Dallas Stars 2013 Season, So Far: Jeff Angus' 10 Thoughts - Part II

Joel Auerbach

Stephane Robidas as a leader and mentor, Jamie Benn’s dominance, impressive play from the rookies, and an identity beginning to form - here are 10 thoughts on the Stars over the past week or so.

10. Stephane Robidas may not be a Star for much longer, but his current role as a mentor and teacher with Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak cannot be overstated.

While Robidas lacks the physical size of both Dillon and Oleksiak, he is one of the toughest and most respected defenders around the league (just don’t ask Corey Perry or Bruce Boudreau). Robidas is smart, he plays within himself (something that young players often struggle with), and he brings his best effort every single night.

And although his offensive production this season has been virtually non-existent, he has been going toe-to-toe with the best opposing players each night. Not bad for a soon-to-be 36-year-old 5-11 defenseman who was drafted in the seventh round.

With the trade deadline approaching, Dallas has some decisions to make. It is very likely they will still be in playoff contention in early April, and GM Joe Nieuwendyk will have an interesting decision on his hands. Does he try to maximize the future returns and shop veterans like Robidas and Brenden Morrow, or does he keep them around in hopes of earning a playoff spot in 2013?

Dallas beat writer Mike Heika believes Robidas could be on the move:

I think Robidas is definitely someone who would be of value to another team and definitely someone the Stars would consider trading. It depends on where they are in the standings near the trade deadline and what they would get in return. He has one more year after this at $2.85 million, so he is very affordable.

9. Sticking with the defensemen, Dallas has to be happy with the play they are receiving from Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak.

Dillon has moved up on the depth chart very quickly, and he is looking much more comfortable with the puck on his stick compared to earlier on in the season. He has the vision and skating ability to create offensively and on the rush, but he started out this season making the safe play. Not necessarily a bad thing, but he definitely had more to give.

And Oleksiak’s play has been very encouraging; especially considering this is his first season of pro hockey. Oleksiak is primarily playing even strength minutes right now (he has seen zero PP time and less than a minute per game on the PK), but I’d expect that to change has he becomes more and more comfortable in Big D.

8. Jamie Benn is a beast.

This isn’t news to anyone who reads this site, but many of my friends in Vancouver (and elsewhere) are just finding out now how good Benn is. He looks much stronger on the puck this season than in the past, and that was already a strength of his. Could he find himself lining up alongside Sidney Crosby at Sochi next year?

He has one of the heaviest wristers in the league, something he was known for during his time in the WHL. A "heavy" shot is different than a quick or accurate one (although they aren't mutually exclusive, either). A heavy shot finds a way to beat goalies before they get set into proper position.

7. Brenden Morrow has looked like a different player on the top line.

Injuries lead to opportunity, and the Ray Whitney injury gave Brenden Morrow another crack at playing top line minutes. He is skating with more jump than he has in a long, long time. In fact, Morrow’s recent stretch of play is the best I have seen from him since the 2008 postseason. Over his last three games, Morrow has averaged close to 20 minutes of ice time.

Can he sustain this kind of play over the rest of the season? Who knows at this point, but it has to be encouraging to everyone in the Stars organization. At the very least, Morrow is building up his trade value should the Stars look to move him (and you can bet contending teams would be lining up around the block to land a proven veteran and winner like Morrow in early April).

6. Kudos to Stars executive Jason Farris for working hard on improving the television coverage of the Stars in Dallas.

And according to this recent report, the Stars are quickly gaining ground on the struggling Mavericks in terms of television viewership. It isn’t entirely due to Jaromir Jagr, but I’d bet there are a lot more hockey fans in Dallas and the surrounding areas tuning in because of #68 this season.

With the football heading into hibernation and baseball still a few months away, basketball normally becomes the big sports draw in Dallas this time of year.

But the Mavericks are averaging a 1.7 rating through 46 games on Fox Sports Southwest. That’s down 44 percent from 3.0 in last year’s shortened season through 46 games.

The Stars, meanwhile, are averaging a 1.0 through their first 10 games on FSSW. That’s up 94 percent over last season’s 0.51 for the same number of games.

5. The NHL and NHLPA are scheduled to meet in the near future to discuss realignment.

From what I have heard, realignment is as good as confirmed for next season, although the details of it still have to be worked out. I think the Stars have the most to gain from it, both in terms of travel and having more consistent start times for their home and road games.

4. Alex Goligoski will never be faulted for a lack of effort, even with his recent struggles.

His struggles are more a case of a player trying to do too much. There are a few reasons for that happening with Goligoski:

  • The success James Neal is having in Pittsburgh (pressure to produce)
  • The contract extension Dallas gave him last year (pressure to produce)
  • The lack of other power play options on the Dallas back end (pressure to produce)

Goligoski is one of the smartest defensemen in the league, and he needs to rely on his strengths (skating, vision, hockey IQ, and outlet passing) to succeed in this league. He isn’t ever going to be a shutdown defenseman, but if he keeps solid gaps, makes good reads, and has an active stick, his lack of size shouldn’t hurt him too much in his own zone.

I think Goligoski is really going to take off if and when he finds a steady defensive partner to play with. I don’t think Oleksiak is ready just yet, but I could see those two playing together for a lot of years. They complement each other well, and they would be great to have on the ice with the top line forwards, as both of them make terrific outlet passes and like to skate up in the rush.

3. The Stars have changed their travel schedule up a bit this year to combat the issues that come with a shortened season.

After spending lots of money and time researching sleep methods, the Vancouver Canucks also implemented a similar strategy – they now often fly out of road cities the morning after a game instead of right after, as they found that players don’t sleep as well on planes compared to at a hotel.

Responding to a difficult schedule, the Stars have adjusted their travel procedure. In the last week, they have twice departed a city the morning after a game rather than take an overnight flight to the next destination.

The intent is for players to get full and uninterrupted sleep and avoid the dreaded second-day cobwebs. The consensus among players is the second day after an overnight flight is far worse than the day of an early morning arrival.

2. Mark Fistric is happy to be in Edmonton.

The Stars went out of their way to make sure Fistric went somewhere he was comfortable, even though the rugged defenseman didn’t have a no-trade clause. This kind of stuff gets around among NHL players, and it is always good when teams go out of their way to make a situation fit for a player.

Fistric said he credits Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk for finding a good home for him. Nieuwendyk has moved his players to places where they feel comfortable and where they find success. James Neal and Matt Niskanen have blossomed in Pittsburgh. Nicklas Grossmann signed a four-year contract extension that averages $3.5 million in Philadelphia. Mike Ribeiro is scoring bundles -- 14 points (4G, 10A) in 12 games -- in Washington. Steve Ott is a media darling in Buffalo. And Fistric believes he’s the right guy to help out the Oilers blueline.

"I give Joe a lot of credit, because he moved me to a place where he knew I would fit in better, and where I might have a better opportunity,’’ Fistric said. "I personally thanked him for that…It’s business, I know, but it’s more than that to us, so you feel good when something happens that makes things better for you.’’

1. This trade deadline is going to be vitally important for the future of the Stars.

I mentioned this above under the Robidas header – Joe Nieuwendyk is going to have a make-or-break type of deadline this year. Does he load up for a playoff run if the Stars are close? Does he stand pat with the current roster? Or does he shop veterans and try to land future assets?

Assuming Dillon, Oleksiak, Rielly Smith, and Cody Eakin all continue their strong play; I could see Robidas, Morrow, Verne Fiddler, and Eric Nystrom as potential trade targets for contending teams at the deadline. Outside of Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, the core in Dallas is all on the right side of 30. I mention those two specifically because I don’t see either of them getting traded, even if the Stars are out of playoff contention come early April.

The worst thing a team can do is to get stuck in perpetual mediocrity (like the Calgary Flames for the past few years). You don’t get enough future assets to build a strong team down the road, but you don’t have enough current talent to make much noise in the regular or post season.

Heika’s thoughts on deadline day:

There is a chance they unload a lot. The salary floor has been lowered this season to allow teams to adjust to the shortened season and the need to make changes to their roster. As such, they could unload a pretty good share of players if they wanted to. That said, management wants to make the playoffs and win this season. It will consider a trade here or there if it is in contention, but would only consider a housecleaning if it is out of contention.

Previous Columns from Jeff

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