John Klingberg had a no good, very bad start to the season. The veteran presence he had played with since making the jump to the NHL was no longer there, forcing Klingberg into a new role: that of a #1 defensemen responsible for going up against the highest levels of competition and playing a heavy dose of minutes each night. The adjustment proved to be harder than most anticipated.
His struggles with puck protection on the power play and in overtime have led to plenty of goals against this season. It should be noted that it is not just Klingberg that has struggled on defense this season — but Klingberg seems to have attracted the most amount of wrath from the fanbase for the mistakes he has made.
Part of that may be due, in part, to the expectations people have of what a #1 D is. For some, it’s the minute-eating big body that shuts opponents down consistently (think: Drew Doughty). For others, it’s a smooth-skating offensive powerhouse (think: Erik Karlsson). And yet others dream of a Hatcher-esque bruiser as a top defensemen. If Klingberg does not match a person’s expectations for the #1 D role, it’s easier to get frustrated with his play.
Part of it may also be due to the fact that Klingberg did not have a sophomore slump last season, like many players tend to do. Maybe fans thought he never would since it didn’t happen in his second season.
Unfortunately, Klingberg struggled along with the rest of this team’s defense for a good amount of the season. That has led to some fans calling for Klingberg to be traded.
The very unicorn this team had been missing since Sergei Zubov — a puck mover with the ability to score and drive transition play — is now the very player some believe should be traded to address this team’s defensive issues.
It’s the most short-sighted idea I’ve ever heard.
Firstly, since Klingberg entered the league, he ranks 9th in defensive scoring, behind established top offensive blueliners like Karlsson, Kris Letang, and PK Subban. (Side note: I feel like it’s almost unfair to include Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien in here, as they’ve spent time as forwards for parts of seasons in the past but they’re listed as blueliners and therefore are in the top 10 of scoring according to NHL.com.)
Secondly, trading Klingberg would open up another hole for the Stars to have to fill either via trade (in which they’d have to sacrifice a ton of assets for someone they hope can be as good as Klingberg) or by paying someone a ton of money in free agency (assuming this type of player hits the open market, which if history tells us anything, is not very likely).
Some fans believe that Julius Honka makes Klingberg redundant. This assumes that Honka will develop to become as good, or better, than Klingberg is today — and do so almost immediately. While it’s certainly possible, Honka may not be ready immediately. And while the Stars wait for him to become that, the prime years of core players such as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin continue to pass. The organization just doesn’t have the time to see if this kind of gamble to pay off.
Thirdly, Klingberg is on one of the most friendly contracts in the NHL for top blueline offense. (And you should consider his contract’s value excluding guys like Zachary Werenski, who are still on their ELCs.)
When you consider that Klingberg is signed for several more seasons at that cap hit, and his relatively young age, his contract will only continue to look more valuable as the years go by. Which means that, should Klingberg honestly become “redundant” in some way, he’d be easy to trade down the line and still get a very good return in assets.
The truth of the matter is that dynamic offensive blueliners have an inherent risk in their game because of the gambles they take to generate offense on the ice. Klingberg is not unique in this regard. Brent Burns, who leads defensemen in scoring, also leads blueliners in the league in giveaways. It means that he has the puck more often if he’s able to give it away.
A few years ago, I recall there were rumblings that Senators fans would want Erik Karlsson traded because he was where Klingberg is today: offensive prowess without the defensive game. The Senators were patient with Karlsson, and he’s managed to grow into one of the top two-way blueliners in the league.
Dallas would be wise to be patient with Klingberg in much the same manner. The upside is much higher than the short-term improvement that may be found by trading him for a defensemen better on the defensive side of the game to stabilize a porous densive unit.
When Klingberg develops into a premier two-way blueliner, they’ll be happy they were patient — just as the fans will be not to see him do it in another sweater.