In an interview with NHL.com in early February, Dallas Stars General Manager, Jim Nill said that his plans at the trade deadline were yet to be determined. With ten games between then and the cut-off date to make a deal, and a furious eight-team race for a playoff spot, Nill needed more information before deciding what the best action for his club would be. If the Stars were in a favorable position, he said he would likely neither buy, nor sell. Nill knew that even if Dallas did not trade for a big name, the return of players like Patrik Nemeth and Valeri Nichushkin - who have both missed almost the entire season - would act as key additions. However, if the Stars were not in a favorable position, his focus would shift to maximizing value on the impending departure of unrestricted free agents.
Two days after the interview posted, the Stars acquired goaltender Jhonas Enroth from Buffalo in a move expected to improve the backup goaltending slot which had struggled. Despite Nill's declaration that the team would probably stand pat, he made a move to help a key position that had underperformed. In short, with a small window of time to decide his direction at a crossroad, Nill pushed forward.
The Enroth trade wasn't a huge gamble. The price was not steep and it came courtesy of a team who is
desperately trying to lose to improve their draft position looking to the future. Still, the trade was a signal from Nill that in spite of the Stars struggles this season, he was attempting to give his club a boost. That potential missing puzzle piece that could help them hit the deadline with momentum.
Unfortunately for the Stars, that didn't happen.
Instead, since that interview, Dallas has gone 3-5-2, lost their team MVP to injury, and after a group of curiously-similar defeats, stumbled into the deadline on a six-game winless skid - one shy of their season-long.
It's no secret. This is not where the Dallas Stars expected to be. Not three weeks ago when Nill gave that interview, not shortly after when he made that trade, and certainly not at the start of the year. But nonetheless, however unexpected, that is where the Stars find themselves. In light of that, they had to make the decision to let go of UFA-to-be, Erik Cole, and on Sunday night, that is what they did when they traded him to the Detroit Red Wings.
The 36-year old Cole has put together his best season in years, and has been playing solid hockey for the Stars as of late. But with the situation being what it is, Nill had to think bigger picture. Cole netted a second round pick and a pair of prospects that Nill - who spent two decades with the Wings before coming to Dallas - was familiar with.
In what is considered to be a deep upcoming draft, the Stars did not have a second round pick. Now they do. They also got two players - one forward and one defenseman - who Nill said might not be that far away from battling for a NHL roster spot.
As for the Stars team heading forward for the remainder of this year, the club will still get those injured players back. Nemeth, who was robbed of what was to be his first full season in the NHL, was recalled on Monday and appears set to make his return. Eaves returned to the lineup on Sunday, netting another power play goal. Seguin and Nichushkin are a little further away, but both have been skating and should be back later this month.
When the trade deadline expired, Nill addressed the media. He talked about the final six weeks of this season, and said that this was an opportunity for young players to make their mark, and for veteran guys to state their case for where they belong next season.
A big part of a general manager's job is assessing where their team is and acting accordingly, even when the news isn't great. Over the last three weeks, Jim Nill did not get the info he wanted to get. But he did get the info he needed, in order to handle his deadline dilemma. Now, his attention turns to formulating a plan for his next available moves, this summer.
Over the next six weeks, while the Stars attempt to right the ship, Nill will once again be watching and evaluating. Learning everything he can to make his next decisions. And doing everything he can to make sure that next March, he and the Stars will be in a different situation.
The Stars have three games this week, kicking things off at home, before heading out on an extended road trip. Here are a few things to keep 'On the Radar' when the Stars take the ice:
Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders kicks off a run of six consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents. The Stars have a 12-10-2 record this season against the East. Dallas will face the New York Islanders, Florida, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Washington. They are a combined 2-3-1 against those six teams this year. The upcoming games will be big ones for most of the Stars opponents, as all but Carolina in this segment are currently in a battle for Division titles of Wild Card spots.
Heartache at Home
Sunday's loss dropped the Stars record to 12-13-8 at American Airlines Center this season. The tough spell on home ice has been even harder as of late. Dallas is winless in four straight home games, and is just 1-4-3 in their last eight, dating back to before the All-Star Break. The lone victory was hardly a celebratory affair, either. It came on February 13 over the Florida Panthers, in a game where three Stars forwards, including Seguin, were injured. Thursday's game in Florida is the second and final meeting this season between the Stars and Panthers, and the rematch of that game.
Fighting His Way Back
It has been quite an 11-month roller coaster for 23-year old, 6'3, 230 lbs. Swedish defenseman Patrik Nemeth. On April 1 of last year, Nemeth made his NHL debut with the Stars. He shined through eight regular season games and six playoff games. He then joined the AHL's Texas Stars for their playoff run, eventually clinching the championship by scoring the Calder Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 5 of the Finals. He came into this season expected to be a big part of the Dallas defense, and made the opening night lineup. However, on October 18, in just the fifth game of the season, Nemeth's arm was sliced open by the skate blade of Philadelphia Flyers forward, R.J. Umburger. The incident happened on Nemeth's first shift that night. He left the game and did not return. Two days later Nemeth was ruled "out for the season" by the Stars. As mentioned above, on Monday the Stars recalled Nemeth exactly 19 weeks to the day after the season-ending projection was made by the club, paving the way for his impressive return to the Dallas lineup. Since the injury, Nemeth has worked relentlessly with the intention of beating the estimated timetable, and returning this year. On February 20, he played his first game since the injury - one of five appearances in a rehab stint in the AHL. His long-awaited return to the Dallas lineup is expected to come this week.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for 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.