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Stars expected to show patience as free agency opens

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

NHL free agency opens Wednesday at 11 a.m. (Central Time), and Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill has indicated he will be patient when the frenzy begins.

“I don’t see us as somebody that is going to jump right into it,” Nill said. “We are going to be there, and we’re going to see where the market goes. If there is something there that makes sense, we’ll definitely look into it. But just looking at it and analyzing it, I don’t think there is going to be a fit for us to start with. Maybe later on we’ll see what happens.”

The Stars filled what they saw as their biggest need prior to free agency, acquiring the negotiating rights to goaltender Antti Niemi over the weekend and then signing him to a three-year contract on Monday. That move gives the Stars the one-two punch of Niemi and Kari Lehtonen in net heading into the 2015-16 season.

Nill said he believes the rest of the roster is in pretty good shape as it stands. He has seven NHL defensemen under contract and restricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak still to be signed. There are 12 forwards under contract with restricted free agent Curtis McKenzie still to be signed.

“We really don’t have a lot [of needs],” Nill said. “You’re always looking to get better at every position. If we can upgrade our defense, great. We think up front, we are as good as anybody. As far as our forwards, we are a high-octane offense. We’d like to get a little better on the backend, but we have eleven defensemen, with all our young kids, that can play in the NHL. We have lots of depth. The [Niemi deal] took care of our biggest need, the goalie situation.”

While the Stars could look to upgrade the defense, but Nill said he would be happy going into the season with the current group that includes Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg, Jason Demers, Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka and Oleksiak. The Stars also have three young defensemen who will start in the season in the AHL who are close to the NHL in Esa Lindell, Julius Honka and Mattias Backman.

“We are very comfortable where we are at,” Nill said. “We are always trying to get better. I’d like to add a different dimension if I could, but I know in free agency it is not going to happen. We’ll be open to making some trades, but we are in no rush to do it. If I had to start the season with what we have, I would be very comfortable.”

The Stars forward group will have a similar look to last season, but there will be some change. The Stars have decided to part ways with Shawn Horcoff, who will become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday. The Stars have made a contract offer to pending UFA Patrick Eaves, but he could explore the market.

“I’ve talked to his agent a couple of times. We’ve made our offer. He might get something July 1, we might go somewhere else, or he might call and take the offer. You never know where it is going to go,” Nill said. “We all know that once July 1 hits that all bets are off. We’d like to have him back, but he is just seeing what else is out there, which he is entitled to.”

This will be the third time the Stars have entered free agency under Nill and the Dallas GM said it may be time to let all the changes over the past two years soak in and take effect. The Stars added Tyler Seguin in Nill’s first year and then brought in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in year two. There also have been many younger players brought into the mix, including two – Valeri Nichushkin and Patrik Nemeth – who missed most of last season due to injury.

“I really believe we have to let some of this settle in,” Nill said. “There have been a lot of changes over the past two years. We like where it is headed, and we have to let some of it settle in.”

Stars free agents

The NHL will release the official list of free agents on Wednesday, but here are the Stars pending free agents.

Group 2 Restricted Free Agents

Curtis McKenzie (issued qualifying offer, Stars retain negotiating rights)

Jamie Oleksiak (issued qualifying offer, Stars retain negotiating rights)

Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agents

Patrick Eaves

Jhonas Enroth

Shawn Horcoff

Rich Peverley

Minor league free agents

Cameron Gaunce (Group 6 unrestricted free agent)

Scott Glennie (not issued qualifying offer, will become unrestricted free agent)

Ludwig Karlsson (not issued qualifying offer, will become unrestricted free agent)

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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