|(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
The first issue is the lack of a veteran defenseman.
Since its inaugural season, Texas has always placed a premium on veteran defense. With the longer development cycle of a blue liner, it's important to have a stalwart presence on the backend to make sure those players develop properly. Also, you need someone who can get out there and play heavy minutes when the inevitable minor issues crop up with younger players and the situation is too important to risk it.
Since the beginning, Texas has had Maxime Fortunus. The Stars' most-recent captain was informed earlier this summer that he would not be brought back by the club. With the departure of Derek Meech to Europe and the likely departure of Cameron Gaunce to find NHL work elsewhere, Texas has no one in its lineup with more than 68 games of AHL experience.
In fact, the old-timer of the group currently expected in Texas is 19-year old Julius Honka.
So now the Stars need at least two veteran defenseman with another AHL-ECHL guy to serve as the 7th man. Let's talk options.
The first two options are in-house. Cameron Gaunce wants to find a place in the NHL where the depth chart isn't so stacked and he has more of a chance to play at that level. However, maybe if the money is right, they can convince him to stay in Texas.
The other option is Scott Valentine, who started the season in Idaho last year due to contract issues with Nashville. Essentially, the Predators had qualified Valentine but then decided not to sign him. That meant he had to sit out the NHL season unless he could find an independent minor league team to sign with. That was Idaho. Scott White had to do negotiating with Nashville to get him to Texas even. Now that he is free and clear, he can sign an NHL or AHL deal with any club.
Looking outside, some of the big names you might want are already taken. T.J. Brennan re-upped with Toronto. Brad Hunt was extended by Edmonton. Here's my top three targets for free agency for the Texas Stars:
1. Bobby Sanguinetti
Coming off a career year where he should have won the Defenseman of the Year award, according to this writer and many others, Sanguinetti is a great option for the Stars. He has deep playoff experience with Utica now and scores in bunches. Here's waht Sean Shapiro wrote about him in our joint blog about the Shore Award:
"He’s a solid defenseman in all three zones, a catalyst on the power play and penalty kill, gobbles up ice time, and he makes a good Utica Comets team even better. Utica is one of the AHL’s top defensive teams, even though they’ve used four goalies this season, and Sanguinetti is their leader."2. Will O'Neill
The IceCaps D-man was impressive this season (10-38=48 in 72GP) and showed well two seasons ago when Texas defeated St. John's for the Cup. He was a 7th round pick and has never cracked the NHL lineup in four seasons. He's unlikely to do that with Texas, but he could be a very well-compensated veteran for the team.
3. Steve Oleksy
Depending on what Oleksy sees out there in free agency, a trip to Central Texas could make sense. He spent time in Idaho before being snatched up by the Capitals to play three seasons split between Washington and Hershey. This past year he only had one game in the NHL, wore an "A" for the Bears, and upgraded it to a "C" mid-season.
If the connection is to be made, it will have a lot to do with the Stars' head coach, Derek Laxdal. Oleksy began his stint in Idaho during Laxdal's final season there. They went to the Kelly Cup Finals together that year and fell to Cincinnati. Oleksy isn't going to be a flashy D-man -- he only had 4 goals in 68 AHL games this season -- but he will be a consistent presence for the younger guys.