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Looking ahead to 2013-2014: Vernon Fiddler and Eric Nystrom

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Comparing the 2012 and 2013 seasons of Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler to see what we can expect in the 2013-2014 season.

Ronald Martinez

As the 2013 season progressed Glen Gulutzan began to rely more and more on the duo of Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler. Part of that reliance was out of necessity after the white flag trades of the trade deadline. In other respects the Stars made the two depth forwards more than depth forwards. At times it looked successful, and other times it looked not-so-successful.

What happened, and was it actually very successful? We need to know how they were used before we can attempt to draw any conclusions.

Fiddler ES TOI/60 PK TOI/60 PP TOI/60
2013 9.86 2.28 0.44
2012 11.53 1.93 0.13
2013 11.46 2.16 0.56
2012 12.25 1.27 0.16

Both Fiddler and Nystrom had their ice time at even strength cut this year compared to 2012. The goal was obviously to make them primary penalty killers as both saw significant increases in their penalty killing time. Both players saw modest increases in power play time also.

The idea to give both guys more penalty killing time does make sense. They're solid enough defensive players, but they struggle turning that into offense. I'm not entirely sure why they needed extra power play time given that the Stars picked up Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Derek Roy, but I suspect a large portion of the extra time came due to either injuries or out of necessity after the deadline.

2013 30.7 0.76
2012 42.2 0.65
2013 32.5 0.81
2012 44.5 0

At even strength they were used as a strict checking line. They still weren't particularly good at it, but considering the significant increase in the difficulty of their minutes they didn't break as badly as you might otherwise expect.

Fiddler SF/60 SA/60 G + 1A/60 PDO
2013 20.5 28.1 1.59 1034
2012 23.3 28.4 0.89 982
2013 19.4 29.1 0.98 1026
2012 24.7 27 1.19 984

Predictably their shot differential took a turn for the worse. In more difficult minutes a player is going to give up more shots and generate less shots if they're human. Nystrom predictably saw his offensive production drop, but not to a huge degree because his shooting percentage still stayed a good bit above what you would normally expect.

Fiddler saw a huge uptick in his offensive production in 2013. Part of that increase came from how well he used his speed this year compared to last year. You could count on one hand how many times he drove the net with speed in 2012. It was a regular occurrence in 2013, and even without the offensive production it would have been a nice development.

The problem is determining whether any of this seeming improvement is sustainable. Both players saw giant PDO surges (shooting percentage for + save percentage for) which suggests a decent amount of luck at both ends of the ice. Over 1000 means you had luck on your side. Less than 1000 means the opposite. They both went from being unlucky last year overall to being equally as lucky this year.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that there is a middle ground somewhere that these two as a duo occupy. They can't be counted on to provide that level of offense going forward, and you can count on them to give up more goals next year as their PDO evens out. Neither scenario is guaranteed to happen, but the Stars can't realistically expect either to remain the same.

What does 2014 hold? Nystrom is an impending free agent. As a free agent it makes sense to think he will be seeking a raise. Do the Stars want to give him a raise to be a fourth line player when they have young, cheap options who can take those minutes? I would vote no, but I can see a scenario where he returns at a similar salary.

Fiddler will definitely have a role to play in 2014. He's under contract for another year, and he has one key skill that no one else on the roster has: faceoffs. Taking faceoffs isn't a key skill to winning, but it's a supporting skill that certainly can make a difference. He's the only player on the roster that the Stars can count on to win a draw, and as such he should still fill a relatively significant role in 2014.

What happens in 2014 with these two is up in the air. The Stars might be able to survive with them as a third line in 2014, but it isn't going to be ideal.The Stars will undoubtedly look to upgrade the forward group. If they are going to be forced out of necessity to use Fiddler and Nystrom in a checking role then it would do them some good to find a really top notch defensive forward to play on their wing.