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Nill says Zuccarello will explore free-agent market

The Stars GM says while discussions continue, the winger's decision allows both sides to 'see what else is out there'

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The free-agent dance between the Stars and Mats Zuccarello will continue past July 1, Dallas general manager Jim Nill said Friday, with both sides potentially studying new partners.

Nill has had several discussions with the camp for the 31-year-old winger, who was acquired in trade from the New York Rangers on Feb. 24

"We've talked a little bit with his agent, but he wants to test the free-agent market and he's got that right," Nill said Friday at the NHL Draft. "So they going to look into the market and see what else is out there and then we will swing back and see where he's at.

"We've got an interview period that starts Sunday, so we'll start talking to other people and he'll do the same thing and we'll see where things go."

 

[RELATED: Why Thomas Harley was an easy choice for the Stars at No. 18]

 

The NHL allows free agents to talk to other teams starting Sunday to help prepare for the start of free agency July 1. That means Zuccarello can talk to other teams and the Stars can talk to other potential free agents.

Video: Nill discusses Harley, gives update on Zuccarello

That will allow both sides to gauge the market and could, actually, help the Stars re-sign Zuccarello. If Zuccarello sees the market is close to what the Stars are offering, he might be more inclined to circle back to Dallas. If the Stars see the market is higher for Zuccarello than what they have been talking about, they might up their offer.

One of the big issues with Zuccarello could be term. Starting next season, the Stars have Tyler Seguin under contract for eight more years, Jamie Benn and Esa Lindell for six more years, Ben Bishop for four more years, and still have to come up with a long-term deal for Miro Heiskanen before the 2021 season. Because of that, they would like to keep any deal for a forward at four years or less.

Zuccarello turns 32 in September, so that also is a factor in keeping the deal shorter.

However, if another teams wants to go longer than four years, then Zuccarello might be enticed to go elsewhere. If that happens, Dallas would then consider another free-agent forward.

Among the players who might fit what the Stars are seeking are: Brett Connolly, Micheal Ferland, Marcus Johansson or Gustav Nyquist.

 

Stars hope to acquire more draft picks on Day 2

There was some busy activity around the Stars table before they made the 18th pick Friday. Dallas, which has just four picksin the draft right now, was trying to trade down to acquire another pick. It didn't work out, however.

"You talk, you listen, and then you have to make a decision," said Nill. "We'll keep trying."

Dallas gave up its second-round pick (49th) to the Rangers in the Zuccarello trade, surrendered it third-round pick (80th) to New Jersey in the Ben Lovejoy trade, and sent its seventh-round pick (207th) to Toronto for Connor Carrick.

"You come to the draft, you want picks," Nill said. "I cautioned everybody when we made trades (that this would be the cost), but the trades we made worked out for us, but this is the price you pay."

Video: Gaglardi on Stars' first-round pick, 2018-19 season

Nill said that there is a lot of discussion between GMs and that could spark some moves. The Stars would like to move defenseman Julius Honka, who was a healthy scratch from Jan. 15 on. The 23-year-old defenseman was the 14th overall pick by Dallas in 2014.

"I'm talking to teams about a lot of different things, trying to add something or find a trade that makes sense," Nill said when asked about Honka. "There are a lot of things that have to happen for a lot of teams in the next three or four weeks. There are teams that are up against the cap and looking for relief, there are teams that want to take advantage of that.

"It's a busy time for all of us, and that means a lot of different things could happen."

Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said the staff is on its toes because it knows things can change quickly. On Friday, the scouts had to be ready to adjust their targets or be sure of the player they wanted at 18. McDonnell said they got their man in defenseman Thomas Harley.

Video: Sights, sounds from first round of NHL Draft

"It was hectic for a second there, but we were all prepared," McDonnell said. "You do the best you can and you have to be ready for anything. Jim is always working, so you have to be ready to adjust if he pulls something off. And you also have to be ready if it doesn't work out. That's how we approach things."

Whatever happens Saturday, the Stars say they need to get good players.

Among the recent drafts, Dallas has come up with players like Nick Caamano (fifth round), Jacob Peterson (fifth round) and Riley Damiani (fifth round). Two of their current best players also were fifth-rounders in John Klingberg (2010) and Jamie Benn (2007).

"There are players out there, so we need to find them," Nill said. "I challenge my scouts every year to make every pick count. We have a history, and this organization has a history, of finding guys in the fourth, fifth, sixth round, so we need to go out there and do it again."

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.

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