Over the past week we’ve been looking at penalty killing options for your Dallas Stars. A quick recap of what we’ve seen so far:
* Antoine Roussel fits their profile, but hasn’t been successful.
* Vernon Fiddler has been among the least successful penalty killers in the league.
Oftentimes fans expect big changes to occur before they raise expectations for their team. The Jason Spezza trade is a pretty good example of how that works. Sometimes subtle changes can make a big difference too .
The Stars penalty killing was 19th in the NHL at 80.7% after finishing at 81.4% and 21st in the 2014 season. What if they could tweak the personnel on the penalty killing just a little and make it hum along at a much higher rate? It’s very possible if the Stars phase out how much they rely on Fiddler.
There are two avenues the Stars could pursue.
The most obvious is they could pursue a quality penalty killer with big face off chops. The biggest endorsement for keeping Fiddler on the penalty kill is his ability to win faceoffs. If they can find someone else who can do it while being a more successful penalty killer then improvement could be expected.
Another option is ensuring that Benn and Eakin center the two units. Over the last three years Benn has won 50.12% of his faceoffs on top of being one of the top penalty killers in the league. There is a pretty good argument to be made that he should center the top penalty killing unit. Eakin, a lesser penalty killer and weaker faceoff guy, would slot into the second unit. In this scenario the Stars would either need to pursue a wing, or hope that Antoine Roussel could improve his results by playing with Eakin or Benn consistently on the penalty kill.
Both options being viable gives the Stars a lot of flexibility. Should they decide to pursue a penalty killing improvement they can find a penalty killer capable of playing in the top six, a checking line, or a depth player for the fourth line. They can keep a salary figure in mind and see who wants to accept it. They can be open to a dramatic overhaul of the lower lines. Whatever path they decide they like the most is open to them.
Many obtainable candidates for this role exist in the upcoming free agent frenzy or at the draft via trade. What follows is a brief rundown of those candidates.
C Mike Richards, Kings – Notice that this is under free agents. The only way he should be considered is if the Kings release him from that once affordable now albatross contract. Given that he was playing in the AHL for parts of last season he likely wouldn’t be expecting some big role with a new team.
On the plus side, over the last three years only 20 forwards were better penalty killers using the scoring chance differential referenced in the past two penalty killing posts. A 51.22% faceoff guy over the last three years, Richards would afford the Stars a lot of flexibility should the Kings bite the bullet and release him.
W Michael Frolik, Jets – Frolik is hitting unrestricted free agency. We’ll let Gary Lawless describe the value Frolik brings:
One of the strengths Frolik has to offer is his ability to play up and down the lineup. It’s no stretch to imagine him playing on the Jets third line next season. Maybe he scores 15 goals playing on a line centred by Adam Lowry.
According to the article he’s seeking something akin to the Ales Hemsky contract, but longer and for more money. That isn’t likely to happen in Dallas, but he does fit the special teams need. If you squint and see them moving Hemsky replacing him with Frolik is plausible, though unlikely.
He’s 48% on the dot and was the 38th best penalty killing forward over that same stretch. He was just slightly worse of a penalty killer than our next candidate.
W Erik Condra, Senators – Condra is an interesting case. He would be acquired to be a depth/3rd line winger, but at even strength he scored at the same rate as Ales Hemsky. No one was satisfied with the level of scoring Hemsky contributed, but if Hemsky had a more well-rounded game and didn’t make four million a year the production would have been more tolerable.
Condra ranked 36th on this list and should be signing an affordable contract coming off of making $1,250,000. Condra could be an interesting fit for the Stars if they decide to move Garbutt. He does a lot of the things statistically that Garbutt does, but without the penalties. Replacing Garbutt with Condra wouldn’t really fix any problems though so it would likely be a lateral move.
C Mark Letestu, Blue Jackets – The 74th rated penalty killer on our list would be a cheaper depth addition. With a 51.12% success rate on faceoffs over the last three seasons he could admirably fill the Fiddler role on the penalty killing while providing dependable defensive deth.
C Andrew Desjardins, Blackhawks – Don’t let the fact that he used to wear number 69 fool you. Desjardins can provide a decent enough fourth line presence for a contending club. Coming off a salary of 750,000 he would be a good but unheralded get. He’s the 43rd best penalty killer on our list, and the 22nd best in faceoff win % across the league over the last three seasons.
C Jay Beagle, Capitals – Beagle profiles similarly to Eakin. He was the 81st ranked penalty killer. Eakin was also in the 80’s. He scored 1.66 points/60 at even strength. Eakin scored 1.77. The two biggest differences are the much higher quality of competition Eakin faced, and the significantly higher faceoff percentage of Beagle.Over the last three years Beagle ranks 16th in the league.
Coming off a 900,000 salary and a career high 20 points he’s due for a raise, but he isn’t a big point producer. If the demands stay reasonable you’re looking at a player who could provide depth insurance for the Stars, or slot in on the 3rd line allowing Eakin to take less faceoffs.
He also got an iPhone this year, which is nice.
C Manny Malhotra, Canadiens – Once upon a time Malhotra was a Star. It didn’t go particularly well. When he left he developed a reputation as a checking line center able to chip in offensively. The offense is almost completely gone at age 34, but Malhotra still brings some good.
At this stage of his career he’s a fourth liner who can win faceoffs and contribute on the PK. He has the third best faceoff percentage over the last three years and checks in as the 72nd ranked penalty killer.
C Lee Stempniak, Jets – The Toronto Maple Leafs once traded Alex Steen to get Stempniak. That move may be regrettable, but signing Stempniak wouldn’t be. He’s a reliable 20-30 point forward who can chip in on the penalty kill. The 26th ranked penalty killer will be turning 32 next season a year after making 900,000. We have yet another player that shouldn’t require a major financial commitment.
W Shawn Matthias, Canucks – Matthias plays every forward position. He’s 27. He scored 18 goals last season. He grades out as the 49th best penalty killer in the league over our three year span. His 1.12 goals/60 even strength minutes led the Canucks and would have placed him 3rd on the Stars right behind Benn.
He doesn’t take penalties. He made under two million last year. He can skate. He isn’t going to wow anyone with fancy stats, but he doesn’t need to do so to provide value if he can keep scoring at that rate while killing penalties. He hasn’t had the best linemates in Vancouver. Someone is going to look at the package he brings and ask the question “if he’s consistently with better players what can he do?” Maybe that team will be Dallas.
C Vladimir Sobotka, Blues – Sobotka jumped to the KHL prior to the season on a three year deal for a total of 12 million dollars. He owes the Blues, or whichever team trades for his rights, one season at $2,700,000. St. Louis appears very open to his return so this is a long shot, but he’s really good so let’s dream for a minute.
Sobotka was the 27th best penalty killer in our time frame, essentially the equal of Garbutt. Only Zenon Konopka has had more faceoff success. Sobotka wins draws at a clip of 59.52%. He can put points on the board too. His 1.79 points/60 in the 2014 season would have put him right behind Jason Spezza at even strength last year.
It isn’t going to happen, but dreams are fun.
C Darren Helm, Red Wings – Speaking of dreams, here’s one with a Jim Nill connection. Helm was the 6th best penalty killer of our surveyed time and was 50.45% on draws. He also scores. If you’re asking why Detroit would trade him you’re asking a reasonable question. There is no apparent reason why they should, but the Nill connection is at least one that should be considered. He should know Helm as well as anyone.
C Zack Smith, Senators – Smith has a cap hit of less than two million dollars and he’s pretty unknown despite being a useful little player. A big reason for that is that he completely refused to score last year. Some of that was bad luck. Outside of Colin Greening he had the lowest PDO on the Sens.
Being the 23rd best penalty killer with a 51.4% faceoff guy is nothing to brush off though. Unless the Sens are up against it financially, a scenario that always seems possible, there is little reason to expect him to move. He would easily slide into the role carved out for Fiddler though and probably at a reasonable cost to acquire should he be made available.
W Loui Eriksson, Bruins – Our old friend Loui could make some sense, but only as a top six winger who gets penalty killing time. The scenario here would be similar to Frolik in that the Stars would likely need to move Hemsky before considering Eriksson.
Eriksson can kill penalties respectably though. He’s ranked 82 out of the 155 forwards on the penalty kill, right behind Beagle and seven spots ahead of Eakin. His scoring has gone down significantly in Boston so the Stars would have to be sure they can rely on him, but even after the drop he’s still quite a bit more valuable than Hemsky for about the same price. If the Bruins are ready to move on from Eriksson the Stars are among the teams who should be on the other end of the phone.
Another Bruin name to keep an eye on is Chris Kelly. With a three million dollar cap hit he would be a luxury item and a last resort given all the freely available solutions. Nonetheless he was the 23rd best penalty killer and was 56th at the circle.
C Derek MacKenzie, Panthers – MacKenzie comes with a 1.3 million dollar cap hit, is a top 50 penalty killer, and is close to 54% on faceoffs. The Panthers are close to contention so this appears to be another bit of wishful thinking. He would be a wonderful fit if made available, but fortunately for the Stars there is one guy who is imminently available who would be perfect.
The Wild Card
C Rich Peverley, Stars – Well, this is awkward. The rights to the 100% perfect fit belong to the Stars. Peverley is exactly what the Stars penalty killing needs. According to Bob McKenzie Peverley is exploring the possibility of returning. Given how much time he has missed with the heart condition and the uncertainty that comes with his return it’s going to be hard for a team to seriously commit to him right now. You have to imagine a level of familiarity and comfort with teammates and medical staff would play into his decision also. The Stars have the need and the personal fit with Peverley to make this a rewarding opportunity for both sides.
Due to time lost to injury Peverley didn’t show up on any previous charts. He missed the cut by five minutes despite not playing at all this past season. Had he made the cut, Rich would have been the 59th most successful penalty killing forward over the last three years. Over the last three years only three centers have bested his 59% faceoff success rate.
A healthy Peverley signed at a reasonable salary given the risk would be a phenomenal fit. There are numerous quality options available to the Stars to help improve the penalty kill, but none slide in as seamlessly as Peverley would. Any number of personal and emotional reasons exist for rooting for a successful return of Raptor Jesus, but a clear hockey reason exists too. Here’s hoping Peverley is good to go.
Restructuring how the minutes are handed out on the penalty kill could have a profound impact on how successful the unit is in 2016. Fiddler has been the least successful forward and any of the aforementioned options would help lessen the burden. We’ll look at the defenders in the coming weeks.