Stu Barnes just completed his third full season with the Stars, and the impending unrestricted free agent doesn't hesitate when asked where he'd prefer to continue his career."I'd very much like to stay," said Barnes, a valuable member of last season's team for his contributions as a checker and penalty killer. "I've enjoyed my time here. It's a very strong organization and a strong team. Obviously we're disappointed where we're at playoff-wise. But I think there's a lot of positives."
Teammate Darryl Sydor is another Star about to enter the unrestricted free agent market, and he echoes Barnes' sentiments.
"This is my first time in unrestricted free agency, so obviously you wait and see what happens," said Sydor, who completed his second tour with the Stars as Sergei Zubov's defensive partner. "It's a world ruled by the cap. But last season was a good experience."
With the front office and coaching staff officially coming back for the 2007-2008 season, the Stars must make some tough calls on free agents.
Decisions are pending on Dallas' seven unrestricted free agents: Barnes, Ladislav Nagy, Sydor, Matthew Barnaby, Eric Lindros, Patrik Stefan, and Jon Klemm.
Lindros and Barnaby are coming off seasons that were cut short by injuries. The Stars must decide whether to bring them back, and in the case of Lindros, he has to make a call on his hockey future.
Dallas also has four restricted free agents: Joel Lundqvist, Mike Ribeiro, Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen.
Ribeiro led the team in scoring in the regular season, becoming an important offensive catalyst at even strength and on the power play. Lundqvist's inspired playoff performance assures that he'll be back. The Stars have approximately $37 million in salary cap money already committed for next season. With the cap expected to be raised to $48 million for 2007-2008, general manager Doug Armstrong could have the wiggle room to import some badly-needed scoring punch. Dallas also has a surplus of veteran defensemen to offer in a trade for a scorer.
Stars history indicates that owner Tom Hicks isn't afraid to spend on premium free agents.
Goaltender Ed Belfour and sniper Brett Hull were vital cogs on the '99 Stanley Cup winners. And the Stars came away with the prize of the 2002 free agent class, Bill Guerin. Plenty of other free agents have followed suit, attracted by the weather and the winning tradition.
Sydor doesn't think the Stars are far away from making a deep playoff run.
"I don't believe this team needs to change too much," he said. "There will be some change, and management must decide what to do. Hopefully I'll be a part of it."
Barnaby, who turns 34 this month, wants to play another season, but only in a Stars uniform. Otherwise, he'll move on to the next phase of his life. He'll spend the next couple of weeks sounding out the Stars on their interest in re-signing him before making a call on his future.
"There's one team I'd play for and that's here." said Barnaby, who was forced to sit out the last 38 games and the playoffs due to a concussion. "I'm not moving anywhere. Absolutely love the organization."
The 34-year-old Lindros isn't sure what will unfold as far as his hockey future is concerned. While that plays out, he'll be working with his hands this summer, which is how he unwinds.
"I haven't even thought about it," Lindros said about his plans for next season. "I'm going to relax a little, cut some boards, build a deck, work with generators.
"I thought we had a good chance in the playoffs, especially going into Game 7. I never prepared myself to think that it would be over. I thought we were going to win."
Lindros didn't envision another injury-plagued season (missing 33 games) for his debut in Dallas. "It wears on you, yeah," he said. "It's depressing. You're good for a few games and then you're not. It's like city traffic, stop and go, stop and go. I'll take some time to think about it."
Beyond the physical, Lindros said his outlook on hockey at this stage of his career is, "It's more about karma and what feels good."
Ribeiro, acquired in a trade with Montreal before the start of last season, wants to stay with the Stars. Leaving the fishbowl of Montreal, his hometown, allowed Ribeiro to flourish.
"I'd like to stay here a few years," he said. "I liked it here. I'd been signing a lot of one-years (contacts). It would be nice to have a long contract and stay, stabilize the family."
Ribeiro found the media scrutiny that comes with playing for the Canadiens a distraction. He appreciated the lower-key hockey atmosphere in Dallas.
"The media, the pressure...there are a lot of other stars here so you can be behind them and do your own thing," Ribeiro said. "I enjoyed that this year."
Few expect a drastic alteration of the Stars roster, but the same cast won't be back. That's how things work in the new NHL because of the salary cap.
"There are always changes, period," goaltender Marty Turco said.