<
>

Countdown to the deadline: Stars

The Dallas Stars' Jim Nill has been aggressive on the trade market since taking over as general manager, but most of his significant movement has come in the offseason. The Stars simply aren't at the point in their development where he's ready to load up at the trade deadline to try to make a push for the playoffs. If anything, based on the play of his team, he'll be doing the opposite this season. "If it looks like we're out of it in two weeks, we're probably looking to move [unrestricted free agents]," Nill told ESPN.com. And if the Stars are still in the playoff race? "Probably nothing," he said. Saturday's loss to the Buffalo Sabres was a brutal one for a team that needs every point the rest of the way. Dallas needs wins, and it couldn't beat the worst team in the league, with that loss putting the Stars seven points outside the playoff spot with pretty good teams in the way. If you're betting on the Stars' trade deadline strategy, bet on selling.

Status: SELLER.

Available: Likely to receive the most interest when Nill is ready to move players is winger Erik Cole. His production has been solid for the Stars this season, with 14 goals in 48 games, while playing the fewest minutes of his career at 13:54 per game. He's not going to net a huge return, but he's a veteran winger with playoff experience. We know the Montreal Canadiens and Stars aren't afraid to make deals, and it might make sense for GM Marc Bergevin to bring Cole back to Montreal. Shawn Horcoff is an interesting option for teams looking at veteran leadership. He'll be available if the Stars fall out of the hunt, and he was great for the Stars last year in the playoffs, with six points in six games. In 41 career playoff games, Horcoff has 29 points.

Finances: The Stars have cap room, but they're a budget team. With notable contracts on the books already for guys such as Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Ales Hemsky and Kari Lehtonen, they aren't a strong candidate to take on significant salary at the trade deadline. If anything, this is a team that will be shedding money at the deadline.

Scouting the GM: This is only the second trade deadline for Nill, but we know he's a draft-and-develop guy, so hanging on to or acquiring draft picks is a priority for him. He's still early on in his tenure in Dallas, and while the Stars remain a borderline playoff team, the real success won't happen until more young players are coming through the system and pushing for playing time. Nill isn't going to keep veteran assets around at the risk of losing potential draft picks just because the team might make some miraculous run after the deadline. The team will have to be closer than they are now in order to keep guys such as Cole and Horcoff around.