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Stars Plan to be Active in Free Agency

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

Friday is the first day of NHL free agency, an important day for all 30 teams in the league. This day used to be like Christmas morning in the pre-salary cap era of the NHL, when teams that had deep pockets could literally go out and buy a superstar player or two to possibly put them over the top as a Stanley Cup contender.

Now there are less prominent free agents that hit the market on July 1. In the new era of the NHL, free agency remains an important time for GMs, but not as vital as the week prior at the NHL Entry Draft.

“Things have changed since the lock-out. The best way to build a team is through the draft and home-grow your assets,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “Overpaying for players on July 1 is simply not a smart way to build a team. Can you add important pieces through free agency? Of course, but most teams are working hard to draft well and re-sign their own players before they hit the market.”

Nieuwendyk has done a good job of locking up players like Loui Eriksson, Stephane Robidas, Kari Lehtonen, Trevor Daley and Steve Ott, among others, prior to any of them reaching free agency. More and more teams are doing it, and some with just days to spare.

This trend continued this week. Several players who were certain to be big prizes on the free agent market were either re-signed by their own club, or had their rights traded to another team where they signed a new contract prior to July 1.

Nieuwendyk wanted to trade the rights to Brad Richards since the talented center did not want to re-sign with Dallas while the team’s ownership situation is uncertain. Richards chose to invoke his no-movement clause so he could hit the market on Friday as the biggest fish in a small pool of players. It’s unfortunate for the Stars, since they will get no asset in return. But the one thing Dallas gets with Richards leaving is more room in the budget to try and improve the roster.

"Obviously we're not going to be able to sign Brad Richards, so along with his dollars and the budget we've been given by the NHL, we're in a position where we can spend some money . I am looking forward to it. We'll be active pursuing free agents."

Nieuwendyk has received an increase to his payroll budget from the NHL. Combine that with the fact that the Stars do not plan on sitting on Richards’ money and it gives the team options to shop for some free agents and explore the trade market this summer.

"Going into free agency we've been given a budget which exceeds what we were able to spend last year and goes above the floor the league sets on their pay structure," Nieuwendyk said. "We're excited. We have an opportunity to go out and get good players to help our hockey club."

How active will the Stars be on July 1?

“We’ll be active and talking to players on Friday,” said Nieuwendyk. “We’ve done our homework on which players might be available and might be a fit for us long-term. But we’re not going to be stupid. You have to overpay on July 1; there are 29 other teams out there trying to improve their rosters and it’s competitive. But we still want to be smart with the contract offers we make.”

What are the Stars looking for? Nieuwendyk said he’d like to add a top-six forward, a top-four defenseman, and some depth for the third and/or fourth lines. Will they accomplish all of that through free agency? Maybe, maybe not, but the hockey department is certainly going to try to add to a hockey club that has plenty of talent, despite the departure of Richards.

"I think we're in good shape," Nieuwendyk said. “I feel good about where we are right now. We are younger, and I feel like this group is more of a team. But you have to keep pushing, and you have to get better, and we’re determined to do that.”

No one knows how the market will shake out come Friday (free agency starts at 11 am, CT). One can bet that all 30 teams will be active and looking to spend some money (with several teams spending just to get to the salary floor).

“We’ve studied every possible player that might be available,” Nieuwendyk said. “You never know who can help you.”

Adam Burish is a good example of that. He wasn’t a sexy signing last year on July 1, but he proved to be an important part of the Stars last season.

Here’s hoping that Nieuwendyk is able to find some players to help the Stars be an even better team in 2011-12.

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