Should I stay or should I go? - Jim McIsaac
Where does Mark Fistric fit in with the Dallas Stars long term?
Mark Fistric is a slightly controversial player. He has developed a little bit of a following thanks to his willingness to hit and bash people with his helmet (once). He also seems to generally be a nice guy. But, is he a player we can expect to see in Dallas long term? This exercise is intended to answer that question and the question "What does Fistric contribute to any given game?".
We should start by identifying his profile. When he was drafted he was expected to eventually become a defensive minded blueline rock who likes to bang bodies. He certainly does bang bodies, and I think it's safe to call him defensive minded. With 27 points in 257 career games he certainly isn't, and never will be, a useful offensive option in the NHL.
So the big question we need to answer is how effective is Fistric defensively. Last season Fistric blocked 5.8 shots per 60 minutes which was good for 36th among defenders in the NHL. With Fistric on the ice, the Stars gave up a miniscule 1.78 goals per 60 minutes last year. That led the Stars defense corps by a full half of a goal. In fact, only 36 defenders in the league had a lower mark. This would suggest that Fistric does possess some positive defensive value.
The problem is the other end of the ice. Fistric doesn't do much offensively. Ideally, for the Stars to get the most out of Fistric, they would pair him with a defensive minded puck mover (Robidas) and bury him in the defensive end of the rink. He has shown the ability to play some defense. Why waste ice time by giving him any offensive responsibility?
The real nasty defensive defensemen get anywhere between 33 and 44% of their draws in the offensive zone. Their coaches make sure to put them close to their own net as much as possible. Over the past three years the Stars have slowly gravitated towards using Fistric that way. Three years ago 55% of his draws were in the offensive zone. That dropped to 45% this past season after the trade of Nicklas Grossmann.
As recently as last season they still didn't trust him to play against top competition. He posted the lowest Quality of Competition rating of any of the Stars blueliners. Yes, lower than Adam Pardy. It's been part of his story his entire career in Dallas. Each of the past three years he's either been the least trusted or one of the two least trusted defensemen in the lineup
There is something to be said for having a player in the lineup that can be trusted to play in his own end, but not against top competition, I suppose. Obviously, this isn't a player that a team builds around, but there is some value to being a steady hand at the bottom of the roster. The problem is when that player heads towards unrestricted free agency and begins to get expensive.
The Stars have been building a stable of young promising defensive prospects the past several years. Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak are on the horizon. Patrick Nemeth and Ludwig Bystrom aren't too far away. Philip Larsen, Alex Goligoski, and Trevor Daley are all still young. The defense needs to continue improving, but there is going to come a time in the near future when the kids are ready to claim roster spots.
The man without a role is always the first one to go. The departure of Sheldon Souray opens up a prime checking role on the Stars alongside Stephane Robidas. Robidas and Souray took most of the rough minutes last season. As the year went on the Stars largely stopped using Robidas in that role as well. Fistric will have a chance to make his mark. The time for fooling around with Fistric in the offsensive zone has passed.
This season he has a chance to establish himself as a reliable defensive option for the Stars. If he doesn't, then you're probably looking at Fistric's last days in a Stars uniform.