In mid-May, the Dallas Stars announced that Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Bob Gainey, who had once served as head coach and later general manager of the club during its glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, was returning to the organization as a consultant to the hockey operations department.
Once Gainey was introduced at the press conference at American Airlines Center, he, new owner Tom Gaglardi, club president Jim Lites and GM Joe Nieuwendyk took questions from the press and one of the more interesting queries came when Gaglardi was asked how active the Stars would be in free agency this summer.
The new owner was adamant in his belief that while free agency was definitely one avenue to right the ship of a franchise that has now gone four years between playoff berths, he said that free agency carried with it considerable pitfalls.
Gaglardi went on to declare that he felt the best way for the Stars to turn things around was to do it from within, mainly by drafting, acquiring and developing young talent instead of sinking a great deal of financial resources into free agents joining the roster.
So, given the owner’s remarks just over a month ago, it wasn’t all that surprising to hear the announcement during the first round of Friday’s 2012 NHL Draft that the Stars had traded away 32-year-old center Mike Ribeiro, who had been with the club for the last six seasons after coming over in a 2006 trade with Montreal, to Washington in exchange for center Cody Eakin and a second-round pick.
Ribeiro had centered the Stars’ top line for much of his time in Big D and done so with panache and also while delivering consistent offensive production. Injuries clearly affected him last season as he missed eight games and his offensive production dipped a bit. But even so, he still had 63 points (18-45-63) in 74 games, just one season after he was one of four Stars to not miss a single regular-season game in 2010-11.
Sure, Ribs was a guy who could confound opponents, his own coaches and even fans alike on a somewhat regular basis, but no one ever doubted his incredible talent. Considering he was traded for a center who is 11 years his junior shows that age was one factor in him getting dealt to the Capitals, but something else that might have factored into the trade was the fact that No. 63 had been one of the constants during the Stars’ current playoff drought.
It might be harsh to pin the club’s lack of postseason appearances solely on his shoulders, but it doesn’t appear that’s what the Stars are doing. There were some rumors that Ribeiro might have been in play at last season’s NHL trade deadline and once Gaglardi took over last November, fans and media alike knew that changes were coming. The only question was whether they’d occur during the season or if they’d wait until the summer to start changing things up a bit.
The trading of Ribeiro is definitely a big move for an organization that is dying to get back to the playoffs. Ribs was part of a veteran core, along with captain Brenden Morrow and seasoned d-man Stephane Robidas, that had been around for each of the last four seasons as the club missed out on the NHL’s second season. Maybe the trade isn’t so much a knock against Ribeiro, maybe it’s just a case of Gaglardi and the Stars brass feeling something wasn’t working and they’re not afraid to try an alternate course of action to help rectify the situation.
Eakin looks like a solid, young player at 21 who not to sound cliché has considerable upside, but he has just 30 games of NHL experience under his belt and there are some legitimate questions about whether or not the third-round pick in the 2009 draft is even ready to be an everyday player at the NHL level and that he might need some more seasoning in the AHL. Of course, those questions will all be resolved once training camp gets started come September.
However, there is one viable question associated with this deal. Now that Ribeiro is gone, who exactly do the Stars plan on having to center their top line this year? Jamie Benn, who was an NHL All-Star for the first time last season, is one possibility, likely on a line also featuring 2011 All-Star Loui Eriksson. But it’s unlikely the club would try Steve Ott as their No. 1 center because while Otter is a solid player, the attempt by the organization to make him a top-six player last season showed that he best serves this club by being on the third or fourth line.
Then again, maybe the Stars have another card that has yet to be played, maybe in the draft or even in free agency as far as a center they plan on bringing in. But other than Eakin, Dallas also got another second-round pick, 54th overall, in this deal and that might be the big story of this trade. Adding Washington’s second-round choice gives the Stars three picks in the second round-Nos. 43, 54 and 61. And going back to Gaglardi’s statement about wanting to build from within, what better way to do it than with three second-round picks in what many consider a pretty deep 2012 draft pool?