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What awaits each unrestricted free agent of the Dallas Stars in the 2024 NHL free agency?
What awaits each unrestricted free agent of the Dallas Stars in the 2024 NHL free agency?

NHL free agency begins on July 1, marking the start of the most important time of the year for building the Dallas Stars team that will take to the ice when the next season begins in October.

The Stars have six unrestricted free agents this offseason, some of whom are among the top names on this year’s market.

With the Stars in a critical negotiating phase with these six players, here is the latest information on their ability to re-sign in Dallas.

Matt Duchene, F

Duchene has spoken openly about wanting to stay in Dallas for the entire season and reiterated his stance on the issue during locker room cleanup day earlier this month.

“With pleasure,” he replied promptly when asked whether he wanted to extend his contract.

Of all of Dallas’ unrestricted free agents this season, Duchene might be the easiest to bring back – and the choice that makes the most sense for both him and the Stars.

Duchene fit in seamlessly on the ice and in the locker room, proving to be a link for Dallas’ second line of Mason Marchment and Tyler Seguin, especially in the first half of the season. The 33-year-old has also been a skilled mentor to younger players like Wyatt Johnston and Logan Stankoven.

After a difficult offseason in which Duchene had to recover from the loss of his fingertip and the Nashville Predators bought him out for the final three years of his contract, the veteran forward said the Stars organization helped him recover and provided him and his family with the home he hoped for.

Duchene was one of the biggest free agent bargains last year, signing a one-year, $3 million deal and taking a significant pay cut to come to Dallas. He was key to bolstering Dallas’ offensive depth and had some standout moments of his own, like his game-winning goal in the second overtime of Game 6 of the Colorado series.

It is in the best interest of Duchene and the Stars to maintain their relationship next season.

Jani Hakanpää, D

Hakanpää’s move to free agent comes directly after a difficult season for the Finnish defender.

Since becoming a fixture in the Stars’ lineup in the 2021-22 season, he has played the fewest games – appearing in just 64 games in the regular season and none in the playoffs.

The right-shot defenseman last saw the ice on March 16 against the Los Angeles Kings, but was suspended day-to-day shortly thereafter with a lower-body injury. Although he traveled with the team during the playoffs and skated on his own, he never returned to the lineup.

Hakanpää has struggled with injuries in recent years, which was one of the biggest drawbacks to his re-signing this season. In addition to his lengthy season-ending injury, he also missed 10 days in February with an upper-body injury and was injured during the 2023 playoffs.

When healthy, he was responsible for some crucial errors and led the team in defensive zone turnovers per 60 minutes.

His biggest assets are his size – he’s the tallest player on the team at 6’7″ – and his penalty killing. But with a salary cap hit of $1.5 million last year, the possibility of rookie Lian Bichsel being ready, and the hope of re-signing Chris Tanev, Hakanpää’s return is not guaranteed.

After 18 seasons as an NHL player, Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski announced he has no plans to return while speaking to the media during a postseason press conference at the Stars’ practice facility in Frisco, Texas on June 4, 2024. The Stars lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Final.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Joe Pavelski, F

The oldest member of this year’s Stars roster was one of the biggest question marks entering the offseason, as Pavelski turns 40 on July 11.

But Pavelski made his intentions clear on locker room day when he said he would not play next season.

“That was it for me. It’s probably been known for some time. The plan is not to play next year,” he said on June 4. “I don’t want to say it’s official, but the plan is not to come back.”

Pavelski’s decision was a bitter pill for the Stars to swallow. He spent the final five years of his career in Dallas, played over 1,300 games in the NHL and also defied age late in his career by scoring 67 points in the 2023-24 regular season.

His decision to retire offers the Stars a little more flexibility. The one-year extension he signed in January 2023 resulted in a $3.5 million salary cap hit for Dallas last season. But even without Pavelski on the roster, the Stars must carry a $2 million performance bonus he earned for playing 20 games last season.

Craig Smith, F

Last year, the Stars let backup forwards Max Domi and Luke Glendening leave as free agents due to salary caps. Craig Smith could find himself in a similar situation.

Smith was signed as a free agent last year after splitting the 2022-23 season between Boston and Washington.

He proved to be a solid addition, appearing in 75 regular season games and scoring 20 points (11 goals and 9 assists) on Dallas’ fourth line.

Late in the season and during the playoffs, Smith was in and out of the lineup as Stars coach Pete DeBoer rotated his fourth-line forwards. Smith didn’t have the faceoff or shorthanded play skills of his teammates Radek Faksa, Sam Steel and Ty Dellandrea, so he sometimes got the short end of the stick.

Still, he earned the title of “Linebacker on Ice” for his physical play, which was praised in 14 playoff games. However, he was the only Dallas forward to play multiple games and not score a goal in the playoffs.

Smith signed a one-year, $1 million contract last July. With Pavelski gone, the Stars need to maintain their offensive depth, but whether Smith fits the bill remains to be seen.

Dallas Stars defenseman Chris Tanev (3) shakes off Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) as he clears the puck during the second period of Game 5 in the NHL Stanley Cup Western Conference final at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on May 31, 2024. (Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Chris Tanev, D

After Tanev’s performance in the Stars’ playoffs this year, re-signing him would be a no-brainer if money were no object.

Before signing Tanev before the March trade deadline, Dallas was a mediocre defensive team, ranking 14th in goals against per game (3.03). After Tanev was added to the roster, the Stars climbed to second in the league in that category (2.11) during the final month of the regular season. They finished fifth in the playoffs (2.53).

“He changed our team in a lot of ways when he came,” DeBoer said of Tanev. “From that point on, we were a different team. That’s because of all the things he brought.”

DeBoer said he hopes the Stars can keep Tanev, and Tanev said he would like to stay in Dallas for another year.

But whether he wears the green badge of victory next season will depend on some salary cap shenanigans and a highly competitive free agent market.

When the Stars signed Tanev in late February, Nill coordinated a best-case deal for Dallas that played a key role in him being named the league’s GM of the Year for the second consecutive year.

The Stars were able to reach their most important target without trading away any current players, top talent or first-round draft picks, and only paid a quarter of his salary. New Jersey and Calgary kept the other 75%.

However, that won’t be the case if Dallas decides to re-sign Tanev. Although they only paid $1.125 million for him last year, the Stars must be willing to pay at least $4.5 million for him.

Tanev will also reportedly be one of the hottest prospects when he hits the free agency market this year, with teams like Toronto and Vancouver already expressing interest.

Tanev’s future may be the most important question facing the Stars this season, as they need a reliable right-shot defender like he has proven to be and should be a top priority for Dallas to re-sign.

Scott Wedgewood, G

The Stars’ backup goalie may not be the flashiest name on this list, but he is another key player the Stars would love to have back.

Wedgewood was the ultimate role player in the 2023-24 season, playing a key role while starter Jake Oettinger struggled throughout the year.

At the beginning of the year, Oettinger and Wedgewood regularly played in rotation, with Wedgewood playing every four games, giving Oettinger important rest that kept him fresh until the end of the season. When Oettinger was out for nearly a month with a groin injury, Wedgewood played 11 straight games and posted a solid 6-3-2 record.

In addition to his respectable play, he is a popular guy in the locker room who enjoys working with teammates like Oettinger and Jason Robertson to improve their play. After spending the first five years of his NHL career splitting time between New Jersey and Arizona, he has found stability in Dallas over the past three years. With the recent birth of his first child, it is a stable situation that benefits him and the team.

There is probably no bigger fan of Wedgewood than Oettinger, who insisted that the team re-sign him.

“He is the best goalkeeping partner I’ve ever had in my career,” Oettinger said. “Knowing that you have someone behind you who wants you to do really well has helped me a lot and gives me confidence and yes, I really, really want to see him again.”

With a salary cap of just $1 million last year, re-signing Wedgewood would be a small undertaking and a worthwhile decision.

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