Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill sat down for an interview with Mike Heika of the Dallas News over the weekend. The full interview is certainly worth a read but here are some of the highlights.
On whether there are any challenges associated with carrying eight defensemen instead of the standard seven:
“I don’t think so. I think you look at the schedule and it’s going to be a grind, so I really feel we will need that depth. You look at last season, and we didn’t need that depth until the end of the season, but if we didn’t have that depth, we would have been in trouble. So it worked out for us. I think this year, somebody steps in and somebody steps out, and we’re seeing growth in those players. Jamie Oleksiak, I think we’re seeing growth in him. Esa Lindell, we’re seeing growth in him. That’s what we want.”
Jamie Oleksiak’s situation has been well documented as he has effectively been the eighth blueliner dating back to last season. He has played just 24 of a possible 98 regular season games since 2015-16, hardly an ideal scenario for a 23 year old former first round pick.
“It’s a complicated process, and that’s why we haven’t done it yet. But if we had to do that, we could and we could allow ourselves more spending space. To simplify it, I can just say we don’t anticipate any problems with the cap. We should be fine.”
The Stars currently have over $1.5MM in salary cap space according to Cap Friendly despite effectively carrying a 28-man roster due to all of the injuries they’re currently dealing with. As some players return to the lineup, that number should only increase, suggesting that they’ll be in good shape moving forward without needing to dip into LTIR.
On the decision to let Valeri Nichushkin go back to the KHL – given the injury woes the team has up front, does Nill believe he should have been more flexible in negotiations with the former first rounder?
“No, not at all. We’re comfortable with the offer we gave and we’re comfortable with the process. Every contract you sign can affect another contract, especially with younger players. We made a decision, and he made a decision, and that’s just negotiations. I think in the end, it could be good for him to go back there and maybe mature, and then maybe when he has the opportunity, he will better understand what he has here and want to come back.”
Regarding one contract possibly affecting another, Nill later added that the team is trying to follow a certain structure when it comes to restricted free agents and that consistency in that process is important. In recent years, the Stars have been pushing for shorter-term bridge deals with restricted free agents coming off their entry-level deals even though that goes against the current league-wide trend.
“The numbers aren’t good, but at the same time I get back to the injuries and the team that’s in front of them. It’s a challenge for both of them, and I think there have been times when they have really stepped up. I think they both had great training camps, and they both have stepped up a times. We just need to strive to improve every game, but that’s the same for the whole team.”
The Stars currently have a team goals against average of 3.44, ranking 26th in the league and a team save percentage of .890, good for 27th. Those are hardly ideal numbers for a team that is spending more money on their goaltenders (a combined $10.4MM) than any other team in the NHL. In a follow-up question though, Nill noted that he isn’t worried about looking for an upgrade right now.