The biggest personnel misstep of the past few Dallas Stars seasons wasn’t the decision to allow the synergistic defensive players that made the 2015-16 season to leave. It wasn’t the odd decision to call the $10.5 million two-headed goalie monster good enough, and it wasn’t even the idea to turn over 2⁄3 of a penalty kill. Heck, it wasn’t even trading a salary-controlled, second-pairing defenseman for a dude named Greg.
No, it was the decision that they should change the paradigm by starting, finishing and playing the entire season with eight defenseman on the NHL roster. Twice.
What most saw as a 2-3 month sorting out in 2015 has turned into a quagmire of not enough minutes for players who needed them and almost certainly directly led to the stall of several ones’ at least theoretically promising development curves.
A prime example of this, and perhaps the player most hurt by the odd insistence of an extra-full cabinet, is Patrik Nemeth. Now 25 years old and playing his fourth “full” season in the NHL, Nemeth was on the ice for less than half the Stars games this season (40) with just three assists, seven penalties and a minus-four rating to show for it.
Heck, even an astounding eight shots in the season finale wasn’t enough for him to register his first NHL goal. It’s starting to feel like the hockey gods are conspiring against him, what with the long goalless drought despite being a decent AHL point producer and the nasty wrist laceration that shortened his 2014-15 season.
But as a player who is the same age as Tyler Seguin, a year younger than Cody Eakin and only six months older than John Klingberg, Nemeth is quickly moving past the point where he will have more chances to prove himself. So what does his 2016-17 season tell us about the role he might play in the future?
From one picture, it’s relatively optimistic. Despite more limited minutes than most of the other defensemen, Nemeth was the third most effective possession defenseman of the regular group (which excludes rookie Julius Honka). He made his teammates better, though only just with a Corsi Rel of 0.6, and his 49.9 Corsi For percent is also third among defensemen, behind Dan Hamhuis and Stephen Johns.
He also saw similar defensive usage to Esa Lindell with 52 percent defensive zone starts - not quite as buried as Johns and Jamie Oleksiak but more difficult minutes than Hamhuis.
In fact, the usage was pretty similar to what he saw in 2015-16, and his possession numbers even ticked up a little bit from that playoff year. This marked the first time in his career that Nemeth finished the season with positive Corsi numbers and continued what has been a consistent upward trend in that department, something that can’t be said for some of the other young-ish defensemen.
The most notable thing may have been his flashes of chemistry with John Klingberg. Although the two were not paired together often, when they were it was the most success that Klingberg had in the possession department aside from his minutes with Honka. Despite that, though, the team seemed more interested in using Esa Lindell in that spot in the lineup rather than Nemeth.
And that is probably the biggest concern for Nemeth at this point. Like Oleksiak, Johns and maybe even Greg Pateryn, the team does not seem to have room for as many middling, likely 5/6 defensemen on the long-term roster. With three spots pretty much locked up for Klingberg, Honka and Hamhuis and at least some free agent or trade motion likely to happen at the position, the Stars are going to have to finally make some decisions about who to invest in and who to move on from.
The finances are pretty simple. Nemeth is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent coming off a salary that paid him $900,000 last season. With only 40 games played for what was an objectively bad defense, he doesn’t have a huge amount of bargaining power there. He is one of three RFAs on the defense along with Lindell and Oleksiak (Pateryn and Johns are under contract for another season).
So will this be the offseason they finally choose between Oleksiak and Nemeth? Nemeth has been the statistically better of the two every year of direct comparison, but Oleksiak has the “size you can’t teach” and the sunk-cost of a first-round pick in his background.
On his own, though, how would you grade Nemeth’s season? He wasn’t in the lineup as much as some of the other defensemen, but when he was, he seemed to be a little more effective. It’s a hard question to answer given the roster construction mess made by keeping eight.
But who knows. Perhaps they will try the eight defensemen thing again next year. Third time’s the charm, right?
(Please don’t, Stars.)
Grade Patrik Nemeth’s 2016-17 Season
This poll is closed
Oh God make the eight defensemen thing stop