Stars look to improve depth in free agency

FRISCO -- Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said he has money to spend and areas to address as NHL free agency opens, and one of those areas on his list is depth.

“We have areas throughout our lineup we’d like to upgrade, the depth of our team especially,” Nieuwendyk said this week. “We always want to talk about the high-end forward or the high-end defenseman, but I look at this free agency period as equally as important for those depth guys. We’re looking at names across the board.”

It might not generate the buzz of a top six forward or a top pairing defenseman, but depth is an important part of team success. It was a key for teams that made it into the playoffs and advanced.

"Look at the teams that have gone through the playoffs here, they use a lot of their people,” Nieuwendyk said. “You look at a team like Tampa Bay, and guys like Adam Hall, [Sean] Bergenheim, and Dominic Moore. You can go through a lot of teams. “

The Boston Bruins, for example. Depth was a key factor in their drive to the 2011 Stanley Cup. Players like Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell were key contributors. That depth helped them overcome some key injuries.

Depth was an issue for the Stars last season. It was exposed when the Stars were hit hard by injuries. During the stretch drive, as the Stars tried to get into the playoffs, they relied on their top-end players heavily. Nieuwendyk doesn’t want to go there again. He wants the Stars to be able to use a lot of players, which over the course of a long season likely will pay dividends.

“One of the things last year, I felt our depth was not good," said Nieuwendyk. “We need to work on those third and fourth line guys. ... I think the key is to have enough people to play so that you’re not asking Jamie Benn to play 24 minutes a night. That doesn’t work anymore. I firmly believe you’ve got to use a lot of your people, so depth is important to me.”

While this year’s free agent pool is thin on high-end talent, there should be several players available who could help the Stars in the depth department.

Adding a top six forward and bolstering the defense also are the agenda. Trades are always an option, but right now the focus in on free agency.

Up front, the Stars have Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, who likely will play center, as top six forwards. There’s the belief Steve Ott could fill a spot in the top six, but there is still a hole to fill.

On defense, the Stars bolstered the blue line last season with the addition of Alex Goligoski. But right now there are two open roster spots on defense that the Stars need to fill.

The Stars have about $38 million committed in both salary cap costs and actual salary with about six or seven roster spots open. They need to spend about $10 million just to get to the salary cap floor, but Nieuwendyk said the team’s budget will actually allow them to spend above the floor.

So while there is money to spend, the Stars don’t want to be reckless. That’s especially true in a year when the free agent class is pretty thin.

“We still have to be selective and smart,” said Nieuwendyk.

Market thins

What was already a thin free agent market got thinner Thursday, especially on defense. Christian Ehrhoff signed a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres acquired Ehrhoff’s rights from the New York Islanders, who had acquired them from the Vancouver Canucks.

Not long after Ehrhoff went of the market, the Detroit Red Wings locked up Jonathan Ericsson to a three-year, $9.75 million deal. Ericsson, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, had been expected to stay with Detroit.

Carolina signed forward Jussi Jokinen to a three-year, $9 million deal, keeping him from hitting the market at 11 a.m. (CT) Friday.

Dallas free agents

The official list of free agents will be released by the NHL on Friday, but here’s an unofficial list of Dallas’ free agents as free agency approaches.

Dallas Stars Free Agents

Here's an unofficial look at Dallas Stars free agents, including those in the minor league system.