Thanks to Kari Lehtonen’s 40 saves, the Dallas Stars moved to within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with a 2-0 win at Los Angeles on Thursday night.
In the process, they further muddied the picture for GM Joe Nieuwendyk ahead of the April 3 trade deadline.
I feel for Nieuwendyk and the Stars' front office. It’s the third year in a row the Stars have straddled the playoff fence right around the trade deadline, making it awfully difficult to decide whether you’re a buyer, a seller or neither.
That quicksand spot is brutal.
Last year at the deadline, the Stars were eighth in the West, and while they got calls on players such as Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, Nieuwendyk held off, wanting to give his club the best possible shot at getting into the postseason. It was hard to blame him. They ended up six points out, placing 10th. Ott and Ribeiro were moved in the offseason anyway, but you can always wonder whether the offers at the deadline were better. It’s unfair to play that game, of course.
Two years ago, the Stars were also hovering around the last playoff spot. But the team was fading, and Nieuwendyk knew it, so he went to Brad Richards’ camp and inquired about whether the pending unrestricted free agent would be open to a move. With ownership still unsettled at the time in Dallas, Nieuwendyk knew he wouldn’t be able to re-sign Richards. But the star center was coming off a concussion around the trade deadline and didn’t feel right about a move, which was understandable. The Stars just missed out on the postseason, losing out on the final day of the regular season and placing ninth, two points out. Then, the Stars were left holding the bag as Richards walked out July 1 and the club got nothing in return for him.
Which brings us to this year’s trade deadline with the Stars again teasing to get into the playoffs but, of course, with no guarantees.
At one point out through Thursday's games, what does Nieuwendyk do in 11 days?
Do you move them all? Or just one or two of them, keeping in mind you may still make the playoffs?
You also need to keep in mind this is a very deep draft on June 30. If a contender offers up an irresistible draft pick, doesn’t Nieuwendyk have to think long and hard, especially after not getting anything in return for Richards two years ago?
Oy, tough, tough decisions again in Dallas.
Here’s what I would do: check the standings April 1 and make your call 48 hours before the deadline. If you’re within two points of eighth, you keep Jagr and try to move Roy and Morrow.
Jagr has been a popular addition both in the room and in the marketplace in Dallas, so why not let him finish the season and even see if he wants to re-sign after the season.
Morrow, a terrific captain over the years and a player oozing with character, won't stay in Dallas, I don’t think. His role has been diminished this season, and it’s probably time to make Jamie Benn captain next season. But you’re also very respectful of what Morrow has accomplished for your franchise. Because of his no-trade clause, you let Morrow steer the ship here. Does he want to go win a Cup on a contender? Boston, perhaps? Find him a soft landing spot and let him have fun this spring.
Contract talks with Roy haven’t gone anywhere over the past month. You can’t blame Roy for seeing what Anaheim paid Ryan Getzlaf and realizing that, as a UFA scoring center in a weak UFA market, your price just went up. So if I’m Nieuwendyk, I trade him. Obviously you try to land a first-round pick in a deep draft. Short of that, a second-rounder plus a prospect.
Then hope Jagr, Benn & Co. can still get into the spring dance, where anything can happen when you’ve got Lehtonen playing goal like he is this year.
Either way, though, it’s a mighty tough position again for the Stars before the deadline.