Morning After: Stars Players Final Audition
Last night Stars hopefuls had one last chance to impress Head Coach Pete DeBoer. Some helped their cause, some didn’t.
At around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night, the Stars announced they had reached a 4-year deal with Jason Robertson for $31 million dollars, an AAV of $7.75 million per year. A shorter term and less money than expected, but Robo is playing the long-game based on his impressive performance and his upward trajectory. When Robertson is up for renewal after this contract expires, he will still be an RFA but the Stars will have several big contracts off the books. Factor in the salary cap is due to go up and Robertson will be looking at an eight-figure per year deal for his next contract as long as he keeps producing. The kid bet on himself, and you have to admire that.
On the other hand, how the Stars got Robo to sign for less than $8 million is downright unbelievable. Keep in mind that Robertson is only one of four players in Dallas history to score 40 goals in a single season and he is a future face of the franchise. Considering the contracts given to others with similar numbers, this contract is the best of all possible worlds for the Stars. Dallas can easily fit under the salary cap with 22 players and they get their leading goal scorer back for four more years at a rate seemingly below market value. With a week to go before Opening Night, Robo has plenty of time to learn the new system and get reacclimated to his teammates. On Monday, when I asked Jim Nill about reports claiming Robertson will be signed by the end of the week, Nill laughed and said, “I hope they are true.” Now I know why the Stars GM was in such a good mood.
Last night’s 2-1 loss at Colorado was indeed the last chance for Stars hopefuls to impress new Head Coach Pete DeBoer. Not all players entered their final audition at the same starting point. The previous weeks of training camp and preseason games had allowed “bubble boys” to play their way into contention or out of the roster picture. At the end of what would be the last live Beatles performance, “The Rooftop Concert,” John Lennon famously proclaimed, “I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition.” Let’s take a look at which Stars hopeful is getting a callback and who needs more time to marinate.
Did you notice who didn’t play against Colorado? Wyatt Johnston. The 2021 first-round pick has done enough to earn his spot on the roster to open the season. The question is whether he can stick around for more than the nine-game maximum allowed for junior-eligible players. Johnston has proven he has the talent, but playing against grown men who are larger, stronger, and have NHL experience every night is another challenge to be overcome. Wyatt has passed the first test, but now needs to show he can stay for the duration.
Logan Stankoven is just not yet ready for primetime, but pretty darn close. He knows the game, goes to the right spot to get scoring chances, but has not buried the puck. The perfect example was on the power play late in the 2nd period, great anticipation, great position but scoring at the NHL level is different than in the WHl. Don’t feel too bad for Stankoven. The poor kid will have to defend his Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships, try to win his second consecutive CHL Player of the Year award, and play for the Memorial Cup as the Kamloops Blazers will host. What Stankoven has learned in the preseason will be a great learning and motivational experience. When he comes to Stars camp in 2023, consider him a lock.
Mavrik Bourque is headed to Cedar Park and the normal first step in a pro career. Bourque will get a chance to learn the pro game and compete against a higher level of player than in the QMJHL. Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson spent time in the AHL and turned out just fine.
Thomas Harley just didn’t do enough to earn a spot on the big club. Considering many expected the 2019 first-rounder to step up and seize the moment, this is a disappointment.
Nils Lundkvist was also auditioning on Wednesday night, not for a roster spot, rather for a spot in the top four of the Stars defense. The defensive pairings were shuffled by period, but Lundkvist began the night paired with Esa Lindell. In the past, Lindell had success when paired with a slick-skating, right-handed, Swedish partner. History may just be repeating itself. Lundkvist took a couple of defensive zone penalties and was on the ice for the game-winning goal against the fast-skating Avs. If D-zone play is an issue, Lundkvist will find himself in the bottom pairing until play improves inside his own blue line.
Riley Damiani had a goal last night and would be a top choice if the Stars feel they need speed and scoring. With Jason Robertson signed, that may not be necessary. Enter the Swedes if two-way play is more of a deciding factor. Oskar Back looked good early on last night with several chances. Fredrik Karlstrom earned his way into the NHL for three games last year while Fredrik Olofsson has not played above the AHL. Karlstrom’s track record within the Stars organization might be a deciding factor.
Anton Khudobin is pronounced healthy but is not a better goalie than Scott Wedgewood. It will be hard to find a trade partner for a 36-year-old goalie coming off major hip surgery, who just has allowed 9 goals in less than 5 periods of play this preseason. Stars will save more than a million dollars on the salary cap when Dobby clears waivers and is placed in the AHL. Khudobin is such a good guy you hope this isn’t the end, but it looks like it may be.
One week from tonight the regular season begins. Except for Stankoven, any of the above-mentioned players can earn their way to a call-up or play their way out of the NHL. Injuries always play a factor as well. The audition process doesn’t end just because pre-season concludes on Saturday. A good thing to remember for any young player who doesn’t make the cut is the NHL season is a marathon and it is unknown when your moment will come. Be ready, because you never know when the stand-in will need to become the headlining attraction.