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Stars OK standing pat before Trade Deadline, GM Nill says

Reluctant to part with draft picks after dealing three in two moves last season

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Dallas Stars are content to stand pat before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 unless they are blown away by an offer, general manager Jim Nill said.

"We're very comfortable where we're at," Nill said Wednesday. "I like the way the young kids are developing. I like our depth.

"Now, is that going to change or am I going to get a call from a GM with a hockey trade that might make sense? I'm always going to look at that. But I'm not in a situation where I've got to make a move for the sake of making a move."

The Stars GM said they will be reluctant to part with draft picks in a trade this season.

"I think we'd all like to be buyers, but I have to run a hockey department too," he said. "Last year, I gave away, well, I have no second- or third-round pick this year because of decisions I made last year in trades.

"You're always thinking both short term and long term, and I have to make those decisions. Right now, for me to make up more picks and that, I have to think about this franchise too."

Heading into the Stars game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SNO, FS-SW, NHL.TV), Nill discussed why he's so satisfied with his roster, the future of coach Rick Bowness, whether there is any interest in Gerard Gallant as coach down the road, the roller-coaster season for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and more.

 

A year ago, you traded a total of three draft picks (including one in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft) to bring in forward Mats Zuccarello and defenseman Ben Lovejoy prior to the deadline. You seem much happier with the state of your team 12 months later. Is that, in fact, the case?

"Definitely. Sure, we're going to watch the next two weeks as the deadline approaches. Hopefully, we stay healthy. If something happens, I might have to act. But right now, I like our depth. I like the way we're playing. Would I like to add something? We all would. If there's something that comes out of nowhere and makes sense, yes, we'll look at it. But it's not something I have to do. So we're going to analyze our team, analyze our market, and go from there. But I'm definitely fine and encouraged by our team if we stand pat."

Video: CAR@DAL: Benn records sixth NHL hat trick

 

What is it about this edition of the Stars that is, to use your own word, encouraging?

"First of all, we all try to build our teams in the summer and compile as much depth as you can. You don't know what's going to happen injury-wise and that. But I like the additions we made. I think we filled the holes that way. And all of a sudden, you have younger players come in and you don't know where they will fit in. Some of those guys have fit right in here, others have gone right to our farm team in Austin (Texas of the American Hockey League). And now some of those guys are showing they're knocking on the door. I've got four or five guys at forward and three or four defensemen I could bring in any time. We're very comfortable where we're at. I like the way the young kids are developing. I like our depth."

 

What's been the biggest difference in your team that started the season 1-7-1 and has gone 31-12-4 since?

"There's certain ways you have to play in this league. You have to have an identity. And I think we have our stricture going again. We know who we are. We're good at what we do when we play like we know who we are. We've had an injection of youth in our lineup. The Roop Hintzes, the Jason Dickensons, the Denis Gurianovs, the Miro Heiskanens, those guys have really come in and changed the look of our team. They've added size to our team, they've added skill to our team, they've added scoring to our team. Really, they've been the ones who have been our driving forces. Our high-end guys have been struggling to score, and these guys have been picking up the slack. Having said that, it was nice to see Jamie [Benn] get a hat trick [in a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday]."

Video: DAL@STL: Hintz beats Binnington for overtime winner

 

You fired coach Jim Montgomery because of "unprofessional conduct" Dec. 10 and replaced him with assistant Rick Bowness. The team hasn't missed a beat since the move, going 15-8-2 under Bowness. Were you expecting the change to go this seamlessly?

"That was the one saving grace. I knew I had to make a decision and I had to make it quick. I was at peace making that decision. And what made it even easier was knowing that I've got four guys on my bench who have all been head coaches - Rick Bowness, John Stevens, Todd Nelson have all been NHL coaches, and Derek Laxdal, who we brought up, was a head coach in the minors and a successful one. I've got a lot of experience there. Guys who really know what they are doing. And they really bought into it. When I had to make that decision, that made the transition just part of everything."

 

Is it fair to say the team has stayed the course under Bowneess?

"You're dead on. We were playing pretty good when I had to make that decision on the coaching. Because the staff was in place, they knew what was going on. They had the respect of the players. The players bought into it too. They were part of this transition. And we just kept on going. There wasn't really a big change that way."

 

What is Bowness' future after this season? What are the prospects of bringing him back as coach next season?

"When I made this decision, I brought Rick in and said, 'Here's what happened. We have to make this as seamless as we can. Do you want to be head coach for the rest of the season?' We talked about it. He wanted to. He was very excited. I told him that we'd do it for the remainder of the season and see where we went. If we had success, we'd talk. We just wanted the focus to be getting through the rest of the season. We both agreed we'd sit down before next season and make that decision moving forward."

Video: Bishop on Lightning, Khudobin, Bowness

 

When Gerard Gallant was fired as coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, there was no shortage of speculation that the Stars might be a landing spot for him, especially since you two were teammates with the Detroit Red Wings. How do you respond to that?

"I can't worry about that. My job is to run the team. I respect Gerard Gallant a lot, but I have my coach in place. I like where it's at. Sometimes, what people forget too is that Gerard has to make decisions. He came out publicly and said he wants to take the season off. A lot of things come into play. Like I said, we made our decision, we like where we're at, the players are comfortable where we're at."

 

You mentioned earlier that your top players haven't put up the numbers you might have expected. What is your take on the season Benn (18 goals, 13 assists) and Tyler Seguin (11 goals, 30 assists) are having?

"They've struggled points-wise, but what excites me is how they're playing the game. They're playing the game the right way. I think they understand that the two points for a win are more important than the points you get in the game individually. Once you start to understand that as players and a team, it's a step ahead. Now, are they disappointed they don't have more points? And are we? Yes. But I'm a big resume guy, and historically you know they're going to score. That's what kind of excites us. These young kids have picked up the slack, but we know these other guys are going to score. It's going to happen. I watch them every night. They're getting chances. They'll convert. And when they do, I think that will put us to the next tier of teams. I think that's what we're looking forward to too."

 

Finally, how encouraged are you at the way your team has bounced back from that crushing Game 7 double-overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Western Conference Second Round?

"The spring was a learning thing. It's a hard way to go out. But in this league, you've got to lose in order to learn how to win. It stung the guys to lose that way, but you learn from that. We got off to a slow start this season, but I liked the way we stuck with it. We've been really resilient. We've already been through a lot this season. Our record since November is one of the best in the League."

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