DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 19: Ryan Garbutt #40 of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against Ryan Suter #20 of the Nashville Predators at American Airlines Center on February 19, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Top pairing defensemen are going to be highly sought after commodities until either the NHL folds or the apocalypse sweeps every last soul off of sweet Mother Earth. The Stars need one, and arguably two. Every team in the league could use one, and very few actually have them. When a very good blueliner actually hits free agency he is always going to cash in.
James Wisniewski's six year 33 million dollar deal with Columbus last year comes to mind. And Christian Ehrhoff's ten year 40 million dollar contract with the Sabres. You get the point. This year there's Ryan Suter. There isn't much, if any, doubt that Suter is more valuable than either Ehrhoff or Wisniewski, and he's most likely going to top 50 million in total salary. He heads a defensive class that includes Matt Carle, Dennis Wideman, Jason Garrison, and Carlo Colaiacovo (among others). Would a pursuit of Ryan Suter be the best use of the Stars resources, and is he clearly the best defenseman available on July 1?
I've gone about parsing the available defensemen down in a similar way to how I went through the forwards. The criteria, in English, is pretty simple. Old defensemen (33 or older) and defensemen who barely played (less than 20 games) were immediately removed because they are either not long term fits due to age, or had some extenuating circumstances keep them off the ice (poor play, age, injury, etc.). With the group narrowed down I moved on to looking for ability. Players who drove possession for their teams, succeeded in tough minutes, and generally contributed more positives than negatives are the focus of this search. Before free agency we will dive head first into the potential depth options, but the focus of this post is the big guys.
Ideally the Stars want an all situations guy. They want someone who has the ability to play on both special teams units, someone that can play tough defensive zone minutes, and someone with the ability to generate offensive zone attack time. Of the five guys mentioned Ryan Suter unquestionably played the most difficult minutes last year.
Only 15 blueliners in the NHL saw a higher degree of competition than he did in 2012. Jason Garrison is right on his heels, though, at 33rd in the league. The major distinguishing factor between their responsibilities comes from their zone assignments. Suter had a much less favorable average starting defensive position than Garrison, but both were used in similar roles. They were used against the opposition's top competition all over the ice. The disparity between their zone assignments is a function of the Panthers being a better team. Suter had more opportunities to begin shifts in the defensive zone than Garrison because the Predators as a team started more shifts in their own zone than the Panthers.
Of the other three Dennis Wideman stands out for how relatively little the Capitals trusted him defensively, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise. He doesn't have a reputation as a big defensive guy. The Capitals didn't treat him with kid gloves, but he is clearly a guy that the Stars would need to give less defensive responsibility to than any of the other four mentioned potential additions
Four of the five have been trusted with above average to heavy defensive responsibility, but as always we want to know what they've done with those minutes. All of these numbers are at even strength since we're trying to find actual talent vs. inflated production.
|Name||Corsi Rel||PTS/60||S%||Career S%|
Last year Carle was 16th in defenseman even strength scoring. Given his ability to play a little bit of defense he would be a solid addition to any defensive corps, but he's destined to get overpaid because of that offensive ability. Wideman, being the weakest defensively of the group, would ideally produce more offensively to be a better fit for the Stars.
Garrison and Suter are the guys to key in on again. They took on the tough defensive matchups for their respective teams last season, pushed the puck from their own end (10.8 and 7.3 Corsi Rel), and produced offensively. Both have strong defensive reputations. Both can generate offense.
They aren't the same player at all though. Garrison has a booming shot from the point. He's one inch and 20 pounds bigger than Ryan Suter, and the Stars have been focusing on size the past few years. Unfortunately he also only has 190 career games under his belt to Suter's 542. There are some track record concerns here. Is Garrison a fluke? It's possible, but he doesn't seem like a fluke. He seems like a player that came into his own when given more responsibility.
Suter also comes with a big concern. The man is going to get paid. Seven years and 50 million dollars doesn't seem out of the question. With Suter the Stars without a doubt know what they would be getting, and they would be paying a massive premium in a salary cap world for certainty. Is that worth the premium when Garrison appears to bring everything Suter brings?
The Stars are going to have cap space. Money will not be a concern. Spending money wisely will always be a concern though because of the limited availability of resources with the salary cap. Jason Garrison is probably going to get 4-5 years and 16-20 million dollars. Suter is likely better. I don't think he's much that much better though, and he definitely isn't worth two to three times the price of Garrison if the player he's been collectively over 190 games is what he will be going forward.
What the Stars are planning is anybody's guess. If they were able to sign Ryan Suter or Matt Carle fans across the board should be pleased. Both players would significantly improve the Stars defensive corps. Carlo Colaiacovo as a second pairing defensive option and Dennis Wideman as an import to improve the powerplay would both be solid signings too depending on the price.
Outside of Suter none of the available defensemen has the upside of Garrison though. He brings a game similar to a younger Sheldon Souray, but without the penalty issues. At worst he'll be a very good defense-minded fourth defenseman. At best he's going to be a shutdown top pairing type that will give you 10-15 goals a year and 30 points.
All of this potential upside comes for the price of a second pairing defender because of his short track record. The chances of the Stars signing a bad contract here are minimal unless the term gets into the crazy territory for some reason. Maximizing their return on investment is the quickest way to get back into the playoffs. Targeting Garrison over Suter and Carle maximizes that investment while allowing the Stars the flexibility to pursue other high priced acquisitions. Garrison may not be the sexiest name on the market, but he very well could be the best fit for the Stars on July 1.