Ros­ters scru­ti­nized closer than ever

In­tense dis­cus­sions led to clear pic­ture of play­ers’ val­ues

The Dallas Morning News - - SPORTS DAY - MIKE HEIKA mheika@dal­las­news.com Twit­ter: @MikeHeika

Mike Heika: With teams need­ing to de­cide whom to ex­pose to the ex­pan­sion draft, gen­eral man­agers, in­clud­ing the Stars’ Jim Nill, have had to look much closer at their ros­ters.

True in­tro­spec­tion is one of the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges in life. You can al­ways ra­tio­nal­ize your weak spots or fil­ter your opin­ions to make the pic­ture a lit­tle closer to what you think it should be.

That’s why the ex­pan­sion draft to stock the Ve­gas Golden Knights has been eye-open­ing for NHL gen­eral man­agers. While each team is sup­posed to lose just one player, it has made each front of­fice study ev­ery player in its or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“One of the ben­e­fits is it re­ally has forced hon­est as­sess­ment and strong de­bate within your group,” Stars gen­eral man­ager Jim Nill said. “We’ve had a lot of time to pre­pare, and that means you go through ev­ery sce­nario and you look at ways to man­age each sit­u­a­tion. When you start to do that, you re­ally have to make tough choices on what’s best for your or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The most ob­vi­ous dis­cus­sion came on de­fense, where the Stars have three 20-some­thing blue-lin­ers, each of whom has a unique up­side. Jamie Olek­siak is 6-7, 260 pounds, and can skate. Stephen Johns is 6-4, 230 pounds, and has more of a phys­i­cal edge than Olek­siak. Pa­trik Nemeth is smaller at 6-3, 215, but might have the best bal­ance of skills.

Olek­siak is the youngest at 24, and also the high­est draft pick (14th over­all in 2011). Johns, 25, has the least NHL ex­pe­ri­ence, but spent four years at Notre Dame and might have the most room for im­prove­ment. Nemeth is the old­est by two months over Johns, and his de­vel­op­ment might have been slowed the most by in­juries.

At least two of those play­ers were ex­pected to be made avail­able to the Golden Knights after the Stars sub­mit­ted their pro­tected list Satur­day af­ter­noon. The pro­tected lists of all 30 NHL teams will be re­vealed Sun­day morn­ing, and Ve­gas’ se­lec­tions will be made pub­lic Wed­nes­day night.

Nill isn’t go­ing to ex­plain the grad­ing process on the trio — keep­ing your se­crets is an­other big part of the ex­pan­sion process — but his decision-mak­ing will re­veal a good deal of what went on be­hind the scenes. If the or­ga­ni­za­tion chose to pro­tect Johns over Olek­siak, it would be mak­ing a state­ment, a state­ment it wouldn’t have had to make in any other sum­mer.

“That’s just the way it is this year,” Nill said.

In hop­ing to give Ve­gas its best pos­si­ble team, the NHL has cre­ated a pretty in­tense culling process. Teams were al­lowed to pro­tect seven for­wards, three de­fense­men and one goalie (or eight skaters and one goalie if a team opted to pro­tect more de­fense­men).

Com­pli­cated rules pro­tected younger play­ers (Julius Honka, Devin Shore and Mat­tias Jan­mark didn’t have to be ex­posed), but the bot­tom line is you have to be will­ing to lose a player you like.

Some teams, hop­ing to avoid ex­pos­ing a de­sir­able player, dis­cussed trades, with the dead­line for that pass­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon. But while the amount of for­wards or de­fense­man on any ros­ter com­pli­cates is­sues, the bot­tom line is a team re­ally had to like a player to pro­tect him. That’s where the hon­est as­sess­ment part came in.

“This has cre­ated prob­a­bly the most talk ever be­tween GMs, and that’s been a great thing,” Nill said. “You find out a lot about what they think about their own ros­ter, but you also get a re­ally good view of what the rest of the league thinks about your ros­ter.”

Learn­ing what other teams truly think about your play­ers — and forc­ing your­self to make a harsh as­sess­ment of your own ros­ter — can be sig­nif­i­cant.

“If you look at the trade dead­line or free agency, I’m not re­ally sure you get a clear look at play­ers, be­cause there are so many dif­fer­ent fac­tors that change your eval­u­a­tion,” Nill said. “But this whole ex­pe­ri­ence has been dif­fer­ent. I re­ally do think ev­ery team has a pretty clear view of who they are right now.”

Ash­ley Lan­dis/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

De­fense­man Esa Lin­dell has played just 77 NHL games, but the Stars con­sider him a part of their long-term fu­ture and were ex­pected to in­clude him on their pro­tected list for the ex­pan­sion draft.

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