- Dallas Stars beat writer Mike Heika of SportsDay held a Q&A with readers and answered all sorts of questions regarding the Stars and their big offseason moves. One of them revolved around R.J. Umberger, who has signed a professional tryout with the team after a full year away from the game. Heika believes the invitation to camp is more of a friendly opportunity handed out by Umberger’s former coach in Ken Hitchcock than a real tryout for the Stars this season. If Umberger can show he’s healthy and rejuvenated, a successful camp under a familiar system could look good around the league. Now 35, Umberger could potentially sign a one-year contract with performance bonuses, though those kinds of deals come with risks as well.
Though it’s been expected for some time, due to the year remaining on his contract in the KHL, the Dallas Stars have announced that Valeri Nichushkin will not return to the NHL until the 2018-19 season. Instead, he’ll play his final year for CSKA Moscow and hope for even better results.
Nichushkin, 22, signed in the KHL last fall after a falling out with then head coach Lindy Ruff but immediately hinted that he hoped to return to the Stars one day. Now, with Ruff gone and Ken Hitchcock in place the team hopes to bring him back in and nurture the immense talent he brings to the table. Selected 10th-overall in 2013, Nichushkin brings size, speed and a nose for the net but hasn’t been able to put it all together just yet. In 34 games with CSKA last season, the 6’3″ winger 24 points. Showing flashes of brilliance at times, he needs to bring more consistency to his game if he’s to fit into the rigid Hitchcock system and fulfill his potential in the NHL.
A return to the league this year would have required a buyout of his contract, but instead he’ll take the opportunity to suit up with one of the best teams in the Russian league. It will be interesting to see how he’s deployed, but North American onlookers would certainly hope he and Kirill Kaprizov could be put together to form an immensely talented duo. The pair would bring incredible youth and skill to the team, and fans in Dallas and Minnesota would be sure to get some interesting highlights to watch.
Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin expects to play for the Dallas Stars in 2018-19, reports Mike Heika of the Dallas News. He currently plays for CSKA Moscow in the KHL and will finish out the final year of his contract with the Russian club.
The Stars still retain Nichushkin’s rights as he left for the KHL after finishing his ELC contract, so he is still considered an RFA by the NHL. Nichushkin is valued enough by the Stars that they protected him in this summer’s expansion draft.
This season, Nichushkin scored 11G and 13A in 36 games for CSKA Moscow, and an additional 1G and 4A in the playoffs. In his last season with the Stars (2015-16), Nichushkin netted 9G and 20A in 79 games. The Stars obviously value him enough to protect him, and if he returns as a more-developed version of himself, it is a win-win for both player and organization. The player receives more playing time in his native country rather than limited NHL minutes—or riding the bus in the AHL—and the team has its asset develop without incurring salary expenditures or a salary cap hit.
After a full year away from the NHL, R.J. Umberger has signed a professional tryout with the Dallas Stars for camp this fall. Umberger was bought out of the last year of his deal in 2016, but according to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch will be brought in with former coach Ken Hitchcock to training camp.
- The Iowa Wild have hired Brett McLean as an assistant coach for this season, giving him his first crack behind the bench. McLean just finished his playing career after a couple of seasons in Austria, the last stop on a long winding road. Drafted by Dallas in 1997, McLean never played for the Stars but did suit up for 385 NHL games. An incredibly talented offensive player, he was undersized before it was common in the league, and would eventually take his talents to Europe and be a big part of the developing Swiss NLA. He’ll come in and help the Minnesota Wild’s AHL franchise now, trying to pass on a little of that offensive knowledge to their young players.
After locking up Radek Faksa to a new contract yesterday, GM Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars were back at it again today, announcing an extension for forward Gemel Smith. Smith signed a one-year, two-way deal with financial terms not yet disclosed.
Smith made his NHL debut in 2016-17, skating in 17 games and recording three goals and three assists. He also added 33 points in 53 games with the AHL’s Texas Stars. The 2012 fourth-round pick hadn’t found that kind of scoring success since he was a star forward with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack.
While Smith seemed poised to take on a bigger role with Dallas this season, the additions of Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal and maybe even Tyler Pitlick and Brian Flynn could mean even less opportunity for Smith. At just 5’10”, Smith plays a surprisingly hard-nosed, physical game. He may need to focus more on that side of his game than his offensive ability to earn his initial role with Dallas.
The Dallas Stars have a done deal with priority restricted free agent Radek Faksa. The team announced that they have signed the 23-year-old center to a three-year, $6.6MM extension. The big Czech forward will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires after the 2019-20 season.
Faksa’s $2.2MM yearly cap hit would be a bargain for most teams in the NHL. In just his second NHL season, Faksa skated in 80 games, logging over 16 minutes of ice time per game, and registered 33 points. Yet, in the context of Dallas’ big off-season, that relatively small cap hit further frustrates the Stars’ difficult cap crunch. Dallas has added Martin Hanzal, a center like Faksa, to a three-year deal that pays him $4.75MM each year, and one of the biggest names on the free agent market, winger Alexander Radulov, to a five-year deal that pays out $6.25MM annually, already this summer. Additionally, they traded for defenseman Marc Methot from the Vegas Golden Knights and the remaining two years and $9.8MM on his contract. Hanzal, Radulov, and Methot join Jamie Benn ($9.5MM), Jason Spezza ($7.5MM), Tyler Seguin ($5.75MM), John Klingberg ($4.25MM), Ben Bishop ($4.92), and Kari Lehtonen ($5.9MM) on a roster that is bursting with talent, but toppling the salary cap ceiling as well. With Faksa’s new deal, the Stars are committed to $74.2MM for a full roster of 23 players, but still have to re-sign RFA defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and will be hard-pressed for flexibility regardless.
The Faksa extension would seem to rule out the talked-about idea of the team trading the young pivot, but the team will have to make a move somewhere. It seems unlikely that Dallas is done dealing this off-season.
The Buffalo Sabres continue to do some management restructuring today, announcing the hiring of Ryan Jankowski to be the new director of amateur scouting. The team is also promoting Scott Crisp to be the assistant director of amateur scouting. Jankowski, who spent the last four years with Hockey Canada and served as the director of amateur of scouting there, now comes to join Jason Botterill and his new staff. He was responsible for selecting and evaluating players for Canada’s national junior team as well as under-18 and under-17 programs. He has also previously worked as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens and an assistant general manager for the New York Islanders, and had a hand in drafting current Sabres’ Kyle Okposo. Crisp, the team’s former head scout, has been scouting for 17 years, including the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks.
- About a month ago, PHR reported that Chris Chelios was leaving the Detroit Red Wings organization. The part-time assistant coach was reportedly trying to gain a position with the NHL Players’ Association. However, Chelios might not be as gone as some think. According to NBC Sports’ Cam Tucker, Chelios was recently seen at the Red Wings development camp and is still listed as an assistant coach on the team’s website. HockeyBuzz’s Bob Duff interviewed him and Chelios says he just took a leave of absence to explore a possible job with the NHLPA, but had always intended to return to the Red Wings if that didn’t come through. However, there is no indication that he did or didn’t get a position with the NHLPA yet.
- WEEI’s Ty Anderson tweets that Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said today the team has made no progress on a new contract for restricted free agent David Pastrnak. The 21-year-old first-round pick in 2014 had a breakout season last year, putting up 34 goals and 70 points. The Bruins tweeted they are negotiating with several teams about trades and haven’t closed the doors on unrestricted free agent Drew Stafford.
- The Anaheim Ducks signed 2016 fourth-round pick Alex Dostie to a three-year entry-level contract, according to Sportsnet. The 20-year-old center spent the year playing for three teams, including the Gatineau Olympiques and the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL, where he combined to put up 30 goals and 41 assists between the two teams. He also played one playoff game for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls without registering a point.
- The Dallas Stars tweeted that 2015 second-rounder Roope Hintz will likely come over to the United States to play hockey this season after a breakout year for HIFK Helsinki team in Finland. The 20-year-old scored 19 goals and 11 assists in 44 games last year.
The first top ten signing of the 2017 NHL Draft class is in the books, as the Dallas Stars have signed third overall pick Miro Heiskanen to his first pro contract. The team announced that the 17-year-old Finnish defenseman has signed on for the maximum entry-level deal of three years and $925K per.
An entry-level deal does not officially begin to toll until the player skate in 10 NHL games and Heiskanen’s deal does not necessarily imply that he is bound for the big leagues in 2017-18. However, the swiftness with which GM Jim Nill and the Stars got this deal done does seem to imply that the plan is to get Heiskanen started right away. The two-way puck-mover was considered one of the most pro-ready prospects in the draft and was always going to be given the chance to compete for a job in camp. With Heiskanen in town for the Stars’ development camp this week, it was the perfect time to get the deal done and show the youngster that they believe he can make a difference right away.
A quick look at the Dallas depth chart certainly shows an opportunity for Heiskanen to make the team and have a considerable role this season. There are many names with NHL experience on the Stars’ roster, but few that made much of an impact for the team that finished ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche in goals allowed in 2016-17. Defenseman John Klingberg is the leader of the blue line and an elite offensive defenseman, but he is a right-shot. Up-and-coming Julius Honka, a smaller, quicker clone of Klingberg, is also a right-shot. Stephen Johns, who played in the fourth-most games of any Stars defender, is also a right shot. Dallas is solid on the right side, but there are plenty of questions on the left, where Heiskanen plays. Recently-acquired Marc Methot is obviously a lock for the top pair. Esa Lindell had a strong rookie season and will surely play a major role for the Stars. Veteran Dan Hamhuis has a disappointing first season in Dallas; the veteran puck-mover skated in 79 games, recording just one goal, and was scratched for the other three. He’ll likely lose play time and take on a smaller role next season, but his contract would be hard to move, so Hamhuis will likely remain in Dallas nonetheless. That final spot on the left side could belong to Heiskanen. In a puzzling move, Nill traded Jordie Benn, Stars captain Jamie Benn’s older brother, to the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline for another right-hander, Greg Pateryn, and a fourth-round pick, leaving a hole on the left side. Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, both high picks in recent years, are still relatively young at 24 and 25 respectively, but were unable to seize their opportunities last season, struggling to produce points and frequently making mistakes in their own end. With a good showing in camp, Heiskanen could be able to make a case that he is more ready for a starting role than Oleksiak, Nemeth, or the aging Hamhuis. It may cause a logjam on the blue line in Dallas and force a move, but having a 17-year-old push out under-performing veterans is a problem that Nill won’t mind having.
- Sean Shapiro of NHL.com speculates that Radek Faksa’s next deal will be of the bridge variety and come in around $2.5MM per season. The young center is coming off his first full season with the Dallas Stars, in which he registered 33 points and became a big part of their forward group. The 23-year old is still not arbitration eligible, and is several years away from unrestricted free agency. A bridge deal of two years would allow both sides to re-evaluate where his career stands at 25, and negotiate a long-term deal that would buy out free agent years. The Stars also don’t have much cap room for anything longer, as they find themselves close to the upper limit after signing Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov.
The Dallas Stars have come to an agreement with one of their restricted free agents, signing Brett Ritchie to a two-year, $3.5MM contract. Ritchie did not file for arbitration before yesterday’s deadline despite being eligible. The deal, which pays him an average salary of $1.725MM will be a raise of $850K from last season.
Ritchie was a second-round pick of the Stars in 2011 but hadn’t made an impact at the NHL level until this season. In 78 games, Ritchie finally found his scoring touch, registering 16 goals and 24 points. Those goals came in less than 13 minutes a night, making Ritchie a nice value for the salary and ice time Dallas invested in him. It’s not clear if that role will increase at all, after Dallas added two top-nine forwards in Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal, and more right-wing depth in Tyler Pitlick and Brian Flynn.
The most interesting part of Ritchie’s 16 goals is that they came on a very average shooting percentage. He shot 9.6% this season, lending credence to the idea that he could duplicate (or even surpass) that production with ease next season. Getting a potential 15-20 goal scorer for under $2MM is a relative bargain, and comes because of his lack of track record. Ritchie turned 24 on July 1st, meaning he still has some potential to grow into his role as a power forward and help the Stars get back to the postseason.
This offseason is turning out well for the Stars, who have added Marc Methot and Ben Bishop as well, while picking twice in the first round of the draft. With Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg still around, watch out for a potential rebound from the Stars into contention. They’ll have to figure out what to do with Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa and Gemel Smith though, as the trio of RFAs need new contracts and the team has less than $3MM in cap space remaining.