The start to NHL Free Agency is just over a month away. Thirty NHL teams will be scouring the market to find the piece (or pieces) they can add to make their team better. It’s always an exciting time. For teams to address their needs. For players to test their value on the open market. For fans to play the role of GM and predict the moves their team should make. Free agency begins just days after the draft, and while both have enormous impacts, the full results from a draft are not known for several years down the road. Free agency, on the other hand, has an impact (be it positive or negative) right away, most often making it the story of the summer.
Yet, for as much talent as exists out there on the free-agent market, this offseason could wind up being defined more by trades than by free-agency.
It seems that all over the NHL, reports are surfacing of names…Big Names…who are available for trade, and likely to be moved before next season. The Vancouver Canucks failed to make the playoffs, resulting in the firing of their GM and Head Coach. The San Jose Sharks became just the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and have promised decisive change. The Pittsburgh Penguins squandered a 3-1 series lead in a fork-in-the-road season and immediately jettisoned the reigning NHL GM of the Year as the first of many expected moves. These are just a few of the high-profile, publicized storylines involving teams that are looking to make a big splash through trade rather than free agency.
To be sure, there are still prize players available via free agency. Guys like Thomas Vanek, Paul Stasny (if the Avs don’t sign him in the next month), Ryan Miller, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and more, are all open to the highest bidder. However, in recent weeks teams have dangled out top-tier names as potential trade bait. Names like Dion Phaneuf, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Marc-Andre Fluery, and Brad Marchand to name a few. Additionally, earlier reports from this offseason have guys like Ryan Kessler, Alex Elder, Christian Ehrhoff, Evander Kane, Cam Ward, Eric Staal, and P.A. Parenteau, all apparently available for the right price.
Now, in fairness, measuring free agents against the trading block is not an even scale. Free agents have to sign somewhere. You know they’re going to move. You just don’t know where. As for trades, anyone can be rumored to be dealt, but there’s no guarantee it will happen. Even still, many of the names on the block have been mentioned too strongly, too often, and for too long (in some cases back to the trade deadline) to believe that nothing is going to happen. Given everything, most insiders expect higher-than-usual trade activity this summer. What that means for the Dallas Stars remains to be seen.
The Stars are on record talking about where they want to improve their current roster. A top-pair defenseman and top-six forward – preferably center – are high on their wish list. The former appears to be possible via trade, but not free agency. The latter can be found in both markets, but the trade avenue seems more abundant. Keep in mind, however, that trades obviously come with an asking price that free agency does not.
If the Stars – or any other team in the NHL, for that matter – are going to be active traders this summer, expect things to happen soon. Typically, offseason trades happen just before, during, or after the draft in late June. Last summer Dallas pulled off a pair of trades with Boston & Edmonton on July 4 & 5.
The time is approaching to find out what this summer has in store. June is just days away. And possible trades, the draft, and free-agency are all just around the corner. Any team looking for impact players, has a number of ways to pursue them. But don’t be surprised if the trade market winds up being the path most travelled over the next six weeks.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for the Stars radio broadcasts. He can be heard 30 minutes before face-off and immediately after games all season long on SportsRadio 1310AM and 96.7FM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.