The Alex Goligoski era in Dallas has come to an end. It's a strange thing to consider. Acquired in 2010-2011 from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a classic "That Trade," Goose, in many ways, served as a bridge from troubled times to a now-bright future. Mileage, as they say, has always varied. To some, Goligoski was a more-skilled-than-you-think gamer at worst over-stretched. To others, he was an error-prone, under-sized anchor.
To one and all he was an object of discussion. Constantly. Now he's gone, and in addition to a sizable hole on the blue line has left fans without a frequent and familiar whipping boy. Fans, being fans, will need another. As near as I can tell, these five fellows are the most likely candidates.
5 - Cody Eakin
The softball answer. Didn't we see Eakin begin the transition last season? Without Goligoski to shield him, Stars' center-sometimes-winger will bear the brunt of blame when the inevitable rough patches arise. Is he a defensive anchor? Can he play on the top line? Pick a question, and fans already have an answer at hand. The only reason Eakin sits so far down the list is the potency of Dallas' forward group. Maybe this is the year Lindy Ruff decides what his full-time role is going to be, and maybe Eakin flourishes.
4 - Valeri Nichushkin
Sticking with the forward corps, Dallas' enigmatic Russian (is there any other kind) has the potential to supplant his ginger colleague. Nuke has all of the tools: draft status, flashes of brilliance, inconsistency, and most importantly, an early arrival in the NHL that makes it feel like he's much older than he actually is. While fans salivate over Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa, Valeri comes into the season carrying a bag full of Prove It.
3 - A Free Agent
It doesn't matter which one, not really. There should certainly be candidates. The Stars will likely see departures along the blueline, and throughout the bottom six. Some of these holes will be filled by in-system options, but not all. Recent history also suggests management will be active. Any newcomer(s) will likely be expected to fill significant roles for the Stars, and to help build upon last season's tremendous start. That's a tall order under the best of circumstances. If they falter even a little bit, who better to blame than the new guy?
2 - Antti Niemi / Kari Lehtonen
With basically half the defense turning over, Dallas is going to be a remarkably different squad next season. That's going to buy a little time for the backline (maybe). If they wobble, we might excuse it as taking time to gel, fitting pieces into the right slots. No such luck between the pipes. It's not even July, and there's already buyout speculation. That's going to make sliding under the radar difficult, as is the fact the Stars will score enough to stay in games. There's going to be a lot of attention paid to how well Dallas' goaltending holds up.
1 - John Klingberg
Hear me out. Klingberg has been one thousand percent more than the Stars could possibly have asked for since he broke in with the team. Well, it's his defense now. No more veteran sidecar. From game one Klingberg is going to be expected to drive a re-vamped defensive unit forward. It's on him to bring the goals against down while still retaining the offensive potency that has marked his career thus far. Furthermore, he'll do so paired with either a rookie or a free agent acquisition. He's built up a lot of love since joining the Stars, but this is a "what have you done for me lately?" league. Regression could change opinions awfully quickly.