This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our third Twitter poll, the Dallas Stars edged out the Hurricanes and will round out the week.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Stars currently have eight forwards, six defensemen and one goaltender under contract for next season at a price tag of $61,585,832 and will also be on the hook for $450,000 for Valeri Nichushkin's buyout. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $19,464,168 in cap space and nine spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: After completing his entry-level contract, Faksa inked a three-year, $6.6 million deal that retained his RFA rights, which is likely the exact same offer the club will make to Hintz, who is currently on the same point trajectory as Faksa was three years ago. Meanwhile, Faksa has turned into a consistent 30-point producer, with the exception of this season. His failure to reach that mark this season is in part due to the league going on hiatus, though he'd need to tally 10 points in the final 13 contests to get there. Back in September of 2017, Marcus Foligno penned a four-year, $11.5 million contract, which figures to be a suitable comparison for Faksa. A four-year, $12 million deal will likely satisfy both parties. In terms of a scoring threat, Gurianov might be the most dangerous of these three after reaching the 20-goal mark in his first full NHL season. Still, he hasn't played as many games for the Stars as Hintz has, so I'd expect a similar amount of term (three years) at a slightly lower AAV ($2 million).
Kyle Riley: At just 23 years of age, Hintz has already started to establish himself as the Stars' No. 2 center. He's been a force on the power play this season (three goals, 11 assists), but the 6-foot-3 Finn still has some room to grow in terms of his play at even strength. Nonetheless, Dallas would be wise to lock him up now rather than having to face the possibility of handing him a major contract after a bridge deal. I think a five-year, $20 million contract would make sense for both sides. It'd allow the Stars to buy one of Hintz' UFA years while also giving him the raise he deserves. Faksa is Dallas' best shutdown center but he doesn't have the offensive upside that Hintz and Gurianov possess. Still, I think he's worth a bit more than $3 million AAV. I think a four-year, $13 million deal should get it done. As AJ alluded to, Gurianov has broken out as a goal scorer this campaign, racking up 20 goals in 64 contests. However, he's not quite as proven as Hintz, so I'd hesitate to give him a long-term deal at this point. I think a three-year, $9 million contract would be agreeable for both parties.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Let's start with the easy decisions here, Hanzal will likely retire due to his lingering back issues and there really is no reason for the organization to bring back Perry for another year when you have youngsters like Joel L'Esperance, Jason Robertson and Tanner Kero pushing for bigger roles in the NHL. With Jaroslav Halak agreeing to terms on a one-year, $2.25 million deal, I expect the Stars to look to hand Khudobin a similar contract to keep him around for at least one more year as the backup to Ben Bishop. On the blue line, the team really only has one spot available on the 23-man roster for Sekera and Polak now that Stephen Johns is back and fully fit. Taylor Fedun is already under contract for 2020-21 and offers a similar skillset as the aforementioned UFAs. If the club is confident in the development of minor-leaguers Gavin Bayreuther or Joel Hanley, then it can probably let those veterans hit the open market. This past season reflected the lowest point total of Janmark's four-year NHL career, though it was also his fewest games played (62) after having just missed one outing in each of the previous two campaigns. His consistency as a 25-35 point producer and relatively healthy track record should warrant keeping him around on a four-year contract worth around $2.4-2.6 million AAV.
Kyle Riley: As AJ mentioned, Hanzal has probably played his last game in the NHL, so he won't be back with the Stars (or likely any team) in 2020-21. Perry has been decent this season (five goals, 21 points in 57 games), but I expect Joel Kiviranta to be a full time NHLer next year, so there's no reason for Dallas to bring him back. Polak and Sekera began rotating in and out of the lineup once Stephen Johns returned, so neither should be re-signed, as the Stars have far cheaper options in Bayreuther and Hanley who should be able to fill the role of the team's seventh defenseman next season. Janmark racked up 15 and 19 goals in his first two campaigns respectively, but his scoring has since dropped off a cliff, as he's only totaled six goals in each of his last two seasons. Nonetheless, he's still a versatile player that can play center or wing and contribute on the power play, so I think AJ was spot on with a four-year, $10 million deal being good for both sides. Khudobin has been fantastic this season, posting a 16-8-4 record while maintaining an impressive 2.22 GAA and .930 save percentage through 30 appearances, so he'll probably be looking for a decent raise. I think AJ's right on the money with the $2.25 million AAV (he's currently making $1.25 million annually), but I'd actually try to lock him up for two years at that rate in order to keep the Stars' two-headed monster in net in tact while they're in prime position to contend.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
Joel L'Esperance ($722,500)
AJ Scholz: This one is pretty straightforward for the Stars, considering L'Esperance has only logged three games for the club this season. He'll be handed a qualifying offer equal to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $735,000. While he didn't play in a game this year, Landon Bow should also be handed a qualifying offer to serve as the defacto No. 3 option for the team and potential netminder of the future. There is also the question of minor-league defenders Gavin Bayreuther, Dillon Heatherington and Reece Scarlett, all of whom are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Of the lot, I think Bayreuther has the strongest case for a spot on the 23-man roster heading into the 2020-21 campaign after leading AHL Texas in blue-line scoring with 29 points in 59 outings. If the club opts to re-sign any or all of these three defensemen, it will be on minimal two-way deals with two years probably being the max term.
Kyle Riley: L'Esperance has been pretty productive in the AHL this year (25 goals, 40 points in 58 games), but he's only logged 21 games with the big club over the past two campaigns, so he shouldn't be expecting a major raise. He is, however, arbitration eligible, so I'd be willing to hand him a one-year, $1 million deal (two way). That would allow the Stars to bury his salary in the minors if and when he underperformed, and would also avoid the possibility of an indepdendent arbitrator handing the 24-year-old American a one-way deal. The rest of the names mentioned above, with the exception of Bow, aren't vital to keep around, but they're still all worth cheap, one-year, two-way deals.
AJ Scholz: There aren't a lot of tough decisions here for Dallas heading into an eventual offseason. With the moves outlined above, the club would enter free agency with about $5 million to spare, which would be enough to snag them a decent second-to-third line forward, which is probably the only significant need for the club this year. I'll steal an idea from one of Kyle's previous Cap Compliance articles and suggest banking the money until closer to the trade deadline and then making a move based on who is available and where the Stars find themselves in the standings. There are a couple of players that could be rental options at that time, including Tomas Tatar, Brandon Saad and Jaden Schwartz.
Kyle Riley: Depending on who ascends from the minors, the plan I outlined above would see the Stars entering the season with $3-4 million in cap space without losing any major pieces. I think it'd be wise for Dallas to look into signing a cheap, bottom-six vet for around $1.5-2 million AAV on a short-term deal, but other than that, I really like the look of this team's roster.