Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill is already off to a great start in the Patrick Sharp trade – he got the best player in the deal. But in acquiring the three-time Stanley Cup winner from Chicago along with prospect Stephen Johns, Nill had to give up his most experienced defenseman in Trevor Daley (agitator Ryan Garbutt also headed to the Hawks).
This sets up an interesting situation for the Stars: powerhouse offense and a green defense – and I don't mean Victory Green.
As it stands now, the Stars don't have a single defenseman who has played 500 regular season NHL games. When asked about the youth of his corps for the upcoming season however, Nill did not seem concerned.
"We have lots of options," he said. "We've got a good young core that will be in Dallas and I'm very comfortable starting the season the way we are."
Nill did note that the franchise still has plenty of cap space, so if a veteran did become available, they could add salary. But he was also very pleased to add Johns to the mix, a player he has known since the big blueliner was a teenager with Team USA's NTDP. Johns also made an impression in this year's AHL playoffs, when his Rockford IceHogs swept Nill's Texas Stars in the first round. The Dallas GM thought Johns was the best player in the series and has high expectations for the 23-year-old.
"Stephen is a big part of this trade," Nill said. "We're trying to change the dimension of our back end. He's 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he can skate and he plays the game hard. We have a lot of skill in our lineup, but not a lot of presence."
Johns will be one of several options in that category for the re-made Stars, who missed the playoffs despite having two top-10 scorers in Art Ross winner Jamie Benn and running mate Tyler Seguin. Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are two more big, solid youngsters who can move bodies, thereby accenting the skill games of blueliners such as now-elder statesman Alex Goligoski and another fresh talent in John Klingberg.
If the right mix is found (there's also Jason Demers in the top six), then perhaps Dallas will resemble the Anaheim Ducks back end, which had a good marriage of youngsters (Vatanen, Lindholm, Fowler, Despres) and vets. Worst-case scenario, the Stars will turn out like the Colorado Avalanche, where the mix did not work.
On the other side of the ice, the forward corps gets even more exciting with Sharp in the lineup. He can line up behind Benn on the left wing, giving the Stars two potent scoring lines – the Benn line centered by Seguin, the Sharp line centered by Jason Spezza. It's a situation that has the new guy excited.
"Playing against the Stars in the same division, they were always tough to play against," Sharp said. "And very dangerous."
Sharp and Spezza are both represented by Bobby Orr's player agency, so they know each other already. Sharp also knows Benn from Team Canada, where both won Olympic gold. They also played at the 2012 World Championship together. But Sharp's most insightful connection to Dallas is with new netminder Antti Niemi, who was brought in to platoon with starter Kari Lehtonen in a unique gambit by Nill. Niemi, of course, was the goalie of record when Chicago won its first of three Cups after decades of futility.
"I look back to 2010 and he was a huge part of that first Stanley Cup," Sharp said. "I think he gets overlooked because of all the other stars we had on the team."
Even with potentially five playoff spots available in the Central Division next season, the Stars will have to be excellent to make it in. With Sharp up front, goals will not be an issue. Nill has been creative with his defense and goaltending so far – and that's where the nailbiting comes in.