The recently acquired Conner Carrick joins eight other defensemen on the Dallas Stars blue line including former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Roman Polak. The Stars acquired Polak this offseason to replace a gap along their blue line when Greg Pateryn wasn’t re-signed and then headed to Minnesota. Rising star defender Miro Heiskanen joins the team this season, although Dallas still needed to bring in another hard-hitting, old-school style defender. Although another hole seemed to open up when Stephen Johns went out due to an injury, his timetable for return is still very much up in the air with Dallas needing a replacement for the time being.
While Gavin Bayreuther was showing out this preseason, much like Roope Hintz, Bayreuther is still likely to head back down to the AHL as he does not need to clear waivers, while the Stars need to trim their roster for opening night. With the addition of Connor Carrick to the roster, it only makes it harder for Bayreuther to crack the Dallas roster as he is now the ninth defender on the list. Dallas will likely only head into the season opener with seven defensemen and 14 forwards, and it doesn’t appear likely that they will trim the forwards.
With Johns a potential for IR, this opens up a spot for Carrick and then Polak, with Bayreuther as the first call-up. Johns could also be placed as a scratch if the Stars are confident of a quick return after a few games, which would allow Carrick to replace him for the time being. That means Polak wouldn’t get a spot and neither does Bayreuther and that would make Polak the first call-up.
No matter the case, Carrick looks to be beating out both Polak and Bayreuther already. To many fans, the trade to bring Carrick to Dallas signals that the team aren’t quite confident in Johns returning soon, and by extension, that they aren’t confident in both Polak and Bayreuther shouldering the burden of replacing him. Carrick will now be the next man up on the blue line and, contrary to last year, will beat out Polak.
As fellow DBD writer Robert Tiffin commented, “It’s truly poetic.” And I mean it is, as this time last year in Toronto, head coach Mike Babcock was heavily favoring what Polak would bring to the table over Carrick. This was the case for most of the season last year as the two battled for ice time, but Polak continued to be Babcock’s preferred choice. When it came time for the playoffs, ultimately it was Polak edging Carrick out for a final spot and getting the playoff experience.
Looking back at past Maple Leafs articles, I don’t think fans understood this choice from Babcock. No one even understood why the Leafs decided to re-sign Polak as his stats had shown that the Leafs were actually better without him on the ice. In October of last year, Maple Leafs Nation had an article showing the stats and made a case to play Carrick over Polak.
But now, the opposite seems to be in form with both defensemen on the roster in Dallas. With Polak looking set to bear the brunt of Johns’ absence, it makes sense that the organization would bring in another young defenseman to shore up the blue line. While Polak is a solid defender, Carrick brings youth a speed to the defensive pairings, which allows for more combinations in the lineups. So, despite Polak previously edging out Carrick in Toronto, it seems now that Carrick has the opportunity to not only play with Polak, but edge him out in the lineup for certain games. Truly poetic.
Carrick spent the last three seasons with the Maple Leafs and two with the Washington Capitals before that. Throughout Carrick’s career, he has fluctuated from the NHL to the AHL as most young defensemen do, but Toronto had given him more NHL ice time for him to strut his stuff. In his three seasons with the Maple Leafs, Carrick played in 130 games and accrued 24 total points with 16 assists and 8 goals. While heavily used in 2016-17 (67 games), his point totals actually increased in 2017-18, despite playing in 20 fewer games. On the defensive side he recorded 148 blocked shots, 141 hits, and 30 takeaways. Carrick had a +10 plus/minus overall and averaged 15:56 time on the ice for Toronto in those three seasons.
The Stars blue line only has John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Stephen Johns as right-handed defenseman, and with Johns out, I think this will be a good fit for the Stars as much as it will be for Carrick. Dallas has a couple of right-handers in the pipeline, but no one that is quite NHL ready. At 24 years old, Carrick looks ready to shine. Whether it’s with or instead of Polak remains to be seen. Only time — and the opening night roster — will tell.