Stars 2023 NHL free agency grade

The Dallas Stars came within two wins of advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2020 this past season, taking the eventual champion Vegas Golden Knights to six games in the Western Conference Final. But the future is bright in Texas, and GM Jim Nill made some excellent moves to keep this team competitive in 2023-24 and beyond.

Signing star forward Matt Duchene to a one-year contract after he was bought out by the Nashville Predators is one of the single biggest wins of the 2023 NHL Free Agency period, especially since he cost only $3 million. Re-signing fan favorite Evgenii Dadonov was also a tidy piece of business, while the additions of Craig Smith and Sam Steel will go a long way in shoring up the bottom-six for another potentially deep playoff run in 2024.

The Stars are well-positioned to battle for the Central Division crown next season, and as constructed, are Stanley Cup contenders in 2023-24. Let’s break it down.

Signed Matt Duchene, one-year deal

Matt Duchene being bought out by the Preds was absolutely shocking. This is a player that is one year removed from a career season, where the 32-year-old compiled 43 goals and 86 points in Smashville. Duchene followed it up with 56 points in 71 games last year, and it’s clear that the buyout completely blindsided him.

Still, Duchene is now on a much better hockey team, and on a one-year show me deal. Duchene will be looking to prove his old team wrong with the Stars in 2023-24, and hoping to replicate his stats from two seasons ago so he can command a long-term deal when the NHL’s salary cap rises significantly next summer.

Matt Duchene to Dallas on a one-year, $3 million pact is a huge win for both player and club, and gives the team another offensive threat on the second line. The Canadian figures to play with his longtime friend Tyler Seguin next season, and expect both players to put up respectable point totals in Texas.

Re-signed Evgenii Dadonov, two-year deal

Evgenii Dadonov was more than solid in his debut with the Stars after being traded from the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline. He put up 15 points in 23 games in a middle-six role, upping his game in the playoffs and adding 10 points in 16 postseason games as Dallas made a run to the final four. He is well deserving of the two-year, $4.5 million contract he signed on July 1, and he will be a perfect fit on either Wyatt Johnston or Tyler Seguin’s wing for the next two seasons.

The former No. 71 overall pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2007 NHL Draft still has some offense left in him, and he’s proven to be a capable point producer in the playoffs. For a meagre $2.25 million per year, his contract is a steal for Jim Nill and the Stars, and the 34-year-old will be motivated to produce for the next two seasons.

Added Craig Smith, Sam Steel on one-year deals

The Stars swapped Joel Kiviranta and Luke Glendening for Sam Steel and Craig Smith in free agency, and they will be better off for it next season.

The 25-year-old Steel is a former first-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks, but played for the Minnesota Wild last season. He shouldn’t have hit the free agent market, but as the Wild were strapped for cash with the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on the books, they were forced to let him go. He will be motivated to play well on a league-minimum, $850,000 contract next year, and prove that he is still capable of hanging with the big boys at the NHL level.

Craig Smith bounced around between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins last season, but spent most of his career in Nashville after being drafted by the team back in 2009. He is just a few seasons removed from a 51-point campaign, and the 33-year-old will be looked to more for his defensive abilities with the Stars next season. Like Steel, he is on a bargain, $1 million contract, and will be extra motivated with the salary cap going up next year.

Final Grade: A

The Dallas Stars weren’t broke, and they didn’t need fixing. They boast one of the best first lines in the league with Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson. They have one of the best young goaltenders in the sport in Jake Oettinger. And they have a superstar young defenseman in Miro Heiskanen.

Yes, the team could use another top-four defenseman, but they deserve credit for not overpaying on a lesser player out of desperation, instead staying patient for a trade to develop in the future. Matt Duchene adds an entirely new look to the top-six, while Sam Steel and Craig Smith bolster the bottom-six to create one of the best overall offensive cores in the National Hockey League. And bringing Evgenii Dadonov back was a shrewd piece of business as well.

The Dallas Stars didn’t break the bank, but they absolutely got better in NHL free agency. This is a team that has the potential to compete for a Stanley Cup next year, and if they get the goaltending from Oettinger, they could come out of the West next June.

The post Stars 2023 NHL free agency grade appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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