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Dallas Stars Daily Links: Fixing What Needs to Be Fixed

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Ponder the nature of building a great defense with us, then turn off your brain and read about things like: Trevor Daley modeling for YOLO perfume, the Blues are having trouble signing a top RFA forward of their own, and Stephane Robidas is sort of ready to almost start playing real hockey.

Even Klingberg can't do it all by himself.
Even Klingberg can't do it all by himself.
Richard Wolowicz

When one looks over the Dallas Stars Hockey Team, as one does at this time of year, there are so many parts of this team that inspire confidence:  Jim Nill's wisdom and patience, Tom Gaglardi's generous and classy foster-parenting of the organization (see: Modano's #9 retirement night), Lindy Ruff's not looking like Glen Gulutzan most of the time, Jamie Benn's being kind of wonderful, the new sweaters, the forwards, Kari's seating himself atop goal frames, Jack Campbell's potential to become a steady goaltender right when we may start to need him, and wow I could just keep going for a while, but I don't get paid to do Stars PR.  I am just trying to make a point.  And the point is, what is the number one thing that is not quite as awesome as the rest of the things about our team?

Well, we know the answer to that question, don't we?  It is the players who are in charge of Defending Big D: the defense. Those players whom Dallas got to the playoffs in spite of, if the popular narrative from last year is to be believed.

Josh Bogorad has a bit of a different take on the Stars' blueline, though.  After writing about why the Stars might not have signed or traded for any new defensemen this summer, he came back on Thursday with some more thoughts on just how good the Dallas D really was last season:

In the first ten games of the season, the Stars surrendered 3.0 goals and 35.4 shots per game. Both numbers are well above their season average.

[...]

But what about as the season progressed?

...Over the final 35 games of the season, Dallas allowed just 2.34 goals against and 27.6 shots against per game. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a small sample size. That is nearly one half of the season. And in case you’re wondering, those numbers would have ranked the Stars 5th in the NHL in both goals-against and shots-against stretched out over the season.

I think it has been discussed almost ad nauseum, but it's worth pointing out that for how undersized (pre-Nemeth) and inexperienced the back end was, they really weren't the liability I kept expecting them to be as the season went on.  True, the lack of a dominant blueline power play option was more than noticeable, but the Stars' even-strength play enabled them to (just barely) get past that shortcoming as the season went along, and they wound up being flat out good in the critical homestretch of the season.  That's worth noting, even if you're not counting on more or less the same crew to repeat that for the whole season.

And, for what it's worth, I also think the handedness of the Dallas defense is as much or more problematic (especially on the PP) than having "a true #1" back there.  It's also a lot easier to solve.  As Nill and others have said, there are fewer than ten defensemen in the league that would be classified as "true" #1's (see next paragraph), and it's often players as one-day mundane like Marc-Édouard Vlasic who turn into those sorts of players (if indeed he does) after being around the organization for a while.  Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones are supposed to be amazing, and they probably will be, but they aren't #1's yet, and their franchises are going to get antsy if they don't become something like Drew Doughty in the next two or three years.

However, the definition of a "#1 defenseman" is about as nebulous as that of a "true ace pitcher" in baseball, so let's just throw out the names of the names of some of the players we mean when we use that phrase:  Keith, Chara, Doughty, younger Dan Boyle, Hedman, Subban, Karlsson, and Weber.  Those types of guys are what "#1 defenseman" generally means when the term is bandied about, regardless of what metric you use for measuring defensemen (secondary assists, obviously).  Just mentioning the names illustrates how difficult it would be to "acquire" one of those players after they've achieved such lofty status.  Impossible or foolhardy (because of the cost) are the best ways of describing such an effort.

Speaking of foolhardy, Tyler Myers has been a Britta of a disaster in terms of expectations, and that's probably one of the best examples to use in this conversation.  Myers could be a perfectly fine player--by the way, he scored 9 goals in 62 games last year compared to 11/82 in his Calder season--but Buffalo pinned all of their hopes on him to put the team on its back, and he has shown himself incapable of doing that (much like Goligoski for a couple of years after he arrived).  Sometimes teams just strike gold and find themselves with an absolute stud anchoring their defense, but that is relatively rare, and Gary Bettman help you if you try to label someone as such before they're ready, lest you find yourself with a 24-year-old defensemen who is embarrassed by his contract, though perhaps not as embarrassed as he is by playing for the Sabres.

(And while I'm on the subject, does anyone ever wonder if perhaps great teams help to create #1 defensemen perhaps as often as #1 defensemen create great teams?  That's a topic for another time.)

What I was going to say about handedness, though: This is something the Stars can address right now without making a risky trade or paying Matt Niskanen every billion dollars.  Putting together a symmetrically solid core of skilled blueliners will help to bring along the great young players slowly and patiently, and that should create an environment where the Stars can be one of those teams that suddenly find themselves with a homegrown elite defenseman.  It's about putting players in a position to succeed.  In other words, when you can avoid Kevin Connauton's being forced to catch the puck on his backhand half the time and transfer it before shooting, you will probably find yourself with a much more useful (and tradeable) Kevin Connauton.  And the more useful Kevin Connautons you have on your defense, the better your team will be regardless of whether or not you have a true #1 back there making the league jealous.  When your "okay" players only need to be "okay" at first, they might find it a lot easier to learn and develop.  The Stars have rarely been able to offer this to players, though, as most notable callups on defense (like Oleksiak in January 2013) brought with them a host of messianic expectations borne out of the team's deep need at that time.  This is not ideal, and it is probably even damaging to those players and their development.

A great example of this is someone like Phillipe Boucher, who scored 16 goals and 43 points in 2005-2006, then another 19 goals and 51 points the following season.  While a lot of his success was on the power play, the whole reason he was able to reach those heights was because of the strength of the team around him.  He was one of a few weapons Dallas had when it came to unleashing a bomb from the point, and the Stars had the depth (though their third D pairing sometime left a lot to be desired, Dan Jancevski) to use him in the ideal way for those situations when they arose.  If the Stars continue to solidify their team in a way that allows for maximizing players' strengths when they're needed instead of depending on their top players every night, there's no telling how great this defense could be in the next few years.  I'm looking at you, Jyrki.

* * * * *

Friday Links are below.  These are certified Rebecca Black-free links.

As you've heard by now, Joe Nieuwendyk is going to be a part-time employee of the Carolina Hurricanes, which mostly sounds like a way for Ron Francis to chat with an old teammate while they both get paid for it.  Not a bad life.  Anyway, Mike Heika did his best to extract something resembling scoops on Nieuwy's time in Dallas, but with mixed results.  [DMN]

Joe Nieuwendyk also stopped by the Marek Vs. Wyshynski podcast on Thursday, but if you're expecting salacious details about his time as a GM in Dallas--or any details at all--then you'll be disappointed.  "A lot of ups and downs" is about as much of a scoop as you'll get on his time in Big D (though Wysh does grill him on Gologoski a bit).  As Heika says, this man does not enjoy talking about himself. [SportsNet]

Craig Custance goes through the Central Division in search of Kingly teams.  The Stars scored 3 out of 5, but I've already said too much.  Also, the Kings are dumb.  [ESPN Insider]

How many copies of this perfume ad are going to be taped on Trevor Daley's locker throughout the year?  I present to you, Chanel #6.  Sort of. [Twitter]

Heika's player profile of #iamvalnichuskin is up, and you should read it.  Reading about Val Nichuskin never gets old. [DMN]

Matt Fraser did a cool three-part interview on Schnarped, crediting Willie Desjardins with many things such as "not talking down" to his players.  Mike Keenan frowns, somewhere.  [Shnarped]

RFA Jaden Schwartz and the Blues are still at an impasse in contract negotiations.  Doug Armstrong says he is looking to do a shorter term deal, while Jaden Schwartz's calls are all being routed to Evander Kane's moneyphone.  This is one of the negotiations that Cody Eakin is watching closely. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

While Tom Gaglardi decided to just buy a minor league team, this NY club decided to go the Green Bay Packers route.  Elmira is in New York, by the way.  [Puck Daddy]

Old friend Stéphane Robidas isn't cleared for contact yet, but he's hopeful that he will be, soon.  Remember that "Robi" chant after he fractured his leg?  That was a nice interlude in the midst of an awful moment.  [The Score]

Sidney Crosby wasn't arrested, although he has been spending time in Colorado, parts of which can feel very austere.  [SB Nation]

After signing an extension, David Krejci is going to make more money than lots of people over the next couple of years, including Tyler Seguin.  Exercise: Imagine the Stars' signing Nichuskin to the Seguin deal now and trading him in a couple of years because he wasn't maturing fast enough or scoring millions of playoff goals.  Am I being too harsh on Boston? Well, it's Boston. [CSNNE]

Down Goes Brown/Grantland writer Sean Mcindoe on the 1994 lockout.  My favorite footnote was the one about the 1992 trading card revenue dispute.  NHL trading card revenue: a thing, once.  [Grantland]

Steve Moore, Todd Bertuzzi, the Canucks and their respective coterie have finally really actually settled.  It's done, but the details are a secret.  [Pro Hockey Talk]

The Penguins have started selling their new third jersey (pre-order), but that doesn't mean you can actually see it.  Is this hubris or what?  [Icethetics]

Lastly, there was another special guest on the MvsW podcast last Friday (hey, I was out of town, sorry):  a certain Gray W. not only dominated* the podcast's weekly game show, but he also gave a shout out to DBD during his victory speech.  Well done, Gray.  At least you didn't blow the Mike Modano question.

*He got, like, 60% of the questions.  That is the state of our current education system now, I guess.