The Stars on Sunday bought out the final year of the contract for forward Valeri Nichushkin, saving $2.25 million in cap space for the 2019-20 season, and possibly opening up additional free-agent signing options.
Dallas had previously eschewed the buyout option on Nichushkin, hoping that the 24-year-old would have a bounce-back season. But after getting to talk to several free agents during the NHL's speaking period, management decided the cap space could come in handy on Monday when free agency opens at 11 a.m. CT.
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Because Nichushkin is under the age of 27, the team is on the hook for one third of his $2.95 million contract spread out over two years. They will take a hit of $700,000 this upcoming season and then $450,000 the next season. When you mix that with the $1 million that was shed in the Tyler Pitlick trade, Dallas now has close to $12.5 million in cap space.
All of those moves also mean that the Stars have to fill holes for Nichushkin, Pitlick and the possible departure of pending unrestricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Jason Spezza, Brett Ritchie and Ben Lovejoy. Many of those players could come from within the organization and be on entry-level contracts, but the Stars still could re-sign restricted free agents Jason Dickinson and Julius Honka and have room for two or possibly three UFAs.
Already this summer, the Stars have:
Also to be considered in the moves the team might be making in free agency is the fact defenseman Stephen Johns has been skating the summer and could be making progress in returning from the post-traumatic headaches that kept him out all of last season. Johns is in the second year of a three-year deal that averages $2.35 million.
Additionally, center Martin Hanzal likely will not be able to play next season because of back issues. Hanzal has one year remaining on his contract at $4.75 million. However, the Stars would like to be under the cap before next season starts, so they must include Hanzal's contract in their total number.
If Hanzal can't play, the Stars can file for long-term injured reserve that will allow them to exceed the cap and possibly use that cap space later in the season. Because of that, the team might be able to be patient with its defense and then add a defenseman through trade at some point in the 2019-20 season.
With all of that said, here are five players Stars fans might want to keep an eye on:
Joe Pavelski, forward
The soon-to-be 35-year-old forward is coming off a great season in San Jose and brings a lot of elements the Stars need. He's a goal-scorer with 38 last season and an average of 32.8 over the previous five seasons. He's strong on the power play, solid on the penalty kill and won 53.2 percent of 989 faceoffs last season. He was also the Sharks' captain, so he brings leadership help.
Because the Sharks are chock full of centers, Pavelski is comfortable at either center or wing. That could make him a good linemate for Roope Hintz, who also can play in either spot. Pavelski has visited with the Stars and the general feeling is he will need a deal of three years around $7 million average salary.
He has also been linked to Tampa Bay.
Mats Zuccarello, forward
He was a great fit in his short time with the Stars, but there just seem to be too many complications in the pursuit of a contract extension.
If Zuccarello, who will turn 32 on Sept. 1, wanted to sign for four years, the extension might already be done. But the skilled winger wanted to see what was on the open market, and there's a very good chance he signs a five-year deal someplace else. If both the Stars and Zuccarello decide that other options aren't going to work, there could be a late reunion. But right now, that doesn't seem the likely outcome.
On the good side, the Stars would only give up next year's third round pick to the Rangers instead of its first. The trade dictated that if the Stars re-signed Zuccarello, the third would turn into a first.
Corey Perry, forward
This is an interesting wild card.
Perry was bought out by the Ducks with two years remaining on his contract at $8.625 million cap hit per season. That means he's going to be making a pretty good amount of money before he even signs his next deal, which opens the door for him to give a team a bargain if he wants to. Several teams are interested in Perry, who just turned 34, so he would have to really want to come to Dallas.
Perry is coming off a season in which he played only 31 games because of a knee injury, but he returned in February, and looks to be ready to go for next season. Perry has 372 goals in 988 career NHL games and was league MVP in 2011. He also was a linemate with Jamie Benn on Team Canada, so there could be some chemistry there.
Ryan Hartman, forward
Another odd possibility. The Stars acquired Hartman from Philadelphia in exchange for Tyler Pitlick, and then chose to not give a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent, thus allowing him to become a UFA. The logic of the move was that Hartman had the right to arbitration as an RFA, and the Stars did not want to risk too big a contract, so they allowed him to become a UFA with the hope of discussing a lower contract with Hartman.
That's a risky strategy, but the Stars really do like the speedy Hartman and would love it if he could fit into their financial plans. We'll see if that's a possibility.
Several teams are rumored to be interested in the 24-year-old agitator.
Anton Stralman, defenseman
We'll throw a defenseman in just because the Stars have to be looking. Dallas has already brought back Roman Polak and Taylor Fedun, and the hope is Stephen Johns will be healthy for next season. All of that said, Stralman would be an interesting fit.
Stralman is a defensive defenseman who is not big (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), but is smart and responsible. He's a right-handed shot, which would allow him to play beside Miro Heiskanen if needed, and he has spent time with Stars assistant coach Rick Bowness when the two were in Tampa.
Stralman is coming off a $4.5 million contract, so he would have to take a big pay cut. If it's not him, the Stars still could be in the market for a reasonably-priced right-handed defenseman.
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.