In a season marred by injuries, the Dallas Stars will need to re-sign some of their more impactful depth players who are keeping them in the playoff hunt. General manager Jim Nill extended Andrej Sekera ahead of this season, and defenseman Joel Hanley was extended earlier this month.
The Stars will need to win most of their games in the next few weeks to secure a postseason berth, and we can’t overlook the importance of retaining the pending unrestricted free agents in the bottom-six and bottom defensive pairings who have contributed to the team’s success.
Odds of Extension: There have been no updates regarding a contract extension for Andrew Cogliano. He signed a 3-year, $9.75 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks before he was traded to the Stars during the 2018-19 season. A price tag of $3.25 million per year is steep for a fourth-line winger on a team with little cap room, and the lack of offense should cause his value to go down. I think Cogliano will return next season and have a regular role with the team.
Pros: Cogliano is a grinder who often is overlooked by his lack of contribution to the stat sheet. He can get the Stars going when they come out flat, usually by laying a hit to energize his team. He is also rarely injured, dating back to his time with the Ducks, which is especially beneficial to a Stars team that has been hindered by injury. Cogliano is a good penalty killer and would play every night on the third or fourth line.
Cons: His point production has diminished in Dallas. The lack of offensive production is worrisome because the Stars have lost a league-leading 12 games in overtime this season. Cogliano, among other teammates, cannot maintain reliability in the score column when given a bigger role. His role as an agitator and on the penalty kill may be replaced if Nill decides to give bigger opportunities to younger players. Cogliano will also be delegated to a fourth-line role when Alexander Radulov returns next season from injury, and Tyler Seguin’s ice time increases from his recent return from injury.
Odds of Extension: Oleksiak was bounced between the Stars AHL and NHL team in his first stint in Dallas. After he was traded back to Dallas during the 2018-19 season, he still struggled to find consistent playing time. Entering the 2019-20 season, he filled a defensive hole that was left by Roman Polak who returned home to the Czech Republic during the pandemic. Oleksiak led the Stars’ defensemen in hits last season and leads the team in hits this year. He should receive a similar contract offer to his current deal worth $2.1 million over three seasons. Expect him to come back next season.
Pros: Oleksiak has been a quality second-pairing defenseman this season. His physical play complements the team’s other offensive-minded defensemen, including his partner Miro Heiskanen. He isn’t afraid to administer hits or block shots.
Cons: He’s still relatively young at 28 years old, and a three-year, $2.1 million contract may be harmless to the Stars’ minimal amount of cap room, but Oleksiak could price himself off the team. He brings a Radko Gudas-type physical game to the defensive core, and another team might offer him a better contract based on his physical presence, similar to what the Florida Panthers did with Gudas last offseason. Oleksiak would also be a good pickup for the Seattle Kracken in the expansion draft, an exit that can’t be affected by a contract signing.
Odds of Extension: Now in his fourth season in Dallas, and at age 35, Comeau’s options will be limited in free agency. Comeau’s role is less of a lock than Andrew Cogliano’s, but he is liked for his style of play and will be kept around.
Pros: He would be great on the fourth line alongside Andrew Cogliano next season. Actually, his production is about equal to Cogliano’s. Comeau is a great plug-and-play winger who can win faceoffs and adds tremendous depth to the Stars.
Cons: His average ice time is up, but he has just 13 points in 33 games. He was unable to generate much offense when injuries forced him to step up, which is why he is a great fourth-liner with not enough upside to sustain a third-line role. The main difference between the two players is Cogliano’s ability to find the puck, whereas Comeau battles on the boards or dumps the puck into the zone.
Odds of Extension: It’s too early to tell how impactful he will be for the Stars. Vatanen was acquired at the trade deadline off of waivers, so any production from the former New Jersey Devil will benefit the team’s defense. Even if he has trouble cracking the regular lineup, he can still play a valuable depth role if the injury bug hits the team next season. Despite being marked as a trade-deadline rental, a re-signed Vatanen is more valuable than current prospects or replaceable players.
Pros: Vatanen was a top name in trade deadline discussions in 2018-19 and 2019-20. While his play has slightly fallen off this season, a change of scenery could reignite his confidence, especially on a team that’s in the playoff hunt. Vatanen is skilled enough to be a top-six defenseman.
Cons: With the upcoming expansion draft, I expect Vatanen to be exposed and selected by the Kraken. He brings a veteran presence that is already established on the Dallas defense, led by Joel Hanley, who was just signed to a multi-year deal to fill that role. Dallas has defensive depth, and if Vatanen has trouble adapting to the team’s style of play, he can be replaced by other players who have been with the team for a few years and are more familiar with the playbook. Vatanen, on paper, should in that lineup every night, but if the production isn’t there he will be replaced.
Who Should Stay?
Mark Pysyk, Tanner Kero, and Justin Dowling are also on expiring deals. Although those three have lost playing time due to their inconsistencies, expect Nill to retain every contract he can so future injuries don’t demolish the team. Despite the team’s catastrophic overtime record this season, these players are fighting to protect the Stars’ late-season playoff run.
In all likelihood, Jim Nill will sign as much of the current UFAs as possible. If not Vatanen, somebody will have to be selected for the expansion draft, which almost ensures that all these players will be re-signed when free agency begins a week after the draft.