Before the start of training camp, most Dallas Stars fans felt that they had a pretty good idea of what the defensive pairings would look like come opening night:
Marc Methot – John Klingberg
Esa Lindell – Stephen Johns
Dan Hamhuis – Julius Honka
Maybe Methot and Lindell would be switched and/or maybe Johns and Honka, but those would be the main six. Then pick one or two of Jamie Oleksiak, Patrick Nemeth, and Greg Pateryn to serve as the healthy scratches and you’d have your NHL defensemen.
Fast forward a couple months: Nemeth was waived and is now playing for the Colorado Avalanche, Oleksiak was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the seventh defenseman was in fact Julius Honka up until Methot went out of the lineup due to injury.
About 10 games into the season, Pateryn had forced himself into the lineup after starting the season as a regular healthy scratch. He quickly emerged with Dan Hamhuis as Hitchcock’s shutdown defensive pairing, occasionally leading all Stars in TOI as he’d go up against the likes of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
What resulted was a bit of a divisive issue within the fanbase: Honka. A bit of a fan-favorite, many believe he should be on the ice every night rather than Pateryn. As Methot’s return to the lineup approaches and decisions on defensive pairings loom, some fans have suggested the idea that Stars general manager Jim Nill trade Pateryn, forcing Ken Hitchcock to play Honka by leaving him little other choice in the way of personnel available on the roster (we’re going to ignore the call-up ability for now, so roll with us a little, ok?)
Does trading Pateryn make sense for the Stars? Would the return even be worth it to ship him somewhere else? With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, let’s take a closer look at this possibility to see if it’s truly a benefit the Stars could acquire outside of just placing Honka in the day-to-day lineup.
The Case For Trading Pateryn
The main reason for moving Greg Pateryn is the same reason already mentioned: without Pateryn on the roster, there would only be three right-handed defensemen on the Stars, and Julius Honka would (probably) be in the lineup for all remaining games.
Honka is a former first round pick and is only 22 years old, with the potential to develop into a strong top four or decent top two defenseman. Pateryn, meanwhile, has spent his entire career as a borderline 7th defenseman. He seems to have found his game under Ken Hitchcock and Rick Wilson, but his ceiling is still much lower than that of Honka’s potential. Hitchcock doesn’t believe it’s his job to develop Honka, but the rookie defenseman can only get better if he’s given routine playing time.
You could also argue that, despite their usage and time-on-ice statistics, Honka is already the better skater. Honka has a CorsiFor% of 55.1 and FenwickFor% of 56.3 according to hockey-reference.com, good for 2nd and 1st out of skaters on the team who have played in at least 20 games. Pateryn, meanwhile, has a CF% of 50.0 and FF% of 51.5, good for T-3rd and 6th worst on the team.
If fancy stats aren’t your thing, even the eye-test seems to indicate that Pateryn hasn’t been playing as well lately. He’s begun to make more mistakes that have directly led to goals against (such as the Jonathan Toews goal last week in Chicago). Meanwhile, Honka is slowly but surely adapting to Hitchcock’s system, and is looking better with each passing week, evidenced by his Klingberg-esque deflected shot that gave Dallas a goal against the New York Rangers on February 5th.
There’s another reason to trade Pateryn that doesn’t have anything to do with Honka: simply put, his trade value is likely higher right now than it ever will be. Again, Pateryn has been a borderline roster player for most of his career, and yet has been playing in a top four role this season, tasked with shutting down some of the best scorers in the NHL.
Sure, Pateryn would obviously not get the return that big deadline names such as Rick Nash or Max Pacioretty will deliver, but a team in need of a strong, steady defenseman (perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs?) might be willing to overpay a bit for his services. Even if the return isn’t that high, it’s better than potentially losing him in free agency for nothing: his improved play this year means he could sign elsewhere for more money, or the team could simply elect to not re-sign him with Dillon Heatherington on the roster’s edge and Miro Heiskanen coming over to North America next year.
The team’s defensive depth would take a hit, but you could argue the Stars wouldn’t be much worse off (or could even be better), and the team would get some assets in return, however small.
The Case Against Trading Pateryn
First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the Stars are not going to be sellers. Given Dallas is currently firmly in a playoff spot and could potentially be a Cup contender, the team is a prime buyer candidate if they make any moves (as we at Defending Big D have already discussed). The reasons that a team might want to acquire Pateryn are the same reasons why the Stars should keep him: he’s a strong penalty killer who, at the bare minimum, gives you strong depth in the case one of your top players gets injured.
In addition, it doesn’t matter if Pateryn’s stock is higher than it ever has been: he’s likely not going to net a great return by himself. Maybe the Stars manage to pull off another trade like Lauri Korpikoski for Heatherington, but the reality is they’re likely to get a mid-round pick past the second round as the return in a Pateryn trade.
So it’s very counter-intuitive for the team to trade Pateryn before the deadline unless he was part of a package for a better player. But upcoming 27 year old UFAs like Pateryn aren’t exactly the types of players a seller is going to want in return, so we can probably ignore that possibility.
Furthermore, regardless of what you personally think about Pateryn vs. Honka, the fact is that Pateryn has earned the trust of Ken Hitchcock (regardless of whether you think that’s a positive or a negative). There’s a reason he logs so much ice time and is tasked at shutting down top offensive players, and he and partner Dan Hamhuis do a good job at it.
As far as Honka is concerned, the rookie has been playing well, but it’s not as if he’s been lights out “this guy can’t possibly be taken out of the lineup” good. If you’re worried that he needs the playing time to develop properly, consider this: is it really best for his development for Jim Nill to more or less give him his spot by forcing Hitchcock’s hand, rather than making Honka fight and earn it like Pateryn himself did?
In fact, forget about what trading Pateryn means for Honka; what kind of message does it send to the organization? Jim Nill would essentially be favoring Honka over other players on the team, potentially driving a wedge between Honka and his teammates and/or coaches. Sure, there have been cases where you could easily argue that the GM should have sided with the player over the head coach (I’m looking at you, Marc Bergevin), but, in my opinion, Honka isn’t comparable to a star player like P.K. Subban: he’s not a player you base your front office decisions around.
So sure, the Stars might get something in return for a player you might not resign anyways, but they would be actively worsening their team before a potentially deep playoff run, not to mention potentially strain locker room relations in the process.
Look, I understand why people are upset that Greg Pateryn is playing regularly while Julius Honka is in the press box some nights. Honka has the better possession stats, the higher ceiling, and would arguably be a regular for any other team in the league (and be in the top four for many of them). I’m a big Honka fan myself, and I want to see him playing regularly every night and blossom into a stud defenseman.
But trading Pateryn is not the way to accomplish that.
Like it or not, Pateryn has established himself as a solid player on this team, and will be an important part of the post-season as the Stars push for the Stanley Cup. If Jim Nill truly thinks Pateryn shouldn’t be playing over Honka, then all he has to do is not re-sign him when free agency rolls around.
Until then, Stars fans just need to be patient when it comes to the defense the team plays night in and night out. After all, this debate will become merely a footnote on the season if the Stars achieve success in the postseason.
What should the Stars do with Greg Pateryn?
This poll is closed
Keep but don’t re-sign him
Keep and re-sign him
I don’t know / Other