The Dallas Stars Offseason Outlook: The Defense

Jim McIsaac

Jeff Angus continues his look ahead at the offseason for the Dallas Stars, this time focusing on the defense and the recent acquisition of Sergei Gonchar.

The Sergei Gonchar trade-and-sign (a new twist on the more typical sign-and-trade) forced me to rewrite a lot of what I had put down on the Dallas defense heading into the offseason. But I don't mind, as we still have another few weeks before the crazy season of the draft and free agency really begin.

The Gonchar move was a great one. There is very, very little risk accompanied by this move (unless your name is Tom Gaglardi). Gonchar is 39, but he can still play top four minutes, and he's been a durable defenseman his entire career. And, most importantly, the Stars won't really need the $5 million in cap space for at least the next two years, either.

Going out and finding a defenseman of Gonchar's calibre on the trade market wouldn't have been easy. Simply put, it is a seller's market right now when it comes to defensemen (well, technically, it a defenseman's market, especially after the whopping seven-year contract handed out to Roman Josi on Monday).

Gonchar gives the Stars a lot of options. They can be patient with the kids if they need to. They can shop a defenseman if they find the right fit in a trade. And, above all else, it gives them depth.

Gonchar's Role

I foresee Gonchar playing a similar role in Dallas compared to the one he has played in Ottawa over the past three seasons - a second pairing defenseman who sees a ton of power play ice time.

Advanced stats only tell a part of the story, but they are useful to show how players are utilized relative to their teammates.

The stats used below - Corsi Relative QoC (quality of competition) ranks a player's difficulty of opposition from a Corsi (puck possession standpoint). Corsi Relative ranks a player's puck possession ability (how many shots are generated on the opponent's net compared to against his own per 60 minutes of ice time), and the offensive zone start % number tells us what percentage of shifts a player starts in the offensive zone - the higher the number, the easier the minutes, all else equal.

Corsi Rel QoC

Corsi Relative

Off Zone Start %

2011-2012 Season

FILIPKUBA

0.81

-1.6

57.2

2011-2012 Season

ERIKKARLSSON

0.66

11.3

57.1

2011-2012 Season

SERGEIGONCHAR

0.27

-4.1

52.8

2011-2012 Season

MATTGILROY

0

0

51.3

2011-2012 Season

CHRISPHILLIPS

-0.15

-8.2

49.7

2011-2012 Season

JAREDCOWEN

-0.29

-2.5

56.8

Gonchar saw second pairing opposition, was the third best "possession player" (Corsi Relative), and saw balanced zone starts.

Corsi Rel QoC

Corsi Relative

Off Zone Start %

2012-2013 Season

ERICGRYBA

1.16

-18.3

50.4

2012-2013 Season

MARCMETHOT

0.93

-4.8

51.6

2012-2013 Season

CHRISPHILLIPS

0.29

-6.3

52.5

2012-2013 Season

SERGEIGONCHAR

0.24

-1.3

55.8

2012-2013 Season

PATRICKWIERCIOCH

-0.65

16.5

62.7

2012-2013 Season

ANDREBENOIT

-0.66

8.3

55.4

And his role was similar this past season (with slightly more offensive zone starts).

In terms of linemates, Gonchar was paired with Jared Cowen (a similar defenseman to Dillon) for much of the 2011-12 season:

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

51.54%

EV

2 COWEN,JARED - 55 GONCHAR,SERGEI

32.41%

EV

55 GONCHAR,SERGEI - 4 PHILLIPS,CHRIS

7.87%

EV

55 GONCHAR,SERGEI - 65 KARLSSON,ERIK

And last year, he spent most of his time on a pairing with another rookie - Patrick Wiercioch:

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

44.47%

EV

55 GONCHAR,SERGEI - 46 WIERCIOCH,PATRICK

19.92%

EV

55 GONCHAR,SERGEI - 4 PHILLIPS,CHRIS

10.21%

EV

55 GONCHAR,SERGEI - 3 METHOT,MARC

Now that we have a better idea of how Gonchar has been utilized, let's look at a few scenarios, shall we?

Standing Pat

Assuming the Stars stand pat with their current group of defensemen, how could they balance the pairings to best utilize the talents of Gonchar (and the rest of the defensive group)?

Gonchar primarily saw second pairing minutes with Ottawa in terms of difficulty of opponents, and I'd expect that to carry over to Dallas (especially with more travel - it takes its toll on the veterans, especially the ones like Gonchar who have never played in the Western Conference).

Brendan Dillon and Stephane Robidas could return as the top pairing, with a better supporting cast behind them. That would give the Stars one primary matchup pairing. The Stars could also reunite the late-season pairing of Robidas and Trevor Daley, too. Again, lots of options.

Option 1:

Dillon-Robidas (toughest matchups, defensive focus)

Gonchar-Daley (second toughest matchups, two-way focus)

Goligoski-Larsen (easiest matchups, sheltered offensive role)

Goligoski and Larsen would be a small pairing. Rome could also be plugged in there, as could Oleksiak (if he proves himself to be ready at camp this fall). And don't forget about Cameron Gaunce (as I did when originally writing this piece) - of the "big four" on the back end (along with Morrow/Oleksiak/Connauton), he has the best shot at playing NHL minutes this coming season.

Option 2:

Daley-Robidas (toughest matchups, defensive focus)

Dillon-Goligoski (second toughest matchups, two-way focus)

Gonchar-Larsen (easiest matchups, offensive role)

Rome

Another option is to put Gonchar with Larsen - assuming the Stars have Larsen in their future plans.

Dallas got lucky last season with Dillon's surprise emergence, as the team never really replaced Sheldon Souray last summer. And his importance to the 2011-12 back end cannot be overstated:



Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Off Zone Start %
2011-2012 Season SHELDONSOURAY 1.16 1.1 45.9
2011-2012 Season STEPHANEROBIDAS 1.03 4.5 46.5
2011-2012 Season TREVORDALEY 0.06 -7.1 46.1
2011-2012 Season ALEXGOLIGOSKI 0.02 16 49.8
2011-2012 Season PHILIPLARSEN -0.32 0 50.8
2011-2012 Season ADAMPARDY -0.36 -5.2 51.3
2011-2012 Season MARKFISTRIC -0.53 -3.8 45.5

Souray was a positive possession player despite playing the toughest minutes (by far) of any Stars defenseman that season.

As for 2013:



Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Off Zone Start %
2012-2013 Season STEPHANEROBIDAS 1.63 -3.4 43.4
2012-2013 Season BRENDENDILLON 0.96 4.5 43.2
2012-2013 Season TREVORDALEY 0.75 -5.9 49.5
2012-2013 Season ALEXGOLIGOSKI 0.14 9.4 52.4
2012-2013 Season AARONROME -0.27 -6.8 41.2
2012-2013 Season JORDIEBENN -0.59 0.3 48.7
2012-2013 Season PHILIPLARSEN -1.27 -3.6 46.6

Dillon's season was a superb one. Goligoski's numbers look pretty good - he really rebounded after a rough month or so to start 2013.

The Domino Effect

The Gonchar acquisition is very likely the first of many moves that the Stars make this summer. The first domino to fall, if you will. Gonchar is a left-side, left-shooting offensive defenseman. The Stars have a few of those on the roster, and even more of them when you look in the AHL and beyond.

I don't see Goligoski getting traded - he had a strong finish to the 2013 season, and puck-movers don't exactly grow on trees. But what if Morrow or Oleksiak come into camp and earn a spot? Does Goligoski suddenly become available? How about Daley?

Daley would be a perfect fit with many contending teams looking for a second pairing defenseman. Look at the positive impact Johnny Oduya has had on the Chicago defense. Daley is a superior defenseman, and his versatility and affordable contract would ensure that the Stars could fetch a nice return (say... a young second line center) if the team decides to shop him.

If one of the kids is ready:

Dillon-Robidas

Gonchar-Larsen

Morrow/Oleksiak-Goligoski/Daley (whichever one isn't traded)

Rome

The Stars could even sign or trade for another defenseman (say Keith Ballard, who Vancouver will be buying out). Ballard is a similar defenseman in style to Daley - which would free up Daley to be traded? Again, this is just one example to illustrate the idea of adding more depth to create a position of strength to trade from.

Closing Thoughts

The Stars have a lot of options on the back end after the Gonchar signing. At the very least, they will have a better group than last year. I expect Jim Nill to continue to put his stamp on this team, and that will include a few more moves involving the defensive group. Dallas can't expect another Dillon-like performance from one of the rookies in 2013-14, and their defensive group was overmatched for much of 2013.

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