We knew the Dallas Stars were going to lose a player to the Vegas Golden Knights via the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and Wednesday night we found out which one. Vegas selected center Cody Eakin from the Stars.
Vegas owner Bill Foley was apparently so excited about the pick he jumped ahead of announcing the selection from Detroit to announce that the Golden Knights grabbed Eakin from the Stars. Dallas GM Jim Nill said he was sorry to see Eakin go.
"I love Cody Eakin," Nill said. "I love what he brought to our team. He's been a great Dallas Star. But in the end, he's the player I thought they would probably take. They made a good pick taking him. He's a good player."
News of Eakin's selection was not a major surprise. It had been in the speculation mill before teams even revealed their protected and available lists over the weekend, and the speculation ramped up when it became official Saturday that the Stars would not protect the 26-year-old center. News of Vegas selecting Eakin started to leak out a few hours before the draft and Eakin received official word from Stars GM Jim Nill Wednesday afternoon.
"I wished him good luck," Nill said. "He was very appreciative of the five years here. We had a good talk. They've got a good player there."
The Stars acquired Eakin along with a second-round draft pick from Washington in June 2012 for center Mike Ribeiro. Eakin played 349 games for the Stars, tallying 146 points (61 goals, 85 assists). Eakin, a solid two-way center, had a rough 2016-17 season. He suffered a knee injury at the start of training camp and missed two months, including the first month of the season. He never got on track, registering just 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 60 games despite getting ample ice time and playing in the top six group of forwards. But Nill said Eakin's tough season was a very small part of him being exposed to the expansion draft.
"Players have bad years, and he had a tough injury. He's going to bounce back," Nill said. "Really it comes down to contract, position, center depth, the role on the team. There are a lot of different factors."
Nill said the decisions about which players to protect and which ones to expose were changing throughout the year and there were several players in the mix, both at forward and defense.
"We had a good idea who we were going to expose, but it went back and forth all season, different names and for different reasons," Nill said. "We did one [list] at the start of the year, one at our pro meetings in January and then we were doing it consistently at the end of the year. It was wavering all the time. It wavered right down to the wire. When I made the final decision, there are other directions I could have gone."
The Stars have lost a center who has played a key role for them the past few seasons, but the team is deep down the middle with Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Radek Faksa expected to fill the top three center spots. The Stars have Adam Cracknell and Devin Shore who both can play in the middle. So can Mattias Janmark, who is hoping to return from a knee issue that sidelined him last season. The depth chart looks strong as well with Jason Dickinson, Gemel Smith, and Justin Dowling.
Shedding Eakin's $3.85 million cap hit will push the Stars to more than $22 million in cap space, and that will go even higher when they trim a goaltender from the roster. The Stars still have some restricted free agents to sign, but they will have ample cap space as they try to upgrade the roster via trades and free agency this summer. And Nill likes where he stands with team's youth, which gained valuable experience last season.
"We are in a good spot," Nill said. "We are in a good spot with the cap. And with our young players. This was kind of planned two years ago. We knew we were going to be in this position. The young players we planned on coming in this year, because of the injuries last season, got baptized a year earlier. Even though last season was tough, I think it is going to pay dividends moving forward."
But the Stars will move forward without Eakin, who was one of 30 players - one from each NHL team - selected by the Golden Knights.
"We're going to miss him," Nill said. "Those are big shoes to fill."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.