Another in our rolling newsletter, where we answer your questions over the summer. If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: I have been looking over the cap numbers of all the teams in the league (thanks to nhlnumbers.com) and it appears that our defense has one lowest total cap hits in the entire league. If you give Nicklas Grossman $3 mil and Matt Niskanen $.75 mil, our total cap hit for defense this year is a little more than $13 mil. There is hardly a team around at this point that is spending that little money on their defense. My question is: in your opinion, did this happen purposely or was this just the way it happened to shake out? I know the financial condition of the ownership has had some play on the spending, but this did not happen over night...this has been happening for the last few years...money spent on forwards and not on defense.
Just looking for some insight. Thanks for what you bring to the fans, it is much appreciated.
Eric from Dayton
HEIKA: Hey Eric, good question. As for Grossman, I think he is close to signing a two-year deal that will average $2 million a year, but that just adds to your point that the defense is low paid.
How did it happen? It just sort of happened as the team passed through three and a half GMs in a four-year span and the financial problems sort of took over in a span of one season.
As the Stars started to transition out of the core of Derian Hatcher, Sergei Zubov, Darryl Sydor and Richard Matvichuk, they replaced them with players who were not that much younger (or even sometimes older). The group of drafted defensemen that included John Erskine, Dan Jancevski, Martin Vagner, Richard Jackman and Matt Nickerson never really panned out for the Stars (possibly because of the instability of the AHL affiliate and possibly because they just were not good enough) and fell by the wayside. And so Dallas kept going with older replacements in hopes of competing for a Stanley Cup every season. The Stars were always in attack mode, they never wanted to stop to rebuild.
The Stars added Philippe Boucher, Mattias Norstrom, Teppo Numminen, Stephane Robidas, Jon Klemm, Martin Skoula, Janne Niinimaa and Sydor back again. It was just a constant search for veteran D-men. So when Les Jackson took over with Brett Hull as co-GMs in 2007, he worked hard to try to allow Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric to get a chance to play at the NHL level. He also made the trade for Brad Richards ($7.8 million) and gave Mike Ribeiro his contract extension at $5 million a season that helped set a high bar for forward payroll that would force some of the decisions that Joe Nieuwendyk has had to make in the last year.
Then, Norstrom retired and Zubov could not be re-signed, and the door swung wide open for the young defensemen all while the Stars' finances tightened up.
So, Dallas went from spending over the cap in the 2008-09 season to having a $45 million internal budget in 2009-10, and they went from having flexibility to spend on defensemen to having none. Thus, they have four very young defensemen who are not making that much money and a couple of solid veterans who are not making that much money. If they had the extra money, they would have been in on trying to acquire a high-level defenseman in 2009 or in 2010. But that was not an option.
So that leaves you with the current group. The Stars believe this group is cheap because it is young, and that the team is getting some good bargains on the blueline. But my guess is that if you put all of them out there as unrestricted free agents, the prices wouldn't go up that much, giving credence to those who say the output of cash is reflected in the quality of play with the defensemen. (Although it would be interesting to see what Stephane Robidas could as a free agent get with the numbers he produced last season). I think the truth is somewhere in the middle _ that they are all very solid depth defensemen in at good prices, but that the Stars still miss a superstar on the blueline.
Now, the silver lining in all of this is that the Stars are positioned to get a lot better on defense if they just add one player who is very good. If Dallas gets new ownership, and that new ownership wants to up the payroll, the Stars could get in on free agent talks for a $7 million defenseman or could get in on trade talks for a player that makes that kind of money. Of course, the key to that acquisition is that the player better be worth it, but the Stars really are positioned to be a very solid defense if they just add the right player at the top and then slide down the rest of the players who are already here. If that happens, they would move to the middle of the NHL in salary allocated to defensemen, and many believe they would be a much better team.
That's the vision most of us have for where this thing is going, but you never know what's going to happen. Two years ago, San Jose had Matt Carle and Christian Ehrhoff, and now they have neither of them or Rob Blake. A lot can change in a very short time.