Before we can spend too much time looking ahead to a summer of talent infusion through the draft, trades, and free agency, I think it is a real good idea to be clear on where the Stars are presently with their current roster. This is the same exercise the Stars' brass is going through constantly as they try to build a contending roster. What do we already have? What is the age and contract situation? What is the perfect role for each player? What do we need the most? What is the position of surplus that might bring us something we need?
These constant questions of what you already have in-house will determine what you do in the summer. This is why in any sport, context is required to know where to look. "Best Player Available" is a fun cliche, but it is usually not realistic. You must know how a player will fit in you situation - otherwise you end up with a collection of talent; Not a team.
So, with that in mind, let's tackle half of the "big league club" today as we consider each of the forwards and next time we will do defensemen and goalies. Then, we will have a pretty good grasp of what they need.
Jamie Benn - Wing/Center - 22 - Has hit restricted free agency:
Benn is the centerpiece of this entire operation right now. The Stars think he is an elite player, and after watching the giant steps he has taken in his first 3 seasons, the league all seems to agree. He is a dynamite offensive force who can bring the arena to its feet when he gains control of the puck like few others could ever do. He is a strong competitor and is no afraid to mix it up with anyone. The Stars did frustrate many by not making him a member of their #1 power play and then the constant issues of him playing with a lesser crew for a small amount of time on the #2 power play did not help things when the #1 PP clearly needed his ability to stretch defenses. But, the long-term dividends of making him check Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf many nights could only speed up his development. He is going to make a lot of money in his next contract and the Stars will be happy to lock him up for a long time. He is home-grown, and has leadership qualities despite not saying much in public that would move the needle. The question of whether he is an ideal center is still up for debate, but again, with no centers to choose from, he might find his way right back to that spot next season. But, wherever they put him, he is dynamite. The big question is his sign-ability as his agent and the Stars need to find some middle ground to get a long-term deal put to rest.
Mike Ribeiro - Center - 32 - Has 1 year remaining on his contract at $5m (UFA 2013):
Mike is still a very productive center for the Stars. Led the team in assists and was 2nd on the team in scoring. Ribeiro is always going to be a player that has critics (Including those who employ him), but we must be careful not to marginalize his true value. He might be the only true center on the entire roster and is much better at doing things in his own end than he is often given credit for. He has strong scoring instincts and is a real ideal playmaker. His size, inability to win face-offs, and inconsistent motor places him in a tier below many of the top centers he faces, but he is still incredibly valuable to a team like the Stars that just don't have any center depth anywhere in the organization. Two things that are quite underrated are his ability to show toughness and his ability to compete. He isn't always burying his needle in the red on the RPM gauge, but when he is up for it, he will scratch eyes out to win. Despite that, it has been clear for a few years that the Stars would be willing to flip Ribs because of various feelings, but they have never been able to because of their lack of centers. If Richards would have been signed, perhaps it would be different, but for now, they desperately need Ribeiro to do much of the heavy lifting in 2012-13.
Loui Eriksson - Left Wing - 26 - Has 4 years remaining on his deal at $4.25m per (UFA 2016):
Loui is one of two players up front who you can safely trust will be part of what is going forward. Loui and Jamie Benn are the two building blocks that every move is fitted to. Loui will turn 27 years old this summer and is right in the prime of a very impressive and at times, underrated career. The consistency in his output the last 3 years has been staggering as he has scored between 26-29 goals, 42-46 assists, and has totaled 71-73 points in each year. That is consistent. He also never gets hurt, it seems, and is a leader on both special teams. As a forward, no player hops over the boards as often as Eriksson. In fact, he took nearly 300 more shifts than any other forward on the team. That is staggering. He plays 200 feet of quality hockey, he never has personality issues that pop up, and he is signed to a deal that is extremely fair for the team and a fine slot in the cap. In short, Loui Eriksson is the least of this team's issues right now. He is a good reason why they feel good about their chances to move forward.
Brenden Morrow - Left Wing - 33 - Has 1 year remaining on his deal at $4.1m (UFA 2013):
When you place the Captain's C on a man's chest, you hope that he will then play as if he is willing to give his body up to win a game. Unfortunately, constantly giving your body up can often cause an athlete to age rather quickly, and that might be the case with Morrow. Brenden is coming off what could easily be considered his most disappointing season where because of constant health issues, was just never himself. He worked very hard to be there for his squad, but it was a great example of the mind being willing, but the flesh was weak. At 33, he now has a legion of people wondering if he can resume play as a guy who just a year ago, scored 33 goals and was front and center in so many battles. But, last season, he was a step slow, which caused a number of penalties that were ill-advised. He was eventually dropped to the 4th line and his time on the ice was rather minimal. He obviously faces a huge year to prove to not just the Stars, but the entire NHL, that he has elite hockey in front of him. For now, it must be difficult for the Stars to define where he is moving forward. But, it likely starts with assuming he is not an ideal candidate anymore for a "top 6" forward spot.
Michael Ryder - Right Wing - 32 - 1 year remains at $3.5m (UFA 2013):
Clearly, the biggest surprise of the season was to find 35 goals in free agency from a player who most teams thought would score about half of that. Ryder turned out to be a wonderful signing last summer, but not just because they were able to get him. Also, because they were able to get him on a 2-year deal. They now have quite an asset to use moving forward as either a key member of their squad or somebody who can bring a nice return in a trade. Ryder used plenty of time partnered with Ribeiro to really get into a rhythm of a goal scorer again - something that he did not enjoy in Boston. Ryder led the team in goals, was 4th in scoring, led the team in PP goals, and played 82 games. I wonder if a small extension would be worth discussing this summer, because if he can do that again, the price will sky-rocket in free agency. His play was very impressive this season and his goals led the Stars big streak in the spring, but like so many he was unable to break through in those final 5 games with 0-0-0, -5. But, you can write his spot in ink for 2012-13.
Steve Ott - Left Wing - 29 - 2 years left on deal at $2.95m per (UFA 2014):
Ott has a lot of value to this team in many categories. He is their emotional leader, it seems, almost playing the role of captain. He is a very important face-off man, finishing amongst the best in the NHL, winning 55.5% of his face-offs, and taking almost all of the important draws for this team late in a game. He, of course, drives his opponent's crazy as one of the great energy players in the sport. And yet, he did seem pretty close to getting traded to Vancouver at the deadline if you believe what you hear. The Stars wanted a young Top 6 piece and if Ott would have brought it, they would have likely done the deal. But, Vancouver opted to make the deal with Buffalo instead and Ott remained in Dallas. Moving forward, he remains their most valuable trade chip in the category of "players who can still get us a nice piece before they get too old". But, he is also too valuable to the squad because of all of the things he brings to the table. Offensively, he has real limitations, but as an overall piece to the puzzle, he would be an ideal #3 center or winger. But, with his ability to win draws, they have had him helping Benn - who is improving, but still has a ways to go in the face-off circle.
Vernon Fiddler - Center - 32 - 2 years left on deal at $1.8m per year (UFA 2014):
Fiddler was another nice piece of business done by Joe Nieuwendyk in the summer of 2011 as he inked Fiddler to a 3-year pact. Fiddler also has an abrasive disposition and was part of a very formidable 3rd line this year with Nystrom and Dvorak. Unfortunately, they were often not allowed to "lock down" the opponent's best line because of Glen Gulutzan's desire to have Jamie Benn's line do that. They were a checking line that was often not asked to be a full checking line, but they made up for it with puck possession in the enemy zone on a constant basis. And this led to goal scoring opportunities to all. Nobody took more face-offs and Fiddler was a cornerstone of the penalty killing unit, too, a group that was greatly improved. Overall, he appears to be a strong 3rd line option and you could see how Nystrom-Fiddler-Ott could work nicely, provided the Stars can make the Top 6 work.
Eric Nystrom - Left Wing - 29 - 1 year remaining at $1.4m (UFA 2013):
Again, the details of his arrival are now rather legendary, because he made a wonderful impression on Stars fans in 2011-12 with his play and his career best 16 goals. He provides a game that is solid for the bottom 6 forwards and makes that rank veteran and dependable. He gives up his body and he brings plenty of fight to his game as well. The Stars surely feel pretty good about where he sits in their ranks at the present time, and I would think he might be a candidate to contact for an extension if the numbers are right.
Radek Dvorak - Right Wing - 35 - Unrestricted Free Agent
Dvorak played a reasonable game for much of the season, but as the year went along he tapered off a bit. I expect the Stars will look in a different direction in free agency and all Dvorak to go free at this age.
Adam Burish - Right Wing - 29 - Unrestricted Free Agent
Burish might be a different story. He played here 2 years and in both seasons did miss a big chunk of games due to injury. But, when he played showed himself to be quite useful in many departments. His grit and battle numbers were very high and he seems like a player that you might look to find room for, but understand that there might be a log jam on the roster if they truly believe that the team would be best served by Morrow and Ott moving down to lines 3-4, then players on lines 3-4 will also get displaced. With Nystrom and Fiddler under contract, then the musical chairs get complicated. I would imagine that Burish seeks another multi-year deal and he has made $1.15 per with the Stars. I would be tempted to retain him for a number of reasons, but the numbers on the roster have to make sense.
Jake Dowell - Center - 27 - Unrestricted Free Agent:
Along the same lines, it is hard to see where they keep a roster spot open for Dowell as he serves as a guy who will drop the gloves for you, but beyond that had a tough time making a very large impression in Dallas. I would not anticipate him back with the club now as he hits free agency.
Tom Wandell - Center - 25 - Restricted Free Agent:
There is not a ton of flash to Wandell's game and there may not be a giant amount of upside, either. But, he can fill a role pretty well down your lineup as a responsible center men on a 4th line or a fill in guy a bit higher. He has shown moments where you think he could do more that that at the NHL level, but he may just be a 2-way guy who gets you 15 points a year but doesn't get you beat by being on the scene of a mistake in the other end. He can handle anchoring the Stars 4th line and certainly benefits from the great dearth of centers in the organization.
Tomas Vincour - Wing/Center - 21 - $800,000 in 2012-13:
A fringe player who at times looks like he may be better served to continue development with a full year in the AHL and at other times looks like he could be useful in the NHL. It is just a difficult process to break through to being a force to be reckoned with and although the chances have been there, he has yet to break on through to the other side. The Stars are trying to challenge him to take that next step, because they could use his size and scoring hands, but it has been mostly a tease to this point. He is certainly a wait-and-see guy at age 21. But, you don't want to be impatient with a player that young who has his tools.
Scott Glennie - Wing - 21 - $1.6m on entry level deal until 2014:
Glennie appears to be the forward from down below who is most able to jump the NHL next season. He appears earmarked to fill one of those bottom 6 spots, but after playing 70 games in Austin, training camp will decide much of that.
Reilly Smith - Right Wing - 21 - $900,000 on entry level deal:
It would be wise to assume Reilly Smith can be a top 6 solution for this organization, but it would also be wise to suggest the Stars should perhaps start him in the AHL before they get too carried away with over-exposing him at this level too soon. He has tons of talent, but you have to grow it at its proper pace.
Toby Peterson - Center - 33 - Unrestricted Free Agent:
I assume that after five years in Dallas, we have seen the end of the Toby Peterson run. He has always done a solid job for what he was asked to do, but at 33, the Stars can find younger options.
Ryan Garbutt - Left Wing - 26 - Restricted Free Agent:
Garbutt's 20 games in Dallas were a fun story in 2012, but now he will have to prove that he belongs all over again for next season. Again, with a lack of Top 6 forwards and a multitude of bottom 6 candidates, it is anyone's guess what the team's plans are for Garbutt.
So, there are thoughts of all of the players that seem to be in the immediate mix for the Stars at forward as of this moment. Next time, we will do the same for all of the players in the back.