Lindy Ruff, like Plato before him, has a very political adventure ahead of him. When balancing the harmony of a community, the principles that bind them happen through the reconciliation of freedom and solidarity. Every player has their own voice, rhythm, and demeanor. Together these elements either maximize a team’s efficiency, or subverts it. How, then, do you prevent a hockey team from becoming a society of strangers?
I know. I’m trying too hard to compete with Mike Heika’s brilliantly placed inclusion of Immanuel Kant into hockey writing. But competing with Heika isn’t the only categorical imperative at work here.
The Dallas Stars aren’t very good right now. There’s no need to belabor that point. Goaltending, special teams, but mostly injuries, have hobbled the victory green republic for which it stands.
But there are still elements of the team that can be controlled.
For the second season in a row, Jim Nill and Co. have decided to roll with eight defensemen. Keep in mind, this isn’t unprecedented. In fact, it’s downright typical. Over half the league carries at least eight defensemen (does it matter that only 6 of those 17 teams currently holds a playoff spot though?).
But Dallas has been rotating its defensemen with minimal confidence. Jamie Oleksiak has played 21 games between this season and the last. Patrik Nemeth has played 46. Both players ostensibly lost their roster spots to Jyrki Jokipakka early on in the 2015-2016 calendar year. Both players, however, certainly lost their roster spot to Kris Russell later on that season.
And now here we are, 13 games into the 2016-2017 season, and they’re taking a backseat to another young Finn in Esa Lindell.
This isn’t meant as a criticism to either the young blueline trying to break through, or to Dallas’ staff. Giving these young players ice time is determined by when victory can be satisfied through development, or without. After all, development is a two-way street. Developing players have to display what they can refine. Not what they have yet to identify.
Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark, and Stephen Johns earned the benefit of the doubt by playing confident games, not uncertain about their potential contributions. Oleksiak and Nemeth, by contrast, still seem uncertain. And it’s an uncertainty that isn’t influenced by mere ‘scratches’.
If it’s time to move on from the Calder Cup champions, perhaps it has less to do with their ice efficiency, and more to do with the makeup of the team. The Dallas Stars, when healthy, have the roster of a fast, north/south team.
A lot of the defensemen from the Texas Stars fit the mold of what Dallas has traditionally tried to do to support their high flying offense. I’m a firm believer in Julius Honka; so much so that I’m sure some readers roll their eyes whenever I mention his name since I never stop. He doesn’t just project to drive production. He projects to drive possession.
I would argue, as I did in August, that Mattias Backman belongs on a relatively short list of blueliners who could improve Dallas’ ability to transition. He’s not a mere puck mover, either. He’s an intelligent defensemen with the ability to rush the puck, but who plays a steady defensive role.
The list could expand to include names like Ludwig Bystrom, and even Andrew Bodnarchuk. The point is not that these players are ready. Nor am I arguing that it’s the young Dallas blueline we should be wagging our fingers at to explain Dallas’ early season failures.
Only that Dallas has options from within that could help kickstart a modest makeover, while cutting ties with players that could benefit elsewhere. Dallas has a lot of unfamiliar faces. One could argue that adding more could be disastrous. But don’t we need things on behalf of our own silly interests as we do on the behalf of strangers? The Dallas Stars still ooze potential. As the old landscape shifts, perhaps it’s time to embrace these wide eyed new faces.