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Adapting to change: Stars make roster moves to stay cap compliant

In addition to placing Ben Bishop on LTIR, the Stars loaned Joel Kiviranta, Jacob Peterson and Alexander Petrovic to the Texas Stars

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

If Monday taught us anything, it's that the Stars - and their fans - are going to have to be very adaptable.

Jason Robertson and Blake Comeau didn't practice, and each is listed as "day to day" with an upper-body injury. Jacob Peterson took Robertson's place in the lineup, while Tanner Kero skated in a place that might be taken by Comeau if he's healthy.

Jani Hakanpaa skated next to Andrej Sekera on defense, but Hakanpaa still is listed as injured with a broken pinkie. And when the opening roster came out, Peterson, Joel Kiviranta and Alexander Petrovic were assigned to the AHL.
 

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And you guys want to know who the starting goalie is going to be Thursday?

Heck, we can't confirm a significant part of the roster, let alone who will mind the twine.

Much of this uncertainty will be caused by the fact that the Stars have a significant member of their payroll on IR. Ben Bishop has a cap hit of $4.9 million, but isn't ready to play as he continues to rehab a knee injury. To be prepared for that, Dallas signed Braden Holtby to a one-year deal for $2 million in the summer. That has pushed the Stars close to the cap and will force some creative moves for much of the season to stay cap compliant.

But, y'know, everyone seems to understand that.

"Paper, pencil, " Stars head coach Rick Bowness said, mimicking writing a note on the podium when asked how the coaching staff is dealing with this. "That's all it is."

Bowness has found over the past two chaotic seasons that living in the moment is the best way to go. He's typically vague with his injury reports and won't tell you who the starting goalie is until the morning of the game. Why would he? Not only is it unnecessary to divulge too much information, it's also dangerous. Things change fast around here, so you never know what's going to happen.

Because the Stars are tight against the cap, and because the NHL has some specific rules on how cap hits are applied, the roster on Tuesday likely will be different than the one on Thursday. That can be confusing to fans, but the simple answer is to be patient. You'll know who's playing on opening night before they drop the puck, and that's plenty of time to get ready, right?

Now, where that can get tricky from a fan's standpoint is the fact the injuries do create changes. On Tuesday, Jamie Benn was skating on the left wing with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Was that because of the absence of Robertson? Was that because the coaching staff wants to try something different after playing Benn at center for much of preseason?

We'll have to wait to see if this is how it plays out on Thursday.

And, to be honest, this could go on all year. Bowness said they like Benn in both positions, and they might alternate game to game or even within a game.

"He's going to be playing both," Bowness said. "The most important thing for me is minutes. He's comfortable on both. We love seeing him at center, he loves playing center, I get that, but there's only so many minutes, so we have to really watch his minutes and make sure where they're up where they need to be."

If Benn is on the Seguin line, does that leave enough scoring for the bottom six? If he's centering the third line, does that mean either Peterson or Kiviranta are playing in the top six (even though they were in the AHL on Monday)? It's a lot to digest.

The top four on defense seems pretty locked in with John Klingberg and Ryan Suter on one pair, and Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen on another. Hakanpaa is supposed to be a lineup regular after signing a three-year free agent contract that averages $1.5 million. The 6-6, 220-pounder suffered a broken pinkie in preseason and is just now getting ready to come back.

The 29-year-old played a great deal overseas and has 62 NHL games under his belt with Anaheim and Carolina. He's expected to be a physical force and a solid right-handed shot, but he's also quite a bit of a question mark until he gets into game action.

"Big rangy guy, he's physical, skates really well for a big man, he covers a lot of ground and he's got a really good stick," Bowness said of Hakanpaa. "I wish we would've seen more of him in exhibition, but we couldn't with the injury. He's going to be playing and we're going to figure it out as we go along."

Which is a familiar refrain for this team. Will Holtby start the first game or Anton Khudobin? Will the two goalies alternate games in the early going or will the coaching staff ride the hot hand? Are Seguin, Radulov and Roope Hintz fully healthy, and will that be reflected in their play? Will the oldest team in the NHL have enough depth to adapt?

Oh yeah, and will they sink or swim while playing the first four games (and eight of the first 11) on the road?

"This is what we're dealing with, so let's deal with it," Bowness said. "We knew going in that eight of our first 11 are on the road, so we knew camp had to be tough and we had to do a lot of things. We've accomplished that, but now we have to deliver."

And how will they go about doing that?

"You just roll with it," Bowness said.

Stars fans would be wise to do the same.

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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