“The guys who can put the puck in the net are getting too big a piece of the pie,” opined Dallas Stars owner Tom Gagliardi during an appearance on the Cam & Strick Podcast over the summer.
“The veterans who don’t score a lot, they’re getting squeezed. And I don’t like it.”
Gagliardi’s comments came at a very interesting time in the Stars’ off-season, as the team was in the midst of a prolonged contract stalemate with star forward Jason Robertson, playing chicken with the 22-year-old phenom who had just racked up 41 goals on the 21st-ranked NHL offense.
Robertson would eventually end the stalemate later on, re-upping on a four-year extension worth $7.75 million per season in the wee hours of Thursday morning. But for what should have been a no-brainer contract for a homegrown star, it still took a full five weeks following Gagliardi’s interview to come down the pike, helped along by the impending puck drop on the regular season, and ultimately materialized as a pretty paltry piece of the pie.
This is what makes Gagliardi’s comments so interesting.
While his disdain for the league’s upper class was universally chalked up as some good old-fashioned Hockey Man Logic™, his words seem to provide an interesting glimpse into the construction of his own roster. Namely, Gagliardi’s Stars seem to have a lot of the veterans he seems to love – the ones who don’t score a lot, like Luke Glendenning, Radek Faksa, Joel Kiviranta, Jani Hakanpaa, Joel Hanley, Will Butcher, etc.
Even their highest-paid players are creeping into that territory, with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin both plunging deeper into their 30s while their production follows a similar path. The former, for instance, hasn’t cracked the 55-point barrier since 2017-18. He’ll count for nearly $10 million against the cap until 2025. That’s not ideal.
Injuries have played a factor in both players’ declines, but that’s part of the game, too.
Last season, the Stars’ two leading scorers up front came in the form of the young homegrown star they spent all summer trying not to pay and a 38-year-old Joe Pavelski who could be entering his final NHL campaign. Roope Hintz established himself as a legitimate offensive talent with 37 goals, which was a noted bonus. But take one look down that Stars’ roster, and you’ll see that just seven players reached double-digit goal totals on the year, and just six topped 45 points.
To put that into context, the last-place Montreal Canadiens and the second-last-place Arizona Coyotes each had seven double-digit scorers of their own last season. That’s the company the 2021-22 Dallas Stars were in.
That simply won’t fly in today’s NHL, where scoring has reached record highs and a team’s ability to ice four separate lines capable of producing offense is practically a requirement to compete.
It doesn’t exactly paint the Stars’ understated summer in a flattering light, either.
Things weren’t entirely quiet, of course. Luring Mason Marchment over in free agency was a boon for the Stars, with the club handing the 27-year-old a four-year deal worth $4.5 million per season in the hopes that he can help flesh out the middle of their forward corps. And there’s a good chance Marchment does that. The guy is a unique type of player in the modern game, someone who embodies the combination of size and skill that teams tend to scour the market for to no avail.
But Marchment also has a track record that features just 54 total games of top-six production. All 54 games came last season, a year in which Marchment was surrounded by the NHL’s most lethal supporting cast and also happened to miss extended time with injuries. Prior to 2021-22, Marchment had a combined two goals and 11 points in 37 games at the big-league level, split across two seasons.
All of this is to say that Marchment is a terrific supporting piece – one that seems to perfectly embody exactly what the Stars are looking for from their forwards. But as the big-ticket purchase, he doesn’t solve their lack of top-end talent, either.
On the back end, Miro Heiskanen has emerged as a legitimate top-pairing option around whom the organization will build its blueline for the next decade. But, like their forward corps, the Stars’ defensive depth is remarkably top-heavy, with John Klingberg’s departure leaving a hole in both the top four and power play that the Stars have yet to fill.
Surrounding Heiskanen now are those veterans Gagliardi just can’t get enough of – Ryan Suter, Esa Lindell, Colin Miller, etc. The addition of Nils Lundqvist and the continued emergence of Thomas Harley will certainly help his cause, of course. But, once again, the Stars have built a position group on a shaky foundation of 30-somethings and last-legs veterans that, in effect, will put immense pressure on their top-end guys to carry the load.
It’s like building a mansion on a pile of hay. Sure, it looks pretty and will be a dynamite piece of property when the weather allows it. But one nasty gust of wind could blow the entire foundation to the ground. And when that happens, there’s only so much that shiny new house can do for you.
To the Stars’ credit, they have all their positional pillars cemented in the ground for the foreseeable future. But if that ground is made up of pricey depth options and aging veterans, it’s fair to wonder just how sturdy those pillars can be moving forward.
Then again, at least no one is getting squeezed.
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