FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dallas general manager Jim Nill was an unexpected seller at the NHL trade deadline a year after the Stars had the best record in the Western Conference.
And while Nill traded four veterans for a mix of prospects and younger players, the moves were made with the Stars still on the fringe of the playoff picture. Plus, high-scoring forwards Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn are still around.
“My job with this franchise is to try to get better today, tomorrow and for the future,” Nill said Wednesday after the last of four trades in six days were announced. “These decisions are made that’s something’s going to help us down the road, and that’s important.”
Injuries were an issue early for Dallas, a popular preseason pick to challenge for a Stanley Cup title. But once the Stars were healthy at the beginning of February, they lost seven times in regulation in a span of eight games.
Defenseman John Klingberg, a budding star his first two seasons, became the illustration of the struggles of a young group at the blue line. Even Seguin and Benn didn’t look much like the elite scorers they’ve been in the past.
As a result, the Stars entered deadline day seven points out of the final playoff spot in the West with 19 games remaining. Nill had spent the previous week making moves more in line with planning for the future, not the postseason.
“We’re disappointed,” Nill said. “We’re analyzing this. And we know where we have to make some changes. This is a good audition for a lot of these players also. Are they going to be part of this group moving forward? That’s what we’re going to be watching very closely.”
Patrick Eaves was the first to go in a deal with Anaheim for a conditional draft pick. Next was Benn’s older brother, defenseman Jordie Benn, to Montreal for younger blue-liner Greg Pateryn and another pick.
Defenseman Johnny Oduya, who signed as a free agent in 2015 after winning two Stanley Cups with Chicago, went back to the Blackhawks for prospect Mark McNeill, a forward, and a conditional pick. Just before the deadline, Dallas sent Lauri Korpikoski to Columbus for Dillon Heatherington, a 21-year-old defenseman who has yet to play in the NHL.
The Oduya deal was announced just as the Stars were getting ready to play defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, which is headed to the playoffs again. And Dallas beat the Penguins 3-2 by overcoming a third-period deficit for just the second time this season.
“When a piece goes out, it’s another player’s opportunity,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s going to get a little bigger ice time, a little better ice team, maybe special teams ice time. And I think sometimes other players will flourish in the absence of some of the pieces you take out.”
There’s another indication that the Stars aren’t giving up on the playoffs: 35-year-old forward Patrick Sharp.
Nill said the 14-year veteran needs season-ending surgery for an undisclosed injury, which is the reason the three-time champion with Chicago won’t get a chance to join a contender. But Sharp is still playing because the Stars still have postseason hopes.
The team is monitoring Sharp daily to determine whether he can keep playing. But the closer the Stars get to elimination, the more likely it becomes that Sharp heads for the operating room.
“As crazy as it sounds, we’re not out of it yet,” Nill said. “Until we’re out of it, these guys are digging in and they should be. They’re professional. Their job is to play every night. And it’s a coach’s job to prepare them every night. And that’s the way we’re taking it.”