There's a lot that is familiar about the Dallas Stars defense on the eve of the 2013-14 season.
Sure, the Stars lost Philip Larsen in a trade to the Edmonton Oilers and sent young behemoth Jamie Oleksiak back to the Texas Stars for a bit more seasoning, but five of the six players projected to be in the opening night lineup were a part of the Stars lineup last year.
The big addition, veteran Russian defenseman Sergei Gonchar, is an obvious impact player on the offensive end of the lineup. Still, a look at the defensive pairs from Tuesday's practice looks very familiar.
Alex Goligoski - Sergei Gonchar
Brenden Dillon - Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley - Jordie Benn
IR: Aaron Rome (hip), who is scheduled to practice with the team for the first time this week.
The familiarity isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, Robidas and Dillon made a very effective pair for the majority of the lockout-shortened season before being broken up in the last few games. The two were the Stars go-to pair in shutdown situations and excelled at moving the puck out of their zone by the end of a shift.
If we're reading the Lindy Ruff tea leaves right at this point, it looks like the Stars are going with a fairly traditional defensive set fro the start of the season. Goligoski-Gonchar is an obvious offensive pairing and will likely be deployed on offensive zone draws and against weaker opposition players. The two have been the main power play defensemen as well, though they've been broken up and used with different four-forward sets.
Dillon and Robidas, on the other hand, are a quintessential shutdown pair. There's no reason to think their usage will change much, if at all, from last season, where Dillon was allowed to bring the puck up the ice if the opportunity presented itself, and Robidas was more of a stay-at-home guy. They did an admirable job against some of the top forwards in the league last year.
Still, the two pairings are a bit one-dimensional, the offensive set more than the defensive one. While Dillon and Robidas can provide a decent offensive threat, there are some lingering questions about the defensive prowess of a Goligoski-Gonchar pairing. Neither is bad in their own end per se - it's just not the area of the ice that's considered either man's strength.
Think back to the "good old days" when the Stars were deploying a fearsome foursome of Richard Matvichuk-Derian Hatcher and Sergei Zubov-Darryl Sydor. What made those pairings so effective was that while each had a decided strength, they were more than competent at the other half of the rink as well.
Hatcher, in particular, had 12 goals his first season in Dallas and had five seasons of 30 or more points from the blueline while Matvichuk crossed the 20-point barrier five times. With the quality of forward they were facing night in and night out, that's more than respectable.
Can Robidas and Dillon contribute that type of offense while Gonchar and Goligoski hold their own in the defensive zone? Those are the big questions the Stars face if they want to stick with this arrangement of defensemen.
The third paring as it stands at the moment is a little more mixed, and there are a number of faces that could rotate through it.
Barring a roster move, Daley seems like he should be the mainstay of the pairing. He's a consistent 25-point scorer (and was on pace for around that again last season) with more than 600 NHL games under his belt and provides a generally steady presence when healthy. He battled a shoulder injury during preseason and a neck injury at the end of the 2013 season but is ideally ready to go.
For the moment, it looks like Jordie Benn has taken the sixth starting spot over Connauton. Benn played about half the season in the NHL last year and has been a consistent offensive threat in the AHL. Connauton has also had a bit of an offensive touch in the AHL, and it will be interesting to watch him battle Benn and eventually Rome for playing time.
With eight defensemen, the Stars might very well dangle someone as trade bait as well. That will be a developing situation as the season moves along, and a lot will depend on the development of players like Connauton and Benn as well as AHL players like Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka.
So do you like the idea of continuing the pairs that were established last season? Would you rather the Stars mix it up and pair offensive-minded defensemen with a defensive-minded counterpart? Continue the discussion in our comments section below.