NHL Free Agency opened at 11 am central time Saturday morning, with virtually every player of note already magically signed or pledged to a team. The Dallas Stars worked their magic and signed 30-year old center Martin Hanzal to a three year contract for $4,750,000 per year. Stars fans know Hanzal as that guy in Phoenix who always does things against Dallas, but no more. He is now a Star.
Hanzal is a big boy. The 6’6, 226 pound center adds an interesting element to the Stars forward group: size. The Stars have tried to add size up front for years. Brett Ritchie brings some already, and all the forwards drafted under Jim Nill in the fourth round or higher have been 6’2 or bigger except Remi Elie. Elie is 6’1. Needless to say, Hanzal fits the size requirement.
The signing is a bit of a gamble. Hanzal has never been able to consistently stay healthy. This past season is the first time he’s played in 70 games since he was 22 years old. When healthy he’s a quality player. The Stars can expect 45-50 points out of him. They can expect him to be able to handle some defensive zone time, and he will give the Stars a realistic ability to send a big forward to the front of the net on both powerplay units should they decide they want to do that. All of that assumes he’s healthy.
It also seems like a hedge for Ken Hitchcock and company. Hanzal has played almost exclusively center his entire career and is coming to a team with Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Radek Faksa going down the middle in the top three spots. In the case of a lingering injury to one of the top two centers he provides depth, but Hitchcock is also going to demand a lot out of his centers up and down the ice. Signing Hanzal seems like insurance in case he feels the need to move Seguin or Spezza to wing.
Mike Heika also speculated that Hanzal could come in as a left winger, presumably to play with Spezza. Spezza has played on the wing, though - so it seems much more likely that he would be the one to move. This highlights what the Stars face right now, though. Dallas is in the market for two to three forwards. The team needs scorers if they want to get back to contender status.
As of right now the Stars definitely have one top six winger in Jamie Benn. The Hanzal signing gives them another one; either himself or Spezza. At the very least the Stars will still need one more, but two more would be preferable. Some names remain in free agency as of this writing that the Stars have been linked to, but the trade market seems like another possibility. Either way, they don’t seem done.
Hanzal isn’t the big splashy offensive addition the Stars need, but he should help the penalty killing and depth. We saw last year how important depth is. Adding to it with a quality player is never a bad thing, especially when you have as much cap space as the Stars have.
For more on the continuing offseason drama, follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220.