Jim Nill has made his mark in early July.
Since taking over as the Dallas Stars general manager in 2013, Nill is three-for-three in cobbling together franchise-changing trades in July — a month typically reserved for big signings and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Two months after leaving the Detroit Red Wings, where he served as the assistant general manager, Nill preempted Independence Day fireworks — and the hot dog competition — in 2013 when he landed Tyler Seguin in a seven-player deal with the Boston Bruins. One year later he traded three players and a draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Jason Spezza on July 1.
Last summer Nill waited nine days, but still made a splash when he swapped Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns on July 10.
Right now, Nill says there isn’t going to be a 2016 blockbuster. The Stars’ head honcho said he’s comfortable with his current team after signing Dan Hamhuis on July 1, while he admitted he’ll keep an ear open for potential opportunities.
And while he may be saying one thing, Nill has the cap space and track record to make another big move in July.
According to General Fanager, the Stars currently have roughly $8.1 million in cap space available before they sign restricted free agents Valeri Nichuskin and Jamie Oleksiak. Assuming that duo will cost roughly $3 million combined, the Stars will have around $5 million to play with.
It creates a bevy of options for Nill at the negotiating table.
A quick glance at Twitter will tell you Stars’ fans want Nill to swing a deal for Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. The 6’7″ behemoth carries a $5.9 million cap hit for next season, and is an unrestricted free agent next summer. Add in the fact the Lightning recently re-upped a deal with young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy through 2020, and with an expansion draft looming, Bishop’s days in Florida are seemingly numbered.
Any deal for Bishop would likely force the Stars to trade Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi to the Lightning. Such a deal would also require Dallas to retain a bit of salary, since Tampa Bay is going to be in a cap crunch after figuring out expensive — yet important — extensions with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.
Dallas has the space to make that work, largely in part to past shrewd negotiations with John Klingberg in April 2015 and Hamhuis earlier this week.
It also allows Nill to go off the board and against popular opinion and predictions. That’s what he did when the Stars traded for Sharp and Johns last summer.
That trade was executed with Lamoriello-like secrecy and it wasn’t broken until the Stars made an announcement at a fan event, called Party in the Park, and only made its way to Twitter through the magic of Periscope.
Nill could also carry that cap flexibility into the regular season, which house one of the more unique trade deadlines in NHL history. With the expansion draft looming, the number of sellers in February will be higher than ever, while the buyers with the most cap space will benefit the most.
That’s a probable result for the Stars, and Nill has said as much. But, it’s hard to ignore the opportunity and cap space the Stars have setup, and those Dallas fans planning vacations should be wary of interruptions.