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Trevor Daley Still Searching for Offense Under Coach Crawford

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Trevor Daley played for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for four seasons before getting drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2002. He captained the Greyhounds and was among their leaders in scoring, totaling 188 points in 216 games. Upon entering the NHL draft in '02, he was known as a very skilled offensive defenseman; Someone who could really skate well with the puck and spend time on the power play. In short, he was thought to have the potential to be the exact player that Stars fans currently see a need for: The elusive puck moving d-man.

Daley's offensive upside, while greatly anticipated by the fan base, was to be put aside for a time while he developed a sound defensive foundation in the Stars system. He started his first year out of juniors with the Utah Grizzlies of the AHL, but split his time between there and Dallas. He suited up for the Stars 27 times that season. If not for the lock-out, he might have stuck with the big club permanently after such a limited AHL stint. However, perhaps to his benefit, he spent 2004-2005 with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

At the age of 24, Trevor helped the Stars get all the way to the Conference Finals and recorded a career high 24 points that year, but people were already starting to ask questions:

7/30/2008, Dallas Morning News:

I gave Trevor Daley an "underachieve" on his season report card for a couple of reasons. At 24, I felt he was supposed to step up and take a bigger role on the Stars -- like possibly as a partner for Sergei Zubov.

...Daley has great skills. When he decides to go off on a run up ice, his skating and puck handling ability are amazing. Yet, in the Stars' system, it seems they discourage him from playing that style of game. And with Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher, Matt Niskanen, Stephane Robidas, Mike Modano and Brad Richards available to work the point on the power play, it appears Daley is way down the list for players who should get time with the man advantage.

So if they are discouraging him from taking runs up ice and they aren't using him on the power play, are the Stars really getting the most out of Daley?

In Dave Tippett's defense-first, mistake free hockey system, there was little room for his offensive game to grow without more PP time, which he wasn't getting. The injury riddled season of 2008-2009 would see his offensive numbers remain steady, following his 24 point season with a 25 point effort. Many believed, perhaps, that with the emergence of Matt Niskanen and Ivan Vishnevskiy (hopefully) hot on his tail, Trevor Daley's offensive game was all it was ever going to be.

Then Marc Crawford was hired.

Trevor Daley's lone goal this season.

 

Trevor Daley's stock seemed to rise overnight as people imagined a more wide open style of hockey with defensemen taking more chances as they jump in on the play and help generate more offense. Apart from Brad Richards, Trevor Daley seemed the most logical recipient of a boost to his game as a result of the coaching change.

This afforded us all a chance to write things like this:

Brandon Worley:

It seems Rick Wilson didn’t know what to do with Daley. They squelched his offensive skills in trying to beef up his defense, and it made Daley a very inconsistent player. Of all the players that will benefit under Crawford and Huddy, Daley could be the one that gets helped the most.

Mike Heika:

Daley worked with the same coaches for his first five seasons in the league, and they obviously did not see him as a player who could create offensively. This new group might see him differently. In fact, many decisions probably are going to be based on training camp and the preseason schedule. If Daley shines in those situations, who knows what this season might bring.

Trevor Daley has obvious skating and puck handling skills. Now, whether he uses those for the benefit of the team or not is a huge question. But I'm all for letting him loose and seeing what he can do.

That should make this the most interesting season in Daley's NHL career so far.

And we thought the addition of Charlie Huddy would be of great benefit to Mr. Daley as well:

Huddy is a coach that can come in, evaluate the defensemen on his own merit and judge for himself what each player should focus on. Trevor Daley is perhaps the one player on the ice that will benefit from this change the most. There is no doubt that Daley posseses great speed and puck-handling skills, yet too often it seems as if he's unsure of when to attack or he's uneasy completely committing to joining the rush and using his skill. We've seen flashes of what he can do when he's comfortable on the ice, but too often Daley would disappear for several games at a time. With Huddy, Daley has a coach that can help hone his skills as an offensive weapon while working to maintain his consistency as a defensemen with offensive capability.

So here in mid-December, it's time to tally up the stats and see what we've got far this year. 32 games played: He's a -4, with 1 goal and 5 assists for a grand total of 5 points. 5 points through 32 games for your highest paid defenseman, is to put it mildly, disappointing. With a new system that encourages him to get more involved, he is not on pace to break his career season high of 25 points, but rather to halve it with a 12 or 13 point effort.

Ironically enough, the writing of this piece began on Friday afternoon well before the game against the Sharks in San Jose, where Mr. Daley played one of his finest of the season. He had a great assist on the Ribeiro power play goal, recorded 2 shots on goal, and to my eyes was much more involved than we've seen him most nights this year. It was a good model for the kind of game the fans and coaches alike would like to see out of Trevor moving forward.

One argument often presented in the defense of Trevor Daley is the preference of the Stars coaching staff to play Robidas and Niskanen on the power play unit over him. Daley recieves only 2:06 per game on the power play, third among Stars defensmen behind Robidas (3:15) and Matt Niskanen (3:54). While this does not afford him the opportunity to collect points that he'd like, it is an improvement over his 1:21 PPTOI/Game last season. None of this is his fault, of course, because let's face it: If he shot right handed, he'd probably see more power play time.

We must continue reminding ourselves that this is a young team that is learning a new system. The Marc Crawford and Joe Nieuwendyk regime is a mere 32 games into their existence, and players like Trevor Daley, who's only known one coaching staff his whole NHL career, need time to adjust. For now Trevor is proving himself a steady presence on the back end, playing 22:53 a night and developing a good chemistry with Karlis Skrastins. As that partnserhip strengthens, it will hopefully allow Daley to increasingly, and responsibly assert himself into the offense, and help this team that is struggling badly in the offensive end to score some goals.

"I think when you're changing your game, and you are trying to do more, it's good to have someone like that who you can trust," Daley said. "I know if I do take a chance, he'll be there for me, and that's helped me a lot this year." [Link]