Only six weeks in and it has already been quite an offseason for the Dallas Stars. Four months still remain, and the busiest portion of the summer is yet to come. It's possible the excitement has just begun in Dallas. So far, however, the captivating news has centered around three things - a coach, a goaltender, and a draft. All three headlines made a splash. And all three have something in common.
First came the return of Ken Hitchcock. The most successful coach in Stars history is back in Dallas ready to return the team to prominence. Four weeks after that, the Stars made a huge roster move acquiring the rights to goaltender Ben Bishop and signing him to a long term deal a few days later. In between the coaching and goaltending additions, the Stars won the third overall pick in the draft lottery.
Diving into each item a little deeper reveals the parallel.
In Bishop the Stars netted an all-world backstop, who two years ago was playing at this time. He brings a solid career resume to Dallas, but specifically over the last four seasons Bishop has been one of the best in the league. During that time he ranks 4th in record, 5th in GAA, 7th in save percentage, and tied for 8th in shutouts. As for any durability questions, including regular season and playoffs, Bishop is 5th in games played. Only Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, and Tuukka Rask have seen more action. Bishop wanted to come to Dallas, but he also wanted a longer term to sign. So the Stars gave the 30-year old a six-year contract. In return they got him at a great annual salary. The aforementioned goaltenders all make $6 million or more per year. The Stars signed Bishop for less than $5 million annually. Translation - Dallas got the proven goaltender they needed and still retained immediate cap flexibility to make other moves as required.
Now, to the coach.
Hitchcock has a pedigree for immediate results with new teams. Plus his strength has always been defense, the area where the Stars need the biggest improvement. Four times in his coaching career he has joined a new team. In three of the instances, his club finished with a top-five record during his first full season. Specifically focusing on defense, those three teams each finished in the top-three of fewest goals allowed. Now, he gets to take over one of the most explosive offenses in the league, mold them how he sees fit defensively, and deploy them in front of an elite netminder. Hitchcock signed a contract with the Stars that will see him transition into a consulting role when he's done coaching. He said this will be his final coaching job. No exact time table was given on how long he'll remain behind the Dallas bench, but this was a coaching move for the present, not the future.
Yes, Hitchcock and Bishop are nice stories given their terrific careers and ties to Dallas hockey past. But make no mistake. Much more than any feel good tale, these are win-now moves for the Stars. That's been the theme of the first month and half of this offseason. At every turn, the Stars are making immediate results their primary objective.
Which brings us to the third major offseason storyline.
After a season of stacked up bad luck, the Stars fortunes have reversed when it comes to the draft. Dallas cashed a small-chance lottery ticket into the third overall pick. Then, thanks to the Patrick Eaves deadline deal with the Ducks, Dallas moved up again this postseason getting Anaheim's first round pick. They now own two first rounders and three picks in the top-40 next month.
Last week in an interview, Stars GM Jim Nill said he could be open to trading the #3 pick, but it would take an established player in return. That may or may not happen, but it's another example of making decisions with 2017-2018 as the priority. It's a fine line to walk, and there won't be any mortgaging of the future, but the Stars are making decisions like a team that is going for it right now.
That is noteworthy because a lot more decisions still remain. The Stars have protection lists, buyout options, free agency, a large supply of young NHL talent, and a ton of cap space to maneuver.
Don't forget about trades either. In his time in Dallas, Nill has added the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and others through trade. While the hockey world surveys the list of "available names" this summer, it's important to remember that for the Stars, that could go well beyond players whose contracts just expired.
It's quite the summer honey-do-list for Nill and company before Autumn rolls back around. It is a lot to figure out, and it carries enormous weight regarding where the Stars will find themselves next year.
Eventually there will come a time to look back and digest everything that transpired. However, there seems to be an undeniable theme developing that will likely remain a constant over the coming months. It has been a reaffirmation of Nill's first address to the media after the season ended. He could not have been more blunt. This is not a rebuild, he said. So far what we have seen this offseason echoes that. Nill is moving like the same GM who not too long ago famously proclaimed the Stars Stanley Cup contending window was open. It appears he still very much feels that way.
In just under a month Vegas will select their expansion roster and the Entry Draft will take place. Between now and then, league wide activity is expected to pick up. As it does, and then rolls into trading season and free agency, look for the driving force behind Dallas decisions to be present day success. That's what we've seen so far, and it looks like that is what the team is committed to as more choices come their way.
Josh Bogorad is the Studio Host on Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on 'Stars Live' and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.