With the start of the NHL season right around the corner, there’s no shortage of prediction pieces about the upcoming year in the hockey-verse. Yahoo Sports Canada recently wrote a piece about five players they expect to bounce back after subpar showings last season. It’s a tried and true topic every year, but buried in one of the explanations for their candidates was an interesting tidbit that might have changed a franchise, a cup contender no less, for the better.
One the five players Yahoo Sports expects to bounce back is John Klingberg. The offensive defenseman had struggled to put up points in addition to his liability at playing defense, never ideal for defensemen not named “Erik Karlsson”. Klingberg finds himself on his fourth team in three seasons as a newly minted member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Buried in their explanation of why they expect Klingberg to succeed north of the border was an interesting tidbit about his contract negotiations with his first NHL employer the Dallas Stars:
"Klingberg entered the 2022-23 season on a one-year, $7-million contract with the Anaheim Ducks, which he signed late into the offseason. In the wake of the signing, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported on 32 Thoughts the Podcast that the Dallas Stars offered Klingberg an eight-year deal with a $7-million AAV during the 2021-22 season, but Klingberg’s camp was pushing for an AAV closer to $8 million. Klingberg went on to change agents."
Those numbers made us jump back a bit. Klingberg is not an $8 million player, especially in the flat cap NHL we’ve seen the past few seasons. That value at that reported multi-year term is scarier than a jump scare in a horror move (we’re trying to use a spooky analogy since Halloween is right around the corner). Call it a move of fate, but that might have helped the Stars dodge a drastic overpay for an underperforming defensemen.
John Klingberg was so close to re-signing with and being on the Dallas Stars’ long term. Luckily for the future of their young core, he didn’t.
The Stars current core, and for the foreseeable future, is pretty set with Jason Roberston, Rope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger in goal. Hintz and Heiskanen are signed for the long haul, with contracts ending in 2031 and 2027, respectively. Robertson and Oettinger will reach restricted free agency in 2027 and 2026, respectively. Had Klingberg taken that deal Dallas would have found signing their core a much harder task. Remember Robertson needed a new contract last season as well. The Stars are current over the cap (by just over $300,000 as of September 27th) and that’s after they passed on re-signing Klingberg to this massive contract last year.
It’s easy to see “not overpaying for a subpar defensemen” is good for a team. Don’t forget the Stars still have Jaimie Ben and Tyler Seguin the books and those contracts haven’t gotten prettier as they aged. Benn and Seguin re-upped their value a bit last season (Benn had his highest point total since 2017-2018 while Seguin had a 50 point season) but that isn’t enough to fully justify their paychecks. Having two bad contracts is bad enough, adding a third with that potential Klingberg deal would have thrown a wrench in the Stars plans, and then sent those plans on fire, and traded Robertson to somewhere random with cap space like Winnipeg.
Assume for a moment the Stars did give Klingberg that contract. Their current state would be a lot closer to the Minnesota Wild, who had to sell Kevin Fiala for under market value because they’re being held back by the Ryan Suter and Zach Parise buyouts. It also might remind you of when the Chicago Blackhawks sent Brandon Saad to Columbus in the midst of their dynasty because of cap constraints caused by Patrick Kane’s and Jonathan Toew’s contracts.
With their current success it’s easy to imagine the Dallas Stars front office barely gives a passing thought to their former defensemen. It’s even less likely they regret letting him seek employment in Anaheim on a “look, we all know we’re going to dump you at the trade deadline” deal. Hindsight id 20/20, but beauty is also in the eye of the beholder, and the only place that eight year, $7 million average annual value contract would have looked beautiful was in Klingberg’s bank account.