Last season, the Dallas Stars employed 22-year old Jamie Benn and 32-year old Mike Ribeiro at center on the top two lines with mixed results. Heading into the offseason the call was for a "youth movement," a transition to a younger core of players. So the Stars ship out 32-year old Ribeiro and 29-year old Steve Ott...for 29-year old Derek Roy and 21-year old Cody Eakin. Roy is only under contract for one more season, but it seems that Stars fans are frustrated by the notion of basically swapping players in Ribeiro and Roy, and losing Ott in the process.
It's just not that simple.
Ribeiro had long been the offensive dynamo for the Stars since coming to Dallas in 2006, yet his two-way game had deteriorated to the point where the Stars had to go to great lengths to get him the offensive zone support he needed to be effective overall. Even as the Stars forward with the most offensive zone starts against relatively easy competition, Ribeiro still struggled overall making his offensive contributions outweigh his defensive shortcomings and that of his line.
The Stars are certainly in a transition right now, attempting to move on from the core of the past five or six years to a younger group of players built around Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson. Unfortunately, most of the promising young players are likely a year or so out from NHL duty and while players like Matt Fraser and Brenden Dillon will get opportunities this season -- the Stars needed a way to bridge that transition and not only remain competitive, but actually improve in the process.
Derek Roy is part of that process, even if he is only under contract for one more season. For this next season alone, Roy provides better balance and flexibility for the Stars on the top two lines and while Ribeiro may be the more dynamic offensive player -- Roy is a much better fit for the team the Stars are building.
Before I get to Roy, I want to weigh in on the Mike Ribeiro trade. There were two factors that went into this trade, at least in my estimation:
** Mike Ribeiro was not only a part of this team's plans for the future but also not part of their transition plans for this next season. There was no need to keep him for next season if his value was just going to go down the close he got to free agency. It's also very telling that Ribeiro only fetched Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick.
** Mike Ribeiro, even if he had stayed this next season, was not the sort of center that fits the type of team Gulutzan and Nieuwendyk want to build. His presence hindered Jamie Benn's progress as an offensive powerhouse and overall, the Stars needed more balance from the top line to the fourth when it comes to defensive responsibility.
As such, the Stars traded Ribeiro -- a very talented player who just didn't fit the plans for this team -- for a young, speedy center in Eakin who projects as a more-than-capable third-line center. A speedy third line center who is still far from his prime is something the Stars have needed, especially considering the dire nature of the depth at that position. While Colton Sceviour could, in theory, also fill that role -- or Scott Glennie -- the Stars have found over the past few years that there is no such thing as too many assets in one position.
That leaves the hole at second-line center, vacated by Ribeiro and leaving a hole not just short-term, but long-term as well. The Stars got lucky (or took a calculated risk) and had Radek Faksa fall to them in the draft, an extremely talented center who projects as a very effective second-line center who will be a very capable two-way forward in the NHL. While he could be ready for the NHL this season, in theory, it's more likely he makes the jump next season after one more year in the WHL.
Enter Derek Roy, under contract for this next season and more than capable of re-signing if the team is pleased with his progress and health and he's found his game again. In the meantime, the Stars have a player that fills that immediate need for a capable center behind Jamie Benn, as it's more than obvious that the Stars are focused on not only building for the future but also improving this next season.
Roy comes with definite question marks, related to attitude and work ethic and whether he's un-coachable and a locker room cancer. We shall see just how close to reality these rumors are. What we do know is what Roy is capable of on the ice, especially when healthy.
That health is the biggest concern. Roy states that his rehab from a torn quad was railroaded by a hamstring injury last summer, as his production last season dropped precipitously because of it. As the season progressed, however, his speed returned and he was once again a dynamic player down the stretch for a team fighting for the postseason.
When healthy, Roy is an incredibly talented center capable of creating offense for himself and others, at times. While Ribeiro was guilty at times of over-passing and always looking for that perfect play for others, Roy is a player capable of that pass but also more than willing to put the puck on net -- something that frustrated the Stars over the years with Ribeiro.
While it seems opinions vary on just how capable he is defensively, there's no doubting that Roy is much more of a two-way forward than Ribeiro ever was. Roy played against tough competition last season with the Sabres while receiving decent offensive zone start, but nowhere near the level of easy minutes that Ribeiro enjoyed while his teammates took the brunt of the defensive responsibility. Roy is also a decent faceoff guy, not on the same level as Steve Ott but years ahead of where Ribeiro was.
More importantly, Roy fits much better into the role they tried to create for Ribeiro last year. Ribeiro received significant time on the power play and penalty kill last season and was ineffective, for the most part, at both of those jobs. Roy is a player known to be able to play in all situations, especially on the penalty kill, and will be part of a team looking to improve upon a historically bad power play last season -- one that was run primarily by Mike Ribeiro. It's a bit disingenuous to overlook the contributions of Ribeiro to the Stars over the years, but it's clear that he just did not provide the balance the team is looking for as Jamie Benn transitions into the top center on this team.
Joe Nieuwendyk spoke yesterday about how everyone now "fits into their ideal slots" and that is something that stood out the most about the Stars last season; players not playing where their talents say they should. Steve Ott was obviously not an ideal top-six option. Vernon Fiddler and Eric Nystrom were not good options as a "checking line" on the third line.
If no other moves are made, we could see a lineup like this to start the season:
Eriksson - Benn - Ryder
Whitney - Roy - Fraser
Morrow - Eakin - Vincour
Nystrom - Fiddler - Garbutt
With options still open for other young players to force their way up as well. While this certainly isn't the greatest long-term option for the Stars, this is also a much more balanced group of forwards than the Stars ever had last season.
And that is exactly why Derek Roy was acquired.