Few general managers have made their impact felt as quickly as Jim Nill has with the Dallas Stars.
In just his first 90 days on the job, Nill made a splash in the 2013 off-season, acquiring centre Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins. That move, which created a kinship with onetime Bruin and linemate Jamie Benn, helped Dallas reach the Stanley Cup playoffs this season for the first time since 2007-08, snapping the longest post-season drought by an U.S.-based club.
With a young team in the loaded Western Conference, Nill struck again this week with arguably the NHL’s biggest coup when he traded for Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators. The Stars only dealt forward Alex Chiasson, two prospects and a second-round pick for the Sens’ 31-year-old No. 1 centre, and that deal suddenly makes Dallas look like one of the sport’s powers.
Nill took time from his schedule Thursday to speak with Sportsnet.ca about the Spezza deal, his other moves and the process.
SPORTSNET: Can you walk me through the Spezza trade?
JIM NILL: When it became public knowledge he wanted to be traded, like every GM in the league, I looked into what it was going to take to make a trade and get him to come to our team. We did our homework; we kept in touch. There were a lot of other situations going on around us. There was the [Canucks centre Ryan] Kesler thing going on and other pieces going on at the same time. At the draft, things started to heat up. When you get a deadline, it’s usually when things pick up in pace. Kesler got traded [to Anaheim], which took another team out of the mix. [Senators GM] Bryan [Murray] and I started to talk a little bit more, and it started to heat up some more.
How important was it to get the deal done before noon on July 1, the start of the UFA period?
It was very important for both parties. If I know I’m not getting Spezza, I’m going in a different direction. If Bryan knows he’s not getting the pieces we gave him, he’s going to try something else. It was important to get it done before free agency for both parties.
What do you believe you are getting with Spezza?
He’s an elite hockey player. He’s over a point-per-game player in the NHL. They don’t just fall out of the sky. He’s in the prime of career. He’s a big body, he’s got great hands, great vision. He’s going to help our power play. He’s played in the Stanley Cup playoffs before and the Stanley Cup Final and the world championships. We’re getting an elite player in the prime of his career.
Given how formidable the rest of the Western Conference is, plus the moves others have made, was this a move you felt you had to make to remain competitive?
We knew we had to address that hole in our lineup when I came in here last year. If I didn’t get Spezza, we had to turn to another option. We had Jamie Benn playing centre because we had no other options. It was a hole to get filled, and it turned out well to get Jason Spezza.
How much risk do you associate with this deal, considering Spezza will still be a free agent next summer?
I’m not too worried about the contract. His agent [Rick Curran] and I have spoken, and we’re going to get Jason in here to show him around the area. I’m pretty confident we’re going to get a contract done.
A few hours after dealing for Spezza, you signed his former linemate in Ottawa, Ales Hemsky, to a contract. Is it safe to assume they’ll play on the same line together?
l’ll leave that up to the coaching staff. As far as Hemsky is concerned, we had him targeted even if we didn’t get Spezza. He’d be a great fit [on Dallas’ top line] with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. He’s an elite passer.
You still have salary cap room and a wealth of forwards and some defence. Would you say you’re done with signings and trades, particularly given the organizational depth you have, or are you always looking?
We’re done on the free-agent market. Any other moves we make will be internal. We have about six or seven forwards down in [Dallas’ AHL affiliate] Texas that are very close, and there are about four defenceman that are close as well. We have lots of depth and lots of options.