With Philip Larsen healthy and participating in practices and morning skate today the Stars finally have a fully fit defense. The obvious question then becomes - What do you do with the extra body? It's easy to keep eight for now because Mike Ribeiro is on injured reserve and the 23 player limit is not being exceeded.
"It's tough with eight healthy," saig Gulutzan this morning. "We'll make a decision tomorrow on what we want to do with our D. We like the way our D has played the last couple of games so we don't see any need to change."
Philip Larsen is ready but will not play tonight, and could possibly play tomorrow night in Minnesota depending on what happens tonight and how Sheldon Souray and Stephane Robidas feel. Both have foot issues.
Gulutzan says they'll make a decision tomorrow but it sounds as if they're OK with keeping the eight around for now. Mike Ribeiro will not be activated from IR until after the All-Star break so they have until February 1st at the earliest. Jamie Benn has not been placed on IR.
"With eight it's just competition and whoever's playing is going to get a chance, so guys have to be sharp because we'll move pieces."
It will, assuming relative health following the break, come down to a question of sending Larsen back to the American League, or making a tough decision on a guy like Adam Pardy or Mark Fistric...
I know many fans will say that it's an easy decision, and that if the club is willing to bite the financial bullet they should try to pass Adam Pardy through waivers. That's the popular choice among the people, but that's not necessarily what's going to happen.
Adam Pardy has, unfortunately and probably unfairly, become the whipping boy of the fanbase - heir to the throne previously occuppied by Jeff Woywitka, Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley - And on and on the list goes.
Joe Nieuwendyk gave Adam Pardy a significant two year deal with a big raise at $2 million per. That's a big investment and they obviously believed he could take a big step forward in his development here. The coaching staff have chosen to use him sparingly when they have had the option, and that's hindered him, but they feel he's done well enough in what time he's had.
Our own scoring chance data (posted yesterday here) indicates he is at least as effective (or more so) as several other Stars defensemen, though he plays generally against a low grade of competetition and has not been utilized on the penalty kill like most others are. He has the lowest average minutes played per game among regular Stars defensemen this year at just over 16. Philip Larsen has not been used to kill penalties at this level either, though he has seen power play time and possesses more of an offensive skill set.
A good question to ask might be: Is Larsen's skill set too similar to others? The Stars have Robidas, Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley out there moving and skating the puck well. A lineup with those three, Sheldon Souray, Nick Grossman and Philip Larsen is generally a smaller one. A defense with Mark Fistric and Adam Pardy rotating at the 6/7 spot could make more sense if they want some measure of bruising to go with the skill, but it all boils down to how much they trust the two of them in a playoff race.
Philip Larsen obviously thinks he can play at this level and make the jump permanently, but if the team stays healthy he may have to wait until next year. With Dillon, Jordie Benn and Larsen the Stars have some options now for the future to go along with free agency. They also have those pieces to possibly include in trades, though no one wants to think about it.
If Larsen does get into the game this weekend or Tuesday the onus is on him to impress them even more than he already has in a quick audition, because the easiest thing to do is send him down. He does not need to clear waivers.
"I can't think about that," Larsen told the DMN today. "I'm here, I want to stay here, and I'm going to do what I can to stay here. It's not my decision, so I can't really think too much about it."
What do you think happens after the break with the defense?