For the past couple of seasons, Stars fans have gone into free agency knowing that the team wouldn't do much. The ownership situation with Tom Hicks was at the end of a complete collapse and the team had no money to spend.
As a result, the team spent most of its time bargain hunting, bringing in numerous marginal players that haven't made a real impact. Michael Ryder has been the biggest, and only, real signing in the past three years; the rest have been late-line depth guys or one year stopovers like Sheldon Souray.
That all changes this season (or at least it should). Tom Gaglardi has plenty of money to spend and he's already stated that he'll be willing to dole out money for the big players. Even if Dallas isn't able to sign any of them, it's a welcome change that they're at least in the running.
The salary cap has been tentatively set at $70.2 million this offseason, giving the Stars over $30 million to spend. I'd say roughly $10 million will be used to sign their own restricted free agents (Jamie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Mark Fistric, Richard Bachman, Philip Larsen, Colton Sceviour, Jordie Benn, Tom Wandell and Luke Gazdic).
Dallas still has quite a few holes to fill though so I'll be providing a look at what the Stars need and who's available on the open market. The one spot that they're clearly not looking for is goaltender so cross any goaltenders off the list. They're filled at the NHL and AHL levels at the position.
A big need for the Stars is at the blue line. Sheldon Souray is unsigned, which leaves the Stars without a true big bodied defenseman in the back. Adam Pardy technically is but he's just a terrible player. They need some size at the blue line for this season at least while the high level prospects are working with the Texas Stars.
A recent deal for Dennis Wideman with the Calgary Flames might have thrown things for a loop though. He got a ridiculous five year contract where he's making $5.25 million per season and a full non-movement clause. That's going to significantly drive up the prices of other average defensemen, which may actually help Dallas as they have a lot of cap room. It's just a question of whether the team is willing to pay a lot for marginal players.
The list of unrestricted free agent defensemen is pretty thin this year, but here's a look at who's available:
Ryan Suter - Nashville Predators
Suter is the clear prize among the free agent defensemen, perhaps even the biggest fish in this entire crop. He's just 27-years-old and a big tough defender with a strong offensive game to boot. He will be a first pair defender for whatever team he signs with, and he'll command a franchise player type contract. The problem for Dallas is he's almost certainly going to the Detroit Red Wings. As nice as it would be for him to come to Dallas, I just don't see it happening.
Justin Schultz - Anaheim Ducks
This one isn't happening. Schultz has already stated he prefers to play for a Canadian team and that team looks to be the Edmonton Oilers. It would be an enormous shock to see him in a Stars uniform so cross him off the list.
Filip Kuba - Ottawa Senators
2011-2012 cap hit: $3.85 million
This would be a one year stopgap (or at least very short stint) for the Stars. Kuba is going to be 36-years-old this season. He'll probably be looking for up to a three year deal though (similar to what Sheldon Souray will be looking for) as this will be the last contract of his career. He paired with Erik Karlsson last season so it's easy to see him working with someone like Alex Goligoski or Philip Larsen. Let the puck movers move the puck and Kuba can be a reliable player on the backend. Karlsson pretty much did absolutely no defensive work so Kuba was pretty much all alone back there.
Kuba has no future on this team but a year of him on defense wouldn't be too bad.
Jason Garrison (28-years-old) - Florida Panthers
2011-2012 cap hit: $675,000
Garrison is one of the younger unrestricted free agents available and he's someone that I'm hoping the Stars target. He had a career year last season with 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points (though the goals are probably an outlier) and looks to be an improving player.
He played big minutes with the Panthers last season, averaging 23:41 of ice time per game (more than anyone for the Stars) and found himself on the ice against some of the toughest competition. Despite that, he still had a fantastic corsi rating for a marginal defensive team.
He works the penalty kill, power play, blocks shots (124) and deals hits (127). Both those numbers would be among the leaders on Dallas. He'd look mighty nice as a first or second pair defenseman on this team. He'd play tough minutes on this team and he's quite used to that. His big shot from the point would be a replacement for Souray and a nice weapon on the power play (as long as they use him).
He will probably command a hefty price tag though as a result of the Dennis Wideman deal and he'll be well sought after when the Suter and Schultz deals are done.
Carlo Colaiacovo (29-years-old) - St. Louis Blues
6'1"/ ~200 lbs
2011-2012 cap hit: $2.125 million
Colaiacovo played for a great defensive team last season (the best in the league) and was a large part of it. He didn't play the most minutes on the team (he was mostly third pair) but they were the toughest minutes on the team, or they were according to the advance stats. He didn't play much on the penalty kill but he had plenty of time on the power play (though he had no PP goals, just eight PP assists). I don't think he would be used on the power play here though. He spent most of his minutes beside the excellent Alex Pietrangelo though so his numbers might be a bit inflated.
There's not a whole lot of talk out there about him so Dallas could take him without much competition if they get to him early.
Bryan Allen (32-years-old) - Carolina Hurricanes
2011-2012 cap hit: $2.9 million
Allen seems pretty under the radar at this point with the bigger names on the market. He did a little bit of everything for Carolina while playing some of the toughest minutes on the team. He blocks shots (188 last season, fourth most in the NHL), eats minutes and kills penalties. He gives nothing on the offensive end though so this would be a pure defensive move. He'd be a nice player for the second pairing or maybe even the first if Dallas can't find anything else.
I wouldn't mind if Allen was a target for the Stars. He's a nice big-bodied defensive defenseman, something that fits what Dallas needs.
Matt Carle (27-years-old) - Philadelphia Flyers
2011-2012 cap hit: $3.437 million
He's going to make himself a nice chunk of money this offseason. Carle played for a terrible defensive team though. He played the most minutes on the Flyers defense last year so he'll be more than ready to eat up minutes; he also played power play and penalty kill and had a good number of assists on the man advantage.
While he's not a physical player though (only 55 hits last year), he does block a lot of shots (164). A defenseman that doesn't do any hitting seems out of place for a team like Dallas, which needs some physical play so I'm not sure he's a great fit here. I have a lot of concerns about Carle as a defender, especially after what happened during the playoffs so I'm hoping he's not a top target for the Stars.
The defensemen class is just too thin this year apart from a few guys so I wouldn't expect the Stars to make too many moves on the defensive end, even with the money that they can spend. If anyone is going to come to Dallas, I would prefer for it to be Garrison, Allen or Colaiacovo.
There's a plethora of other old defensemen available in this free agency (Joe Corvo, Bryce Salvador, Pavel Kubina, Hal Gill) that I wouldn't really care to see on this team, but they are out there if the Stars are not able to sign anyone else.