The Dallas Stars 2014-2015 season was a failure by any meaningful measure.
After all, Dallas was only one year removed from making the playoffs after a lengthy drought. They gave the Anaheim Ducks hell, a team that wasn't that far removed from this year's elite version. Then Dallas went out and bought some shiny new toys without subtracting from their core. And finally, Dallas went out and aggressively underperformed.
Some failures sting more than others, like how Dallas went comically winless against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Colorado Avalanche, two teams that ended lower in the standings. Or remember when six goals wasn't enough against the Detroit Red Wings? Or when five goals couldn't hack it against the St. Louis Blues? Not even the Benny Hill theme could accurately capture the cascade of categorical calamity (my writer's life has been influenced by Razor, for better or worse apparently).
But the season wasn't all failure. No player other than Jamie Benn better represented the pockets of success than the young 2010 5th-rounder from Goteberg, Sweden. John Klingberg had a hell of a rookie season. How good?
Extremely strong. RT @RobertTiffin how about Klingberg just to make Saturday a little brighter? Thanks, as always. pic.twitter.com/jHCFaDfD4q— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 30, 2015
You're probably already aware of how to decipher these, especially if you remember Robert's excellent post on Alex Goligoski. As a reminder, the lower on the chart, the less shots that are being generated against. The further to the right, the more shots that are being generated for. In other words, Klingberg knows how to hockey.
Who doesn't want to relive this moment obsessively?
Compared to other young defenseman his age and under, he outperformed even Dougie Hamilton, Hampus Lindholm, and Aaron Ekblad in his Fenwick For Per 60. His 40 points in 65 games for the 2014-2015 season was good for a 0.62 points per game which equals 50 points over an 82 game season. It's a hell of a rookie season.
Better than the rookie seasons of the Top 5 defenseman in points this season: Erik Karlsson's 26 points in 60 games for the 2009-2010 season, Brent Burns' 16 in 72 for his 2005-2006 campaign, PK Subban's 38 in 77 games, Dennis Wideman's 24, or Roman Josi's 16 in 52 his rookie year.
Does this mean Klingberg projects to be better or approximate? Of course not. Klingberg's older than they were as well, but perhaps we overestimate age in the context of being burdened by the NHL experience for the first time; both face the comparative challenge of lacking experience, and safety in a new and aggressively quick landscape.
All of this was good enough to earn Klingberg a new contract at seven years and $29.75 million for a chance to expand on a career that has only spanned 65 games.
Tim Cowlishaw claims that this "seems like a lot". A lot of fans and observers have taken Cowlishaw to task for this comment. But it's nothing more than skepticism. No matter how broadly articulated, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. However, there's a better case for hope than there is doubt. The numbers indicate as much. And brighter people have done their homework to come to similar conclusions about the Swedish savant.
But Klingberg's importance goes beyond just numbers. I've noticed a lot of comments about how Klingberg's emergence makes certain players "expendable". We've got the puck moving defender we need, so let's trade Julius Honka. Or Esa Lindell. Or Ludwig Bystrom. And so forth.
This misses the point completely. Talent doesn't exist in a vacuum. If you look at the final four teams, they had incredible depth at defense. Depth can only be acquired through asset management and player development.
The emergence of Klingberg should be a call to arms for management to focus on prospects that can help either assist Klingberg or create difficult matchups for opposing teams all their own. And Klingberg himself can assist that development in the same way Robidas assisted Dillon, or Zubov with previous Stars defenders. Athletes tend to be kinesthetic learners, after all.
It's precisely why Dallas shouldn't be afraid to draft a defenseman if they truly believe they're looking at the best player available (I'm Team Kyle Connor, granted). It'd be impossible for Dallas to replicate the success of the Blackhawks. But the thesis for success is clear; achieve through the draft. Two thirds of their team's point production has come from Chicago's own system, with only 16 percent of said production coming via free agency.
By contrast, 39 percent of Dallas' point production this season came via the draft (47 percent if you include Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel who weren't actually drafted by Dallas, but were nonetheless groomed within the system). Dallas would be wise to avoid suddenly using assets as trade chips while those assets' value are at their lowest.
This is what makes trading such a tight rope for Jim Nill and Co. Sure, Dion Phaneuf is an upgrade over most of our defenseman, but at what cost?
Stars fans might be disappointed if Dallas doesn't make a splash in free agency. But not making a big trade to acquire a new defenseman is not the same as doing nothing. Real laziness comes from failing to determine the value of your prospects. They weren't lazy with Klingberg. All the more reason to avoid being lazy with the rest of the draft cupboard.
Dallas Stars PR likes to say that a "new star is rising". But stars don't actually rise. They're byproducts of a collapse within what are called giant molecular clouds. The leftover fragments of dust and gas experience a nuclear fusion within its core, and that energy from the fusion is what fosters its ability to shine.
My point isn't to take issue with Dallas PR by being an astronomy nerd (although I'm not about to apologize for marginally understanding the odd issue of Scientific American). My point is that Klingberg represents that new energy, an energy that can only prevent further collapse as long as the right tools continue to support him.