Speculation has been abound since the moment the Stars leapt up the lottery and landed the third-overall pick in the upcoming draft that Dallas GM Jim Nill would look to move the pick. And the expectation is that if the Stars are moving along the pick, it’s going to be for a defenseman that can help solidify their sometimes shaky blueline.
As we’ve outlined here before, dealing away the pick makes the most sense for the Stars, too. In recent years, Dallas has been built around an up-tempo offense with scoring power the likes of which few teams can match, but the issue — and one that has remained persistent for the past four campaigns — is that Dallas has been dreadful when defending against the opposition attack. Look at it this way: the Stars have scored the second most goals in the league over the past four seasons, a mind-boggling 975 tallies, but Dallas’ goal-differential is only plus-seven! Only two teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, have allowed more goals against.
Some of the fault for the shoddy defensive numbers falls on the goaltending, to be sure, but that’s an issue that has seemingly been rectified by the Stars this off-season as they traded for and signed goaltender Ben Bishop, who was set to become arguably the most sought after free agent netminder. That only takes care of one part of the problem, though, and what Dallas needs to do is build a shell around the keeper. That’s where the defensemen come in.
The Stars’ defensive corps isn’t out-and-out awful. John Klingberg, though coming off of a disappointing season, still has the makeup of a top offensive blueliner, Dan Hamhuis brings some veteran responsibility, even if he had an ugly year, and there’s hope the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Stephen Johns and Greg Pateryn can continue to grow to fill out the holes that remain on the backend. But it sure would be nice for Dallas if they were able to scoop up a legitimate top-three defenseman this summer, and that’s where the third-overall pick will come in.
The good news is this is the best off-season in recent memory to be after someone of that ilk.
The early summer is going to be silly season for GMs as they prepare for the expansion draft and there will be several high-profile defenders who are likely made available simply due to the expansion draft rules. Others, however, will be available as GMs do their normal off-season shuffling. And here are five defenders that Dallas could target, using the third-overall pick as part of the trade package:
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks
The worst kept secret in the NHL right now might be that the Ducks need to move a defenseman. With the expansion draft two weeks away, Anaheim finds themselves with five defensemen worth protecting and not enough protection slots to guard them all, not to mention a host of forwards who GM Bob Murray would love to keep in town rather than lose to Vegas for nothing. Rumors have run rampant about who will be on the move, and with talk about Cam Fowler inking an extension, all signs seem to point to Vatanen.
Vatanen would be quite the pickup for the Stars, too. He’s under contract for three more seasons at a decent rate — $4.875 million per year — and has proven to be a productive member of the top two pairings on a strong Anaheim blueline. He has more of an offensive slant to his game, sure, but his ability to move the puck out of danger would be helpful in Dallas. The Stars and Ducks have a history of dealing, as well. At the deadline, Dallas sent Patrick Eaves to Anaheim for what became a first-round pick.
The only concern is Vatanen’s injury, which could force him to miss part of the upcoming campaign. But the long-term gain might make the deal more than worth it.
Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
Barrie’s a familiar face in the rumor mill. The Avalanche rearguard has been mentioned in trade speculation for what feels like years now, but Colorado has never pulled the trigger on a deal. After the franchise had an almost historically awful season, though, it might be time for them to shake everything up, and that could mean moving out Barrie and rebuilding the backend from scratch.
Like Vatanen, Barrie isn’t going to bring much in the way of pure defense. That’s simply not his game. But if Dallas is intrigued by a puck-moving defenseman who can log big minutes, Barrie might be their guy. On a very sub-par Avalanche team this past season, Barrie skated more than 23 minutes per outing and posted seven goals and 38 points. The bonus here is that Barrie is locked up for another three years at a manageable $5.5 million per season. That’s not bad. And at 25, Barrie has room to grow under new Stars coach Ken Hitchcock.
Prying Barrie out of Colorado might take more than the third-overall selection, however, but Dallas might have the spare parts to throw in to make it work. Plus, the rebuilding Avalanche probably wouldn’t mind having the third- and fourth-overall selections in the draft.
Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild
In much the same way Anaheim has some expansion draft problems to take care of, Minnesota has its own protection conundrum. Barring a barrage of moves ahead of the expansion draft, it seems a guarantee that they’re going to lose a talented roster player for nothing to the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s especially true of their blueline, where the Wild have to protect Ryan Suter and choose between Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Dumba for the other two to three protection spots.
The Wild will absolutely consider protecting Dumba, but the Stars should pursue the 22-year-old rearguard with the third-overall pick dangling out there as a trade chip. Dumba may not be as established as the Spurgeons or Scandellas in Minnesota, but he brings some tools the Dallas blueline doesn’t have right now. Namely, he’s one of the more fearsome young hitters in the league.
In much the same way Barrie could be helped by playing under Hitchcock, Dumba could also benefit from an experienced coach who preaches defensive responsibility. Add in Dumba’s shot, speed and ability to go to work on the power play and he could make a nice fit in Dallas, especially at his $2.55 million as he heads toward restricted free agency. The only issue might be getting the Wild to agree to trade the up-and-coming defender to a divisional rival.
Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders
New York’s expansion draft situation isn’t as dire as Anaheim’s or Minnesota’s, but the Islanders protecting Hamonic would likely mean Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock and Calvin De Haan are all up for grabs. That isn’t an ideal situation, and it’s one reason why the Islanders may be considering trading one of their top three rearguards right now while the value is at its peak.
Hamonic, who is under contract for $3.86 million for three more years, is unlike any of the three defenders listed above in that his primary role isn’t that of a master blaster. He’s not going to rack up huge point totals — his career-best is five goals, 33 points — and he isn’t going to wow anyone with magical puck-moving ability. That’s not to say he isn’t capable of getting the puck up ice in a hurry, because he is, but Hamonic is best utilized in a shutdown role. Sure sounds like someone the Stars, and Hitchcock, would love to have on the roster next season.
The issue here is what goes the other way. It’s clear John Tavares needs some help offensively and it’s also clear that the Islanders need to compete for a playoff spot, and probably win a round, next season as Tavares’ free agency looms. Trading Hamonic has to net more than the future returns the third-overall pick promises, which is to say Dallas will need to throw in someone who can help produce now. If the Stars and Islanders can iron that out, Hamonic would be a nice fit in Dallas.
Chris Tanev, Vancouver Canucks
It has become awfully evident that acquiring Tanev is going to come with quite the price, so Nill has to decide what value the Canucks defender has if that’s who the Stars are going to chase. The third-overall pick alone won’t be enough, that much seems evident, so further picks and prospects might be what gets the deal done with a Vancouver team that needs plenty of picks and prospects to turn around a struggling on-ice product.
Tanev would certainly fit the role of the defensive-minded defenseman that the Stars are trying to fill, though. He’s not all that concerned with putting up a ton of points — his 20-point campaign in 2014-15 remains his best — but he’s always willing to put his body on the line to block a shot, he’s a strong skater, can move the puck and while he’s not a 100 percent mistake-free defender, he’s not often coughing up possession or making bad decisions. Tanev is also right in the prime of his career as a defender and, as a 20-plus minute guy in each of the past four seasons, there’s little doubt he’d be a top-three guy in Dallas.
One of the added benefits of landing Tanev would also be his contract. He’s under wraps for three more seasons at $4.45 million per campaign, which wouldn’t eat even one-third of what the Stars have remaining in cap space, and with 16 current roster players up for new deals either this summer or next, Dallas needs to be wary of their cap space.
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