New Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk is up in Montreal, and while he will allow Les Jackson and Tim Bernhardt to run the draft, he will still be plenty busy.
First of all, he will be around a lot of the Stars' personnel and will be getting to know them.
Secondly, he will be around a lot of the NHL personnel, and will be getting to know them.
And thirdly, he will be around a lot of agents, and will be getting to know them.
Nieuwendyk said he plans to talk to the agents for Sergei Zubov (Jay Grossman) and Jere Lehtinen (Don Baizley) and get their feelings on what it will take to sign each of the unrestricted free agents. I called both agents this week and neither returned calls, so maybe they will return them after they talk to Nieuwendyk.
My take is that each will be given a fairly low offer and each will turn it down. Each will then have the ability to shop themselves in free agency after July 1. I've talked to Lehtinen and I know he wants to continue to play, and he wants to continue to play in Dallas. I have not talked to Zubov, but indications from the Stars is he wants to play and he wants to play in Dallas.
But everyone would probably be smart to wait. Zubov still is recovering from hip surgery, and probably needs to proved he's 100 percent healthy. Lehtinen also is hobbled, although I think the Stars know more what they have in him.
But the bottom line is free agency is going to be a real unknown this year, and players and teams need to see what the spending parameters are going to be. Waiting is more risky for the players, because they could find out that a lot of teams will use up their budget early in the process, but I think Zubov and Lehtinen feel that the price could go up slightly to return to the Stars.
Waiting is essential for the Stars, because they need to better judge the health of the two players and they need to see what the cost will be and whether it fits into their budget.
Nieuwendyk said he has a feeling for what the budget is, but he's not saying right now. My guess is the potential sale of the Rangers has a lot to do with it. Tom Hicks has always spent money on the Stars, and if he does sell the Rangers, then it would make sense that he would want the Stars to be succesful and profitable. To do that, he would increase the budget, in my opinion.
If he does not sell the Rangers, there's a very good chance the team can't afford to spend much more than $42 to $45 million this year. Hicks keeps saying that each organization has to be profitable within itself, but I think there still is a relation to the other organization. That said, the Stars are studying every part of the organizational budget and making cuts. Their summer development camp has been pared down to having a few prospects come in instead of the full weeklong group of 20 or so.
When I asked Nieuwendyk if he feels confident enough to make trades right now, he said yes.
``I mean we've been talking about the personnel every day for three weeks, so I think I have a pretty good idea what I'm doing,'' he said. ``I'm not saying we're making any trades, but do I feel confident in making one if it comes up? Sure.''
Both Nieuwendyk and Jackson indicated they would probably stay at No. 8 and make a pick there.
Nieuwendyk said that after studying the roster, he feels the Stars are in pretty good shape. He said that if the team can sign Jonas Gustavsson, it would be a great addition and it would check one more thing off the to-do list. But he said he doesn't think there is that much to do.
``I like our team,'' he said.
Peter Maher, the Calgary play-by-play man, reported last week that the Stars could hire former Flames GM Al Coates as an assistant GM. Nieuwendyk wouldn't confirm or deny, but the rumor makes sense. Coates was in Toronto with Cliff Fletcher, but was let go when Brian Burke came in as the new GM.
So there still is plenty for Nieuwendyk to do.
He's holding his cards pretty close to the vest, so we'll see if he has any surprises out there.