Interesting day today in Dallas, where GM Jim Nill agreed to a contract extension with a top forward and continued his dramatic rebuild of the Stars' struggling defense corps.
First, Nill came to terms with center Jason Spezza on a four-year extension. It'll kick in next season and pay the 31-year-old veteran a hefty $7.5 million per.
No doubt that'll be seen by many as an overpayment, but given what the Stars gave up to acquire him this past summer from Ottawa—forward Alex Chiasson and a pair of solid prospects—and the importance of depth down the middle they didn't want to see him leave in free agency next summer. And considering the demand for top centers, that $7.5 million feels like a reasonable commitment.
While that move was anticipated, Nill followed it up with a completely unexpected deal that sent Brenden Dillon to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Jason Demers and a third-round draft pick in 2016.
Dillon becomes the third blueliner the Stars have parted with in just over a week. Earlier, Dallas traded veteran Sergei Gonchar to Montreal for winger Travis Moen and lost Kevin Connauton to Columbus on waivers.
Considering their struggles over the first quarter—Dallas is averaging 3.35 goals-against per game, 27th in the league—a change was exactly what this group needed. At age 40 Gonchar was playing out the string and Connauton, while highly skilled, never managed to earn the faith of the coaching staff. No tears were shed over their departures.
But the decision to move Dillon is puzzling. As recently as last season the 6'-4", 225-pound late bloomer was thought to be part of the Stars' core moving forward, a reliable physical counterpoint for a group that was mostly geared toward puck movement. Just last month, Nill expressed enthusiasm for his potential.
"Brenden is a young defenseman that plays a tough, physical game," Nill said. "Over the last few seasons, he's learned to use that size and strength to his advantage helping him evolve into a solid shut-down defenseman. Brenden is an important part of our group and we expect him to keep growing into the player we know he can become."
Not that important, apparently.
Granted, Dillon got off to a slow start this season, but that was expected after he missed all of training camp while waiting for a new deal with the team. And a slow start is no reason to move a 23-year-old with upside. Nor is concern over having to go through the contract process all over again next summer.
At its core then, this has to come down to a desire to add yet another puck mover. And the fact that Demers is a right-handed shot made him all the more desirable. The Stars started the season with six lefties on the back end. Now, with Demers and the surprising John Klingberg, who was recalled from Texas (AHL) last week, they've got two righties and a whole slew of options for reconfiguring the unit.
Demers finished strong last season, playing on the top unit alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic down the stretch, but struggled to reach that level of consistency or a proper fit this year.
The Sharks retained some salary in the deal, reportedly 35%, but probably come out ahead in the swap. They get a younger, cheaper player who is a better fit on their second pair alongside Brent Burns than Mirco Mueller. The rookie will likely drop down to the third pair where he can breathe a little easier not having to worry about Burns and his defensive inconsistencies and Dillon can stay at home and let Burns be Burns.