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The Young Dallas Defensemen Are About to Test Jim Nill’s Blueline Design

With Julius Honka, Jim Nill’s blueline philosophy is finally coming to fruition.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The concept of ‘elastic defense’ goes all the way back to Hannibal Barca in 216 BC. Hannibal, a Punic military commander from Carthage, took a diverse group of Hispanics and Celts, whose knowledge of he used to fuse into his tactics, and developed the modern day ‘pincer movement’ to annihilate a big part of the Roman Republic’s army.

It was called the Battle of Cannae, and if you have no knowledge of military history like me, but it sounds familiar anyway, then it’s probably because you watch HBO, where it was popularized by Game of Thrones in the famous Battle of the Bastards episode.

Alas, my point! Elastic, or depth of defense is something Dallas has been longing for. It’s been awhile since a Dallas coach could use a diverse group of blueliners to move the puck in their favor. You’d have to go back to the year The Matrix came out when the world was all Hatcher rainbows and Zubov gumdrop smiles.

But times change, and they’ve changed quicker with the mustachioed presence of Jim Nill.

From the get go, Nill has made his design clear on defense. Get the puck out of the zone as quick as you can (his words). It’s not just his choice to draft Julius Honka that reflect Nill’s philosophy. Swedish prospects Niklas Hanssen and John Nyberg are built into this puck mover mold as well. As is NCAA Dallas prospect, Michael Prapavessis. Even Mattias Backman, who Nill targeted in the Erik Cole trade, falls into this archetype (albeit with the type of defensive nuance I believe should earn him a call up).

The presence of Honka just happens to be one of the more refined symbols of this movement.

It’s only been one game since Honka’s NHL debut. We’d obviously be wise not to rush to judgment (or in my case, anointment). But already Honka’s presence emphasizes the value of redundancy.

‘Value of redundancy’, fans who still think Dallas should move futures for Ben Bishop, might ask? This was the central point of Wes Lawrence’s article about the goaltending situation. Evgeni Malkin is redundant to Pittsburgh who already has Sidney Crosby. Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl are redundant centers behind Connor McDavid. And yet how often do teams sacrifice futures to fix flaws, and come out better teams in the end?

Defensive depth is more critical than offensive depth since it’s harder to come by. I doubt St. Louis considers Alex Pietrangelo redundant just because Colton Parayko is incredible. The prospect of Honka driving play on one pair with Klingberg helping drive play on another should be a point of emphasis: not diversion (“but what if trading one of them lands Ben Bishop?!”). Redundancy is a hallmark of team strength. Not team expendability.

But nobody’s cracking open the champagne, and lighting up their hand rolled Gurkhas. Honka will struggle. For those accustomed to watching him in the AHL, you could tell he had to adjust to having a little less space on breakouts. So will Lindell, who is playing too quiet. Easy E’s accurate shot from the point seems muzzled rather than holstered.

Dallas has a tenuous hold on a playoff spot, after all. The new kids on the block will eventually feel the burden of being tasked with helping a struggling team toward a playoff birth. But for now, at last Dallas is getting a fresh look at Nill’s vision, which displays the kind of promise and design that can win battles.