensive weapons Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza in the top two slots on the depth chart. Hanzal is essentially replacing Cody Eakin, who went to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Think of Hanzal as a better Eakin.
So that’s all good news for a Stars team looking to get back into the post-season after it won the Central Division in 2015-16 only to slide right out of the big dance in 2016-17. The Stars’ biggest area of need, however, remains unaddressed, as they desperately require some scoring wingers, especially on the right side. They could also use a veteran top-four blueliner to better support the young ‘D’ group led by John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Julius Honka and Miro Heiskanen.
Hanzal does have a major red flag to watch for: health. His 71 games in 2016-17 were actually his most since 2009-10. He’s missed 21, 18, 43, 17, 45, 18 and 11 games in the seven seasons since. He averages 57 games per year over that stretch. It’s a concern for a Stars team that sustained a ton of injuries to its forward corps last season.