It's been a busy and productive offseason for Stars GM Jim Nill as he has reworked his roster with a series of moves the past two months. He's upgraded his goaltending, added high-end skill and depth to his forward group and provided veteran presence to his blue line.
He also, of course, made a change to his coaching staff, choosing not to renew the contract of Lindy Ruff and bringing Ken Hitchcock back to the organization. Hitchcock should bring some structure and more defensive responsibility to the Stars game.
Nill is getting high marks for the moves, but he knows nobody wins simply because of free agent signings and trades. What Nill does acknowledge is that the work he's done this offseason is a good start to getting the Stars back on track and push to be a contender after a dismal 2016-17 season.
"We're excited about these moves, but we've got to go to work now," Nill said. "It doesn't guarantee anything. We like what we have on paper, but in the end, the goal for us is to be a contender every year, to get in the playoffs every year. We didn't do that last year for different reasons, injuries and everything else. In the end, I think we've given ourselves a good position, but we still have to do it. This game can humble you pretty quick, and it's a tough league, and we know we've got lots of work to do, and we're going to move forward from here."
Here's a look at who is in and who is out on the roster so far this offseason for the Stars.
Ben Bishop, goaltender: Goaltending was at the top of Nill's to-do list, and he addressed that issue early in the offseason. On May 9, he sent a fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for the rights to the 30-year-old Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, and then signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract a few days later. That's a lot of term, but Bishop is here to help the Stars win now. Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist as the top goaltender in the NHL, will take over as the team's new No. 1 netminder and hopefully solidify a position that had its issues last season as the Stars ranked next to last in goals against (3.17) and last in save percentage (.893).
Kari Lehtonen, the team's No. 1 goalie from 2010-15 and who has split the net with Antti Niemi the past two seasons, will serve as the backup.
"I think our goaltending tandem is as good as anybody in the league," Nill said. "First of all, Ben Bishop is one of the best goalies in the league. He's changed that position [for us]. One signing kind of took care of that. Kari Lehtonen has been a very good goalie in the league a long time. To have him as your next guy there, that's pretty good depth for us moving forward."
Alexander Radulov, right wing: Another priority for Nill was some offense on the wings, and Radulov fit the bill. He was one of the big prizes of the free agent market, and the Stars landed him with a five-year, $31.25 million contract. Radulov returned to the NHL last season after spending most of the past eight seasons in the KHL and put up 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 76 games with the Montreal Canadiens. The 31-year-old is a dynamic offensive forward who can make plays and finish in highlight reel fashion. And he draws high praise for his work ethic and enthusiasm.
"We know a lot of people that played with him, and everybody raved about him, raved about the personality. I had the chance to talk to him once we hit free agency, and I was so impressed. He's got a great personality. I love where he's at in his life. It was a good fit for us," Nill said. "He's high-end skill. You're always looking to add skill to your lineup, and he adds that. He's a strong skater. I think it's important we keep our speed in our lineup. That's kind of how we're built. You're adding a heavy body. He's a strong man. He's about 6-2, 210, 215 pounds. He's a strong man down low, can hold on to the puck, can make plays. We're adding an elite player to our lineup."
Martin Hanzal, center: The Stars were deep at center heading into the offseason, and they got even deeper with the addition of the 6-6, 226-pound Hanzal, who tallied 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 71 games with both Arizona and Minnesota last season. The 30-year-old Hanzal, who signed a three-year, $14.25 million contract, is one of the league's top faceoff guys, plays both sides of special teams, can play the shutdown center role and provide some offense.
"Anytime you can be strong down the middle, it is important for your team," Nill said. "We've been fortunate that area has gotten stronger for us as we've moved along. We've got different types of players, too. We've got some speed, some scoring, some big heavy bodies, some good checkers. We've got a good mix, and I think we can match up against anybody in the league down the middle now. And we've got a lot of depth in that position.… And the good thing with the centers is they can all play wing, and that just gives you flexibility; it gives you different matchups. It's going to give [coach Ken Hitchcock] different options to match up against teams."
Marc Methot, defenseman: Nill brought in some veteran presence to his blue line, trading for defensive defenseman Marc Methot in late June. Nill sent goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson and a second-round pick in 2020 to Vegas for Methot, who had been taken by the Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft a week earlier. Methot, 32, has spent the past five seasons in Ottawa and will bring not only experience but size (6-3, 220 pounds) and physicality as well. Methot was paired with Erik Karlsson in Ottawa which could make him a good fit with Stars defenseman John Klingberg.
"He brings a veteran presence to our team," Nill said. "He's been a winner everywhere he's been. He was successful playing with good players in Ottawa. It's that leadership and experience he brings and that ability to play with good players. He's just a good player. He's a big body; he's a heavy body. He can be physical. He's something that you are always looking to add."
Tyler Pitlick, right wing: The Stars added some depth to the right side of their forward group with the signing of Pitlick to a three-year, $3 million contract. Pitlick, a high second-round pick (31st overall) by Edmonton in 2010, has been slowed by injuries so far in his NHL career but the Stars like the potential of the 6-2, 202-pound winger. Pitlick, 25, brings some size and speed to the lineup. He scored eight goals in 31 games with the Oilers last season before going out with a knee injury.
"We're excited about the potential," Nill said. "It's just a matter of him staying healthy and becoming an everyday player for us."
Brian Flynn, center/wing: The Stars were hit hard by injuries at the forward position last season, and Nill opted for some insurance in signing the veteran Flynn to a one-year, two-way deal that will pay him $700,000 at the NHL level. The 28-year-old Flynn has 275 games of NHL experience with both Buffalo and Montreal. He's a versatile player and good on the penalty kill. Time will tell if Flynn can crack the opening night roster, but he provides some experienced depth.
"You can never have enough depth," Nill said. "He was an important signing. Another versatile player. He can play all forward positions, he skates well, and he's strong on the puck."
Cody Eakin, center: The Stars knew they would lose one player to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft and it was Eakin. He played five seasons for the Stars and was a good player. But last season he was injured in training camp, missed two months and never got on track. But Nill said Eakin's rough season was a small part of exposing him in the expansion draft.
"Players have bad years, and he had a tough injury. He's going to bounce back," Nill said. "Really it comes down to contract, position, center depth, the role on the team. There are a lot of different factors. … I love Cody Eakin. I love what he brought to our team. He's been a great Dallas Star. But in the end, he's the player I thought they would probably take. They made a good pick taking him."
Patrick Sharp, right wing: Sharp, who spent the past two seasons with the Stars, signed a one-year deal with Chicago, where he won three Stanley Cups, on the first day of free agency. The deal is worth $800,000 plus $200,000 in incentives.
"We talked to Patrick, and we talked about coming back here," Nill said. "In the end, Patrick wanted to get back to Chicago. His roots are in Chicago, and I think his family is going to end up making that their home. I think it was more of a family decision. It worked out well for him, and we were lucky to have him in our organization for a couple of years and what he brought."
Ales Hemsky, right wing: After Montreal lost out on re-signing Radulov they signed Hemsky to a one-year deal worth $1 million. Hemsky played three seasons in Dallas but played only 15 games in 2016-17 due to injury.
"Ales has been a very good player for us. He played very well for us. He was a big part of our winning season here. When we struggled with our seasons, it's when he was hurt," Nill said. "Last year we missed him. He was one of our top players and only was able to get in  games. We're going to miss Ales, but unfortunately you have to make decisions in this game whether it's cap, salary or position. Montreal's getting a very good player and getting a very good person."
Antti Niemi, goaltender: When the Stars acquired Bishop it meant the Stars would have to move either Lehtonen or Niemi and it ended up being Niemi. The Stars bought out the final year of his contract. The cost is $3 million, spread out equally over the next two seasons. Niemi signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with Pittsburgh and is expected to be the backup to Matt Murray.
Jiri Hudler, right wing: Hudler hit the free agent market on July 1 but has yet to sign on with another NHL team. He played just one season with the Stars but was plagued by illness and injury and suited up for just 32 games.
*The Stars still have some restricted free agents to be signed. At the NHL level, there are forwards Radek Faksa and Brett Ritchie and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. Nill said he has talked to all the restricted free agents.
"This may go on through July and into August, but we know we will get them signed," Nill said.
*There is the question of the surplus of defensemen to be resolved. The Stars have eight likely NHL defensemen under contract: John Klingberg, Marc Methot, Dan Hamhuis, Esa Lindell, Julius Honka, Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth and Greg Pateryn. Once Oleksiak is signed that would make nine. The Stars can't carry them all, so Nill will have to make some moves there, and he's suggested he could take all nine defensemen to camp and sort it out there.
"If we don't [make any moves] then we know we are coming to camp with nine defensemen and it will be good competition," Nill said. "There are spots open and let's see where the competition takes us and then we'll make decisions moving forward from there."
*Mattias Janmark remains a question mark. Janmark, who missed all of last season due to a congenital knee condition that required surgery, has made a lot of progress and should be ready for training camp. Janmark's knee issue is uncharted territory for a hockey player so how he fares against ramped up competition in training camp and the preseason will be a big test.
"He's been practicing, but now he's got to get into game action, get hit," Nill said. "This is really an unknown injury. There is really no known record of any other player in any sport having this. A lot of unknown, but if there is anybody that can overcome it is Mattias."
*Valeri Nichushkin is another question mark. He left the Stars to play in the KHL last season, and he is still under contract in Russia for 2017-18. There has been talk about Nichushkin, whose NHL rights are still held by the Stars, possibly coming back to Dallas this season, but the odds appear to be dwindling.
"I don't know where that's at," Nill said. "He has a one-year contract, and that is out of our hands. We'd love to get him back, and if that happened, it would be great. Like I said, he's got a contract with the team over there, and where that stands, I don't know."
This story was not subject to 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.