Let's have an honest conversation about Alex Goligoski.
Let's talk about Goose and the Dallas Stars, without bringing up CORSI or possession numbers or basic stats or scoring chances or James Neal or Sergei Zubov and just talk about this player and hockey and the Stars and how they all fit together in this puzzle that Jim Nill is still assembling.
The Dallas Stars defenseman has easily become the most polarizing figure for the franchise since 2011, and especially since Joe Nieuwendyk was relieved of his duties as the team's general manager. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find any other player that has suited up for the Stars since 1993 that has drawn the level of ire and discontent and generated as much heated debate as Alex Goligoski's presence on the blueline has the past few years.
The circumstances surrounding Goligoski's arrival in Dallas will forever be tied to his legacy with the Stars, no matter how much success or failure is experienced by the team or the individual, and ignoring them in a debate over his hockey merits is almost impossible. Three years removed from the trade, however, it's time to examine Goligoski's contributions in the right context and how he fits on this current team and the team moving forward and just what our expectations truly should be the talented defenseman -- rather than a constant comparison to what was given up and who is doing what with other teams.
That was three coaches ago, and an entire front office has changed since the trade. Each coaching staff since 2011 has opted to give Goligoski top minutes and to lean heavily on his offensive ability; three different coaches, yet Goligoski remains an instrumental piece of the defensive blueline and remains perhaps the defense's most important player. While it's clear he's struggled significantly at times, he must be doing something right for three separate coaches to give him such responsibility.
Either that, or he's just the best available option -- and therein lies the problem.
Examining the ire directed at Goligoski is certainly interesting and it's doubtful that an article like this one -- or any other for that matter -- will do much to change the opinion of those who long turned against this individual player. When one is convinced that a certain player is horrible and can do no right, every misstep or mistake is just confirmation of those beliefs -- that this player is doing nothing but hurting the team and only completely cutting ties and moving on should be considered as the logical step moving forward.
This situation isn't unique to the Stars, the fans or Goligoski himself and is played out across the sports landscape in nearly every major city and fanbase. There are times when the frustration is entirely justified and fans become increasingly upset when the team is either unable to actually fix the situation, or encourages it by mistakenly supporting a player that deserves far less praise, money or responsibility. Many times, these situations are driven by the salaries being paid to the player which in turn limits the flexibility of management to improve the roster; other times, a fanbase simply needs a singular entity on which to direct the entirety of their frustration with the current circumstances surrounding the team.
Goligoski certainly seems to fall into the latter category.
Before moving on, let's get something out of the way. Alex Goligoski is not a perfect player and is certainly prone to making mistakes that make you want to slam your head through your desk. He's not the strongest along the boards and can fold under the pressure of a heavy and physical forecheck, and can be a streaky player fueled or sapped by his current level of confidence.
Yet Goligoski is certainly a highly-skilled defenseman and when he is at the top of his game is just as instrumental in generating the Stars offensive attack as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin or Cody Eakin. The problem is that, on a team plagued by defensive miscues the past few years, every turnover or giveaway will receive all the more attention, especially when it is Goligoski creating the issue.
Add it all together and you have a skilled player on the blueline that is certainly ripe for criticism as the poster child for a defensive corps that is has grown increasingly problematic over the past half-decade.
If we can all just take a big step backwards, take a breath and just take a moment to gaze at the big picture for a bit then perhaps we could collectively pull ourselves away from the ledge and realize that with the right roster construction that Alex Goligoski is exactly the skilled defenseman this team will need as they hopefully move forward into postseason contention.
Goligoski's biggest failing, in reality, is being placed on a team that has had one of the more under-funded and under-skilled defenses of the past four years. Everyone agrees that what this team desperately needs is that dominant, shut-down No. 1 defenseman that will turn the franchise around and lead the Stars directly to Stanley Cup glory -- we've seen up close just how difficult such a task can be.
The Stars have focused on fixing the defense through the draft, an endeavor that started about four years too late and included the eventual departure of Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossmann -- three young players that were supposed to be the new future of the blueline. Half the NHL, perhaps closer to two-thirds of the league, is also in need of that championship-calibre defenseman to step into the number one roll and every team that doesn't have one is desperately trying to find them -- including the Stars.
The results this season for Goligoski have certainly been mixed, especially since Stephane Robidas was injured, yet because he isn't the big and hulking franchise-level defenseman everyone wants apparently it's time to just cut all ties and move on. At least, that is the rallying cry of all those so desperate to end the Alex Goligoski era in Dallas.
Instead of being a second-pairing defenseman that is helping lead the power play and is generating 40 or so points a season, Goligoski has instead been asked to fill in that top-pairing role for which he certainly isn't suited. While the coaches have stated several times the desire to give him less minutes, Goligoski still routinely plays 25-plus minutes per game while taking on a significant role on the power play and penalty kill while also seeing a majority of the action when the Stars' top line is on the ice.
On a successful postseason team with the type of defensive depth you'd expect from a contending team, Goligoski would be a very valuable second-pairing or even a No. 2 defenseman that is still capable of the offensive contribution and drive we've seen when he's at his best, without the pressure of being the top player on the blueline while also seeing his defensive responsibilities reduced to help maximize his talents.
That's the hallmark of a successful team, one that is able to play its players to their ultimate strengths -- and that is one thing the Stars have struggled with significantly since 2008. Yet for a team that is attempting to build moving forward, Goligoski is exactly the sort of skilled and experienced defenseman you want anchoring a balanced top-four pairing that also includes that elusive No. 1 guy.
Goligoski's penchant for mistakes with the puck is one that cannot be ignored, especially when he's shown to be a streaky player reliant on his current level of confidence. Yet he is also a defenseman that is continuously in the top 20 among defensemen in assists and his offensive contributions are once again on the rise after another slow start to the season.
Now, there are no guarantees when it comes to Goligoski's future with the franchise. The Stars now have a number of players with similar skillsets ready to start working their way up the pipeline, including Kevin Connauton and John Klingberg. The Stars already have too many left-handed, small-ish, skating defensemen and Nill's job in the next few weeks is determining if any would be more valuable to the team via trade. Goligoski could certainly be in that category, especially if the value were right. He could also be a key member of a Stanley Cup contending team, with the right defense built around him.
He's not a perfect player and mistakes should not be excused, but Alex Goligoski is far from the cancer on the blueline that he is being made out to be among a vocal subset of the fanbase. Let's pair him with a skilled defensive partner, let's get some better balance on the blueline and then determine just what sort of future Goligoski could have on a team that still appears to be headed in the right direction moving forward.