Sturm’s Bag of Pucks: Stars Add Elite Talents

I don’t really know how to start this post-draft,
post-trade, post-free agency, and post-vacation update on the Dallas Stars
offseason as it develops, so let’s just dive right in and make the very
exciting public declaration:

After several years of
not being sure if the Stars were serious, it appears that we now have a hockey
organization that is trying to do everything in its power to compete and to use
its resources to work its way up the ladder in the NHL game of thrones.

This is most exciting.

Now, before
we get carried away, that shift in posture does make me want to defend the work
of the predecessors of Jim Nill and his new staff.  It is a completely
different job description that he is being given than that of Joe Nieuwendyk or
even Les Jackson/Brett Hull.  Those guys were running a franchise that
was either bankrupt, close to bankrupt, or trying to emerge from being bankrupt
for most or all of their runs in the post-Doug Armstrong era.  They
were seldom given the ability to make bold strokes, almost never players in
free agency (at least for those that teams actually desired), and if they ever
made one poor move (Sean Avery, James Neal) than they were never able to fix it
with subsequent moves because they had no more resources to serve as an
eraser.

You simply must understand that any personnel
man in any sport is not going to be perfect, or even close.  The gold
standard for perfection these days in Dallas-Fort Worth is clearly Jon Daniels.
 Daniels, as many will confirm, had his hands dirtied with a number of
poor deals with San Diego (the Adam Eaton deal), Chicago (Danks for McCarthy),
and Washington (Brad Wilkerson) before finally starting to get things when Mark
Teixeira set everything in the right direction.  But, it was trial and
error.  It was swing and miss.  It was a guy given the leeway
to make a mistake and then fix it.  The Stars brass has not been given
the benefit of the doubt in a long, long time.  That was the way it
was and that time appears to be over (we think).  But, let’s not allow
our common sense to be overruled by the knee jerk idea that Nieuwendyk just
didn’t know what he was doing.  He had no resources and really, no chance.
 I believe that he will recover from this situation and have a fine
career moving forward.

Thankfully, when he was fired,
new owner Tom Gaglardi had to decide if the time had arrived to pour resources
into the situation, hire “his guy”, and get serious about winning
rather than surviving.  He went and got Jim Nill, and now we are
seeing the full flex of that muscle early on.  The Stars are trying to
do exactly what I thought was the primary issue with the franchise when
I wrote about this 2 weeks ago
:

Looking at the Stars cupboards, they have a
wonderful collection of players that seem to be talented and capable of playing
in the NHL between the ages of 18-24.  They seem rather stacked in
“solid” NHL talent and youth, thanks to the way the Nieuwendyk regime
was able to flip assets for futures in the last two
years. 
 

But, is there “elite”
talent here?  Is there a Toews or a Kane or a Hossa or a
Keith? 
I believe Jamie Benn has a chance
to be that player and on many nights is already
there. 
 

What else?  I am still holding out
hope that Jamie Oleksiak can be a dominant top pairing defensemen when he has
had enough time in the oven.  Brenden Dillon took such strides these
last 3 years that I wonder if we are foolish to act like we know his ceiling.
 Brett Ritchie has been described as a player with fantastic upside
and there are other kids in the system that could be better than
“solid”.  But, as it stands, the bin marked
“solid” appears to be full and in great shape.  But,
the bin that allows a team to compete for Cups is marked
“elite” and while there might be some potential in that bin, for the
most part it is where much of the league sits normally – close to
empty. 
 

They know this.  They know
that they have lots of 6’s and 7’s, but they need a 9 or a 10 to make this
thing really sing.
 Of course, that is like a football team
saying that they are a Tom Brady away from being a great team.  That
is both obvious and ridiculous – so is pretty much everyone.  But, it
is often true.
 

Elite talent generally requires that you pick #1 or #2 or
certainly in the Top 5 picks of a draft to get someone like that.  In
Chicago’s case, Kane was #1, Toews was #3 overall.  Like Crosby,
Malkin, Ovechkin, and many of the best of the best, they are all gone very
early at the top of the draft.  If you never pick up top, then, like
many other sports, you have to either get lucky or try to win with a collection
of solid pieces, but never have the very best players in the game.  In
can be done, but it surely is not very
likely. 
 

Which leaves the Stars with some interesting
questions in a year where they have lots of money, lots of picks, and lots of
holes on their squad.  Do they combine these resources to go for a
bold strike up the draft board?  

And
here we sit, 14 days later, and the Stars have put 2 potentially elite talents
in the middle of the roster.  Wow.  I cannot stress how
awesome this makes me feel about the future here.

First, at the draft, they were able to navigate around a number of issues and
concerns to nab what many agree is a top 3-5 talent in the 2013 NHL Draft and
take Valeri Nichushkin with the 10th pick.  As you know from reading
my draft preview, he was my #1 hope going into the weekend, so much so that I would
have happily entertained trading up to go get him.  But, the Stars and
Nill held their ground and did not panic.  They knew that KHL threats
made him less desirable for teams up the board and if they were lucky he might
fall right into their laps.  He did, they have already signed him, and
there have been some who have nabbed him as a prime candidate to win the Calder
Trophy for NHL rookie of the year.  Imagine that in a Stars
uniform.

Then, a few days later, after rumors had
flown on draft weekend that the #10 pick might be able to be the pick to go get
Tyler Seguin from Boston, the Stars landed the 21-year old talent without
parting with that #10 pick at all.  In fact, Seguin and Rich Peverley
arrive with the ability to be 2 of the top 3 centers for the Stars when the
season opens in the same trade.  Yes, parting with Loui Eriksson
hurts, as does Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow (we hardly knew ye),
but in effect, they flipped Brenden Morrow for Peverley, and Loui Eriksson and
2 kids for Seguin – a guy who everyone who follows hockey agrees that he
possesses elite ability and just needs a chance to be a center with tons of ice
to work it all out.

You want elite?  How
about a 18 year old winger who looks as fast and strong as Rick Nash?
 How about a 21-year old center who is locked up for 6 years and can
instantly allow you to slide Jamie Benn to his left for the next half-dozen
years?  This is amazing.

Make no mistake –
there are no sure things here.  Boston is telling us that Seguin is an
underachieving party animal who should not be allowed to Tweet.
 Russian stars do use the KHL leverage as a tremendous crowbar when
contract time arrives and they can certainly go into a dark place where nobody
can deal with them.  This could go horribly wrong.

But, the Stars now have 2 world class players who might be the two most
talented youngsters they have had in their group since….they played in Minnesota?
 I don’t mean to get carried away, but let’s remember this isn’t a
franchise that has ever had nor wanted to have players this young carry the
franchise since the days of Mike Modano and Derian Hatcher could barely grow
whiskers.

But now, joining the old man, soon to be
24-year old Benn, the Stars have the makings of a team that can roll out
fantastic forwards with world class skill – potentially all on the same line
and power play.

They have to grow them right and slowly,
but they finally have the pieces in place.  They also have a top 10
payroll for the 2013-14 season with some other acquisitions that will prove
helpful, including Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff and Dan Ellis to backup Kari
Lehtonen.

We can visit about their impact sometime
soon.

But for today, please understand that while
many people are squawking about the relative merits of a twitter account that
Seguin operates with varying levels of effectiveness, I am celebrating the on-ice
impacts of Valeri and Tyler and that the Stars now have a new day dawning.

They have found more “elite”.  And
apparently are looking for even more.

This is most
exciting.