Expansion Draft Preview: Dallas Stars

This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.

Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.

One guy.

There are lists of protected players, exempt players, exposed players, injured players, and intersections between those categories; there are newcomers slotting in for established veterans when the injury bug bites; and there are potential trade deadline moves, altering the landscape for any of those lists.

But none of that matters with respect to Dallas. Because when it comes to the Stars and the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, it’s all about one guy. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

One Guess

Out of the 12 forwards in the starting lineup for the Stars, 10 of them are either protected, exempt, or will be unrestricted free agents after this season. Same thing for 5 out of 6 of their starting defensemen. The two forwards they will likely leave exposed are a $7 million AAV 36-year-old and a young 4th line RFA. The defenseman is a 34-year-old logging bottom-pairing minutes.

Not difficult to make up your protected list when you’ve done that much advance planning.

The Stars can only protect one goalie (same as any other team), and they do have two under contract for a further 2 years. The one they are required to protect due to his full no-movement clause has been out all season with an injury. The one they can’t protect has a .913 save percentage, 2.60 GAA, is signed for another 2 years at $3.33 million AAV, and played for the Carolina Hurricanes while Kraken GM Ron Francis was their general manager.

So can you guess which “one guy” we’re talking about?

Protected List

As we mentioned, it’s relatively easy to make up the protected list for the Dallas Stars. The only real question mark is forward Joe Pavelski, who I am guessing they will likely leave exposed. That’s the bet Dallas will make with this long-tenured veteran, assuming that Ron Francis will leave that player alone due to his age and expensive contract. Numerous other teams will be making similar bets on their senior citizens as well.

Pavelski is one of the rare big-money veterans who is actually still producing: he has 12 goals and 23 points in 20 games, he is top-3 on the team in plus-minus at plus-7, though his face-off win percentage is the lowest of his NHL career at 50.9%. He would be a solid addition to the Kraken — in my opinion, a candidate for captain if they choose to bring him aboard. But in the end, once the costs and benefits are weighed, I think Dallas wins that bet and Pavelski stays in Dallas.

To assemble our protected list, we have made the same types of assumptions we have made with other teams: unrestricted free agents will be left unprotected; with the previously-noted exception, any forwards in the top six will get a protected slot, as will blueliners on the top defensive pairing. As for the gray areas, we tapped into the knowledge of Dallas-based media sources to get the inside skinny on who is likely “in” and “out” in Big D.

With that said, we assume that Dallas will adopt the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:

Forwards: Tyler Seguin (NMC), Jamie Benn (NMC), Alexander Radulov (NMC), Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Jason Dickinson

Defensemen: Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen

Goaltender: Ben Bishop (NMC)

We will also note here that three players making solid contributions as part of the Stars’ primary roster — forwards Joel Kiviranta and Jason Robertson, and goaltender Jake Oettinger — are all exempt from the draft.

No Thank You

There are players that we expect to be left exposed that are either 1) too expensive, 2) not performing, 3) too old, or 4) fall into two or more of the aforementioned categories. As such, we will be dismissing the possibility of selecting any of the following players:

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau

Defense: Jamie Oleksiak, Andrej Sekera

Goaltenders: (*none*)

We will note here that all of the players listed above are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, except for Sekera who is signed for one more year.

The only other oddity on the Stars’ lineup concerns defenseman Stephen Johns, who is still considered eligible for the draft. However, he has only stepped on to the ice for 17 games in the last 3 seasons — none this year — due to lingering concussion issues. We expect him to receive a “career threatening injury” exemption before the draft gets underway.

Who’s Left?

As we mentioned, there is Joe Pavelski, but we’ve covered that. There are a few other younger players with sparse NHL and AHL experience who could potentially get a longer look from the Kraken. Joel L’Esperance is one, a 6’2″ right-shot center who has performed consistently with the AHL Texas Stars farm club — 25 goals and 40 points in 58 games last season.

Also available is Adam Mascherin, a tough, speedy winger who put up staggering numbers in Juniors, and who is now starting to flourish in the AHL. Then there’s defenseman Ben Gleason, a play-making blueliner who is starting to come into his own. And Julius Honka, a hybrid-style Finnish defenseman who has spent the last 6 years shuffling between the NHL Stars, the AHL Stars, and teams in the Finnish Elite League.

None of these players would be a wasted choice, but without the benefit of a dedicated and team-managed farm club, Seattle has to be careful about which — and how many — prospects they take on in the expansion draft. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Kraken make one of these guys their selection; I just think there is a better choice.

Which brings us to our “one guy.”

Seismic Shift

The NHL finds itself at a crossroads with respect to goaltending. More than one with a top-quality starter found themselves fighting for a playoff spot because their backup couldn’t deliver enough wins to get them within reach; still others were forced to over-utilize one guy to the point of exhaustion, and withered towards the end of the year. This past off-season we saw a number of trades designed to address these specific issues.

We could be witnessing a seismic shift in how teams structure their goaltending. Some teams have already moved to a tandem model, or are extending the use of their backups to the point where the distinction is immaterial. Gone are the days when you put the backup in for “throw-away” games against weaker teams, believing that any wins you get are a bonus. There are no more “throw-away” games, especially this season. As such, demand for quality, inexpensive goaltenders has never been higher.

Whether Ron Francis decides to go with a starter/backup or tandem configuration is more or less irrelevant; it serves the Kraken’s interests to acquire as many quality goaltenders as they believe they can either use or flip to other teams. When selecting such players, the number of wins is important, as are individual metrics like goals against average and save percentage; but so is salary.

To put it bluntly: Francis should be surveying the GM’s around the league, find out which of the exposed goaltenders are in the most demand, and grab every one of them he can. Keep the cream of the crop for himself, and have himself an auction for the rest to acquire more top-performing forwards.

The rules of the draft mandate that the Kraken must draft 3 goaltenders; but the rules also leave 4 of the 30 draft slots open to players at any position. As long as Francis thinks he has enough demand to successfully flip them, it’s my contention that he should use all 4 of those slots to acquire goaltenders — 7 in total.

Dobby And Big D

Anton Khudobin was set to enter the free agent market this past off-season, but woke up one morning and called his agent. “Get a deal done with Dallas,” he told his representative, “I don’t want to leave.” 2 days later the ink was dry on a new 3-year, $10 million deal, and Dobby thought his place in Big D was secure.

The Stars came out of the bubble last fall thinking they were going into the 2020-21 season with starter Ben Bishop carrying the bulk of the load, and Khudobin taking 15-20 starts during the shortened season. But in mid-October Bishop underwent a second operation on the same knee he had surgically repaired the previous May, and his timeline for returning to action (once thought to be, well, now…) is unknown.

That meant the bulk of the load fell to Khudobin, with promising youngster Jake Oettinger serving as backup. Oettinger is proving to be the better of the two goaltenders thus far, with a 2.12 GAA and no losses in regulation thus far. That’s good news for Dallas, but bad news for Dobby.

All of a sudden Dallas had a second viable — and far cheaper — option in the backup goaltending department when Bishop returned. This alleviated any reservations Dallas GM Jim Nill might have had about letting Khudobin go in the expansion draft, and also created a disincentive to trying to craft a deal that would prevent Dobby’s departure. When you combine these facts with the way Dallas has crafted the rest of the roster, having the Kraken select Khudobin is almost fait accompli.

The Choice

Going on the assumption that the Kraken will select Dobby in the expansion draft, the team is then faced with a choice: keep him as part of the team, or try to trade him for some additional scoring. What they end up doing will depend largely on what other goaltending assets they are able to acquire in the draft, and what kinds of offers they get for the goaltenders they have.

Khudobin won’t be the best netminder available to the Kraken. Names like Jake Allen, Cam Talbot, Braden Holtby, and Casey DeSmith are also likely to be exposed and available to the Kraken this July. Including Khudobin, that makes five talented goaltenders the Kraken can secure exclusive rights to. So who do you keep?

Basing the choice exclusively on their stats so far in 2021, that sets up the Kraken with a possible Allen/DeSmith duo to start their inaugural season, meaning Khudobin could become part of a transaction sending him to a team looking for better and/or more affordable options in goal.

Toronto, for instance, is on the cusp of walking away from starting goaltender Frederik Andersen when he hits the free agent market this summer. The heir apparent is youngster Jack Campbell, who arguably needs more seasoning before taking firm grasp of the starter’s mantle, and could still benefit from a veteran presence backing him up. Khudobin would represent a $1.667 million savings over Andersen, and might fit in nicely with the Leafs’ plans in the short term.

They won’t be the only ones in the market, mind you. San Jose, Detroit, Buffalo, Nashville, and New Jersey all have serious goaltending issues, never mind teams like Carolina and Boston who are set to lose both their starter and backup to free agency this summer. It is absolutely a seller’s market for goaltenders, and the Kraken can use the expansion draft to reel in several sought-after names, then have the rest of the league coming to them with offers.

Goalie Musical Chairs — Again!

A lot can happen in the next 4 months. The limitation of division-only play this shortened season means every game is a 4-point game in pursuit of a playoff spot. Every win means twice as much, and you can’t have goaltending be the reason that your team is playing golf when everyone else is gearing up for the post-season.

This past off-season we watched the beginning of the goaltending market shift, as close to a dozen major names changed teams via trade or free agency. With every game, every period, every shot on goal potentially affecting a team’s playoff chances, we could easily see the trade deadline unleash the same kind of goalie musical chairs as we saw in the off-season.

If Pittsburgh falters down the stretch, they might just decide to flip Casey DeSmith to a team like Toronto or St. Louis. If Minnesota finds itself out of a playoff spot, they just might move Cam Talbot at the deadline rather than lose him to the Kraken for nothing. Arizona youngster Adin Hill could be a primary target for the Kraken, yet the Coyotes might be sellers at the deadline, and Hill is their most affordable marketable asset. And we could see any measure of chaos ensue if (not Las) Vegas decides to use their draft-exempt status to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

Then there is the mystery of the Canadiens. Montreal has Jake Allen under contract for this season, but GM Marc Bergevin already extended him a further two years — knowing full well that the only goaltender he could protect in the expansion draft was Carey Price. So it’s clear that Bergevin plans to make the Kraken an offer so good they will forget all about Jake Allen and accept the package that he dangles in front of them instead.

The situation in Dallas is, as we’ve shown, a lot more concrete, and a lot less likely to change. Do I think the Kraken will select Anton Khudobin from Dallas in the expansion draft? I do. Do I think you see the name Anton Khudobin as part of the Kraken’s opening night roster?

A lot can happen in the next 4 months…

You can check out Anton Khudobin tonight, as it happens. Coach Rick Bowness confirms that Dobby will get the start when the Stars take on the Blackhawks this evening. The broadcast gets underway at 5:30pm on NBCSN.

Author: Tim Currell

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