Blake Comeau, 35, Andrew Cogliano, 33, and Jamie Oleksiak, 28, can become unrestricted free agents on July 28. While each is in a different place in their careers, the specter of unrestricted free agency is always interesting. Comeau, for example, is about to turn 35. He's played with six NHL teams and signed several free-agent contracts. He spent the past three seasons with the Stars and was one of their veteran leaders. Now, he, his wife, and his three daughters will be facing a summer that has significant ramifications after a couple of years affected by the pandemic.
"It feels a little different in the sense that we were so busy this season," Comeau said on a Zoom call Thursday after a seven-game road trip to end the season. "I have three young girls, they're older now, two older ones in sports and I missed a lot of things. They're asking when I'm going to be home, why I have to be gone so long. Going into the summer, I have the mindset of, if things fall into place, they fall into place. If they don't, they don't. I'm excited to enjoy time in the summer with my family, get rest and re-energize. It was a long season for everybody. The guys who have young families and wives, most of those guys' minds are focused on that and not so much hockey aspect. I'm excited to spend time with my family and when the time comes to figure out my future, I'll figure that out."
Video: How did you look at this season?
Cogliano had a similar mindset. He is younger at 33, but he also has two children and said he's enjoyed playing with the Stars. Still, he will be a UFA for the first time in his career, and said he's just going to be patient with the process.
"You approach it for what it is," he said. "I've played quite a while in this league, been able to accomplish things, which I'm very proud of, worked hard to put myself in this position. Fortunate to play in Dallas. This is a special place to play.
"I was fortunate I was traded here, given the opportunity to play on a good team with great people," he added. "I don't take anything for granted. I've always been very humble in terms of how long I've been able to stay in this league and play. it's an honor to be in the NHL every single day. I'll be looking forward to the offseason, get in great shape, which I enjoy doing. This season was a challenge physically and mentally. I was proud of how my body felt, proud of how I handled it mentally every single day, how I prepare. I'll be ready to go, and we'll see what happens. It's an unknown and out of your control."
Video: "It felt like a very long season"
Cogliano is a speedy player, so he still fits into the style the league is playing. He's a fitness buff who's been an ironman throughout his career and has already logged 1,066 games. All of that should combine to make him a desirable free agent.
He also is coming off a good year.
"I'm my biggest critic, trust me," Cogliano said. "I know when I play well and don't play well. I was very happy how I played, and that adds to my determination and we'll see where that goes. I don't take anything for granted. I was fortunate to come here and play for a great team, great organization, great coaching staff. We'll see where that goes and what the future brings, and you leave it to that."
Cogliano had a cap hit of $3.25 million and Comeau $2.4 million. Each could come back on a shorter-term deal at a lower hit, as the Stars did with defenseman Andrej Sekera when they signed him to a two-year contract at $1.5 million before this season. Or, Dallas could let both go and rely on younger players stepping up.
Ty Dellandrea, 20, played 26 games this season. Nick Caamano, 22, played 24. The Stars could rely on younger veterans like Tanner Kero, 28, Rhett Gardner, 24, or Joel L'Esperance, 25, or they could open the door for Texas Stars leading scorer Riley Damiani, 21, who had 34 points in 34 games.
That means the front office has some decisions to make.
Oleksiak's deal is a little more cut and dried. The 6-foot-7 defenseman had a great year, averaging 20:29 in time on ice and chipping in 14 points.
Teams are only allowed to protect three defensemen, and the Stars have their top three in John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen. By allowing Oleksiak to be unsigned, there's a real chance Seattle would not select him, knowing they could lose him when free agency begins July 28.
But once the expansion draft is over, the Stars still have sole negotiating rights until the start of free agency begins July 28, so they could work it so that Oleksiak is retained and never really gets on the open market.
That's a lot to digest after a hectic season, Oleksiak said.
"I made a point during the season to just focus on hockey and, right now, I think the season just ending so soon, taking some time to decompress," he said when he was asked about free agency Thursday. "We'll circle back with my agent in a couple of weeks, touch on what's going to happen this summer. As of now, I haven't thought much about it. It's going to be a crazy summer, especially with the expansion draft. It's been a unique year in general, so I'm sure there'll be a lot of things we'll have to analyze."
Video: Have you thought about this summer?
The Stars also have to negotiate deals with restricted free agents like Heiskanen, Jason Dickinson and Joel Kiviranta, so that'll affect the salary cap and the planning for the 2021-22 season. That's one of the reasons the UFAs will have to stay patient.
For players like Cogliano and Comeau, simply spending time with their families is huge after a hectic regular season.
"I feel my mindset now isn't on hockey," Comeau said. "A time will come when I have to think about that. Right now, something like that is out of my control. I'm not going to stress over it or worry about things in the future that I don't have control over. I'll just try to enjoy some down time, and when the time comes to make decisions, I'll do it."
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.