Going back and watching a few games while focusing squarely on Trevor Daley for my evaluation of how some of his problems might be addressed was a bit eye opening.
If you watch him play in isolation, it's easy to see what the Dallas Stars see. He knows how to play the position defensively. On several occasions you notice him directing his defensive partner in coverage. Watching games from later in the season I noticed that Daley wasn't skating the puck out of the zone much at all, really none of the Stars defense was.
On a possibly related note: Daley had hip surgery in the offseason. Dallas Morning News beat writer Mike Heika included this note on Daley and his hip surgery companions:
Daley missed time with a knee injury that doesn't require surgery, and all three simply were able to manage their hip pain by taking maintenance days and missing practices.
How much did that impact Daley this year?
They eventually would get the defensive coverage to be more consistent, but breakdowns like this happened way too often. This is from November. Daley is covering Kris Versteeg as Patrick Kane begins flying through center.
Jordie Benn is in the right spot, but he has to react to what Daley is doing. The ideal play here would be a switch, but either the communication or awareness was lacking, and Kane was allowed to break in to be picked up by Benn.
Kane would then go to the net and the Hawks would undress Benn with a cross ice pass for the goal. Benn could have played that ultimate pass better, and as the season progressed he did, but this scoring chance happened in large part because of Daley.
Coverage breakdowns like this plagued the Stars all year. This is from January. Daley's partner is David Schlemko who had no idea what he was doing defensively. The Jets attacked the zone conservatively, but look at how much gap Schlemko is giving them while Daley has his player tightly marked.
The Jets smartly went right after Schlemko.
You can see Daley yelling out at Schlemko to take the puck carrier. Instead he did nothing, which put Daley in a no-win situation where he he had to go around a two-person pick to try and meet the puck carrier on the other side, and the Jets got a chance off.
This is from one of Daley's five worst statistical games. I watched the entire thing and actaully had very little complaints with what Daley was doing. Winnipeg kept attacking Schlemko, and he kept failing, taking Daley's statistics down with him.
But another situation that popped up in this game highlights part of the Daley problem. Daley and Schlemko with the Spezza line had a long shift in their own end with many shots against. They got a stoppage. Lindy Ruff left them on the ice. They gave up several more chances then iced the puck. They eventually got the puck out, but not before the Jets funneled shot attempts at an increasingly tired five-man unit not known for their defensive prowess. They were fortunate to not give up a goal, and Ruff's unwillingness to do more with zone starts/line matching caught them.
I mentioned skating earlier. This Winnipeg game is when I noticed it. Daley is an excellent skater. If he turns to his left and up the boards in this situation he can easily get this puck out of trouble.
The strong side winger is cheating too far on offense and too far up the boards to accept a pass, but the center is moving into position if Daley just turns up ice. It's a slightly risky pass to the middle of the ice, but the center has time and space to handle it.
Daley blindly dumps it up the boards before the center has a chance to get there or the winger gets back. It's another bad exit attempt in a season of them.
As you can see there are many moving parts here, but Daley is the one who made the pass, again perhaps showcasing a lack of awareness or communication. He exhibited a trait a lot of the Stars exhibited, especially early in the year. They made blind plays without looking/thinking that resulted in turnovers, and their teammates often weren't in position even for reasonable passes. You can see it in almost any game you watch, particularly early.
It was consistent problem that only got addressed mid-season after the Stars had dug themselves quite a hole, and while Daley wasn't entirely responsible for some of the awful statistical games early, as evidenced by the game against Winnipeg, he had plenty of moments where he was his own worst enemy.