Jim Nill Shows Trades Still Important

The emergence of the salary cap era has transformed the National Hockey League into a draft-centric league. As young stars dominate a game that is now more ideal for their integration, this idea has only become more ingrained. Drafting an elite talent is the consensus way to build a quality team and other methods are now taking a backseat.

Not all, however, agree with the importance that is being place on drafting in the modern day game. Then Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke famously had some choice words about the so called “Pittsburgh Model” of building a team through the draft: saying that “they won a lottery and they got the best player in the game”.

Burke has famously been very up and down in terms of his drafting record, but it hasn’t always mattered. The Toronto Maple Leafs maintain one of the league’s best young cores. Instead of drafting, however, Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner, Jonathan Bernier and Cody Franson were all acquired through trade.

This is a similar method to what Jim Nill is using to construct the core of the Dallas Stars. Nill, like Burke, is not one to sit on his hands and watch a certain aspect of his team inhibit the rest of the squad. He is always willing to make a trade that he believes will result in improvement. Often, he does this by identifying teams who are forced to deal a player and taking advantage of that situation.

When Nill first entered the Stars front office, one of his first tasks was to overhaul the team’s complete lack of center depth. He didn’t do this by putting it as a required credential at the draft: if that was the case they would have selected Max Domi instead of Valeri Nichuskin, and taken more than one center in the draft.

Instead, in two separate trades, Nill picked up Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff. The Seguin trade was helped by the fact that the Boston Bruins believed him to be a party boy, and wanted him out of town. Not satisfied, Nill acquired Jason Spezza over the summer and recently extended him. It was also common knowledge that the Ottawa Senators had no choice but to make the trade.

This season, the team has been underperforming immensely. They currently sit 11th in the Western Conference after 21 games, three points out of a playoff spot. A lot of this has been down to the team’s defensive efforts: Dallas has allowed the 9th most shots against, 3rd most goals against, and a shocking 3.35 goals against per game. This comes at the expense of an offense which has been in the upper third on the league.

Nill could have chalked this entirely up to the fact that his team is still finding its chemistry. This is something that is absolutely true of any team with a number of new parts, and something he has mentioned. He also isn’t willing to take a change on everything working together without some sort of help.

Seeing that Sergei Gonchar was an expendable asset taking away a roster position from some of the team’s defensive prospects, Nill dealt the defenseman to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for defensive forward Travis Moen. A large part of the Stars poor play defensively can be attributed to the team’s lack of two way players. Moen instantly helps fill that need while also contributing to a penalty kill that has also been subpar this year.

The moves were not done there, however, as the defensive problems for the team could not be fixed in a single move. Brenden Dillon had been having a poor season in Dallas and was considered expendable as the Stars have a wealth of young defensive prospects. In exchange, the Stars acquired Jason Demers from the Sharks, a more experienced blueliner who was a better fit positional in the team’s defensive corp. It was a trade with sizeable risk for Nill, but has the potential to what the majority of his other deals have done: improve his team almost immediately.

In an age where trades are overanalyzed and deemed an unnecessary risk and therefore have lost their luster, Nill deserves plenty of credit. He has been able to build his team in a way that is against the current grain. As a result, he has been able to construct a solid young team in only a matter of years without relying on the intangibles that come with the draft.

The Stars have yet to amount to their potential, they haven’t even come close. They can find hope, however, in the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are another team who, through the acquisitions of Philadelphia castoffs Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, created a young core that has reaped two Stanley Cup Championships.

In theory, the Stars have a long way to go before that becomes a reality. But if Nill can continue to work his magic, the team may be trading their way to the top.

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