Free agency is now less than two weeks away and many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market in mid-July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well. Next up is a look at the Dallas Stars.
Key Restricted Free Agents:
F Jason Robertson – The first full season of Robertson’s career established him as a key member of the Stars’ offense and earned him a quality pay-day at the end of his ELC. Robertson’s second full season, however, established him as a superstar in the NHL and not only gave him a shot at a big contract, but gave the hockey world an intriguing offseason storyline. Robertson amassed an outstanding 41 goals and 38 assists in just 74 games this season, leading the team in goals and helping put Dallas back in the playoffs. Now an RFA and soon to be 23-year-old, Robertson will have some leverage in negotiations, with Dallas presumably looking to lock him up long-term. A deal with term isn’t out of the question for Dallas, but it’ll come at a premium, as recent contract given to Andrei Svechnikov ($7.75MM AAV), Jack Hughes ($8MM AAV), and Brady Tkachuk ($8.2MM AAV) likely set the baseline for Robertson in negotiations, with the possibility to push for even more.
G Jake Oettinger – Robertson wasn’t the only one to significantly boost his value this season, as Oettinger too turned an impressive debut into an outstanding sophomore campaign. After a .911 save-percentage and 2.36 goals-against average in 29 games in 2020-21, Oettinger posted a .914 save-percentage and 2.53 goals-against average in 48 regular season games in 2021-22 before an incredible playoff performance that saw him record a .954 save-percentage and 1.81 goals-against average in a seven-game series against the Calgary Flames. Like Robertson, Oettinger should have some control of his destiny, namely the term of the contract. One comparable, at least as a base, could be Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart, who signed a three-year deal worth $3.979MM per season following the 2020-21 season, which included two comparable seasons to Oettinger, followed by a poor 2020-21.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents:
F Vladislav Namestnikov – A solid contributor, Namestnikov doesn’t have the star power of a Robertson, but has frequently found himself as a deadline-day asset in recent years. Coming off a season where he scored 16 goals to go with 14 assists in 75 games between Dallas and the Detroit Red Wings, Namestnikov is a proven commodity to provide secondary scoring for a competitive team. With the Stars’ need to lock up a couple of core pieces, he may be a luxury they can’t afford, but if they can replicate the two-year, $2MM AAV that just expired, an extension may be hard to pass up.
F Michael Raffl – Much like Namestnikov, Raffl isn’t going to compete for the Hart Trophy, but does provide a valuable service to a competitive team. The two-way forward is coming off a 16 point season in 76 games with a career-worst minus-19 rating, but the veteran did line up in his own end more than 70% of the time, showing the Stars’ reliance on Raffl’s defensive ability. The Austrian has never earned more than $2.35MM in a season, most recently making $1.1MM on a one-year pact, an affordable rate for his services and one, like Namestnikov, could return at the right price as a role-player in Dallas.
D John Klingberg – Perhaps the least likely to return of all players on this list, Klingberg is a well-regarded puck moving defenseman who will assuredly find term and salary on his next deal. Given the Stars cap situation with the contracts that are due, they may be priced out. Even so, the transition away from Klingberg will allow the team to give elevated minutes and responsibility to Miro Heiskanen and Thomas Harley. Still, it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that Klingberg is absolutely on his way out, with both sides indicating a mutual desire for a reunion, but with a player like Torey Krug earning a seven-year, $45.5MM contract two offseasons ago, an extension with Klingberg may be tough to justify.
Projected Cap Space:
Dallas will head into the offseason with a comfortable $18.56MM in salary cap space, plenty to work with, but with what figures to be two expensive RFAs. If, for argument’s sake, Robertson was to sign an $8MM AAV contract like Hughes and Oettinger a $4MM AAV just above Hart, Dallas would be left with $6.56MM in cap space. If they want to keep Klingberg, it may take letting a few names, like Raffl and Namestnikov, walk and likely another move too. On the other hand, they could bring back most players, including those two, allowing Klingberg leave, and find themselves at or just below the cap ceiling, but with little room or opportunity to improve.
Their first round defeat at the hands of Calgary was a rather impressive showing, but if the franchise wants to take another step forward, while losing Klingberg, there will need to be some improvements. One way to create additional space would be to deal goaltender Anton Khudobin, who has one more year at $3.33MM on his contract. A trade of Khudobin may cost Dallas an asset or two, but the team has all but its seventh to offer out of its 2022 class of draft picks. If Dallas can bring in a player or two, they still must be weary of their cap situation, with a raise to Roope Hintz and his $3.15MM cap hit due after this coming season.