Operation #FreeHonka is not over, as much of us thought it would be, and the battle in a sense has just begun. This is especially the case with the new head coach to come and what his stance will be with the defensive situation for the upcoming season. Either Julius Honka will spend more time consistently with the Dallas Stars, or he will continue his back-and-forth roller coaster between the active roster, being a consistent healthy scratch, or spending time with the Texas Stars.
The signs in American Airlines Center with the slogan of “#FreeHonka” never gave up all season long. While it was beautiful to see on the bottom corner of my screen every home game, it would have been even more beautiful if the roller coaster could have halted slightly for Honka this season. It seemed as if Honka was slowly gaining favor with Ken Hitchcock for a time, but the love for tinkering in Hitchcock’s lines saw Honka weeded out and back down to Cedar Park.
Woking on film study and give credit where it's due. Person with #FreeHonka sign always knows where the camera is pic.twitter.com/Hj9Xr7lvhZ— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) February 21, 2018
#FreeHonka @RevJim_Iggy pic.twitter.com/C9NYGw4hab— Lewis Williams (@popsxV) March 13, 2018
After Jamie Oleksiak’s defensive depth was traded to Pittsburgh, it meant that Honka would no longer have to battle for third-pairing ice time or being the extra defenseman to be scratched. However, some inconsistent play from Honka’s end, Hitchcock’s tinkering, Marc Methot returning, and then the addition of Dillon Heatherington into the mix meant that the equation got messy — fast.
From starting the season with Dallas to being sent down to the minors, to the same thing happening all over again mid-season, the bumpy ride continued for Honka this season with Dallas. Honka played in a total of 42 games this season with Dallas, compared to his meager 16 games the year prior. However, that is an improvement for the young defenseman still trying to adjust to and learn the NHL game. With his time on ice increasing from 270 to 546 minutes from season to season, that is about the only thing that improved for Honka on the stat sheet.
This is where the inconsistency comes into play. In 42 games played this season, he registered fewer points than the in 16 games played last season. Honka registered only one goal and three assists compared to one goal and four assists, with only his hit totals and blocked shot totals going up. That, and Honka was having a hard time getting the puck out of the defensive zone as his giveaways doubled — 9 to 18 — from last season to this season.
Let’s get into defensive point shares (courtesy of Hockey-Reference) which, for those who don’t know, is an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his defense.
Other than Dillon Heatherington who only played in six games, Honka was the lowest of all defenseman on the roster. Esa Lindell led the way with 5.3 defensive point shares, and Honka’s was at 1.1. That put him at 15th on the roster, with a few forwards like Tyler Pitlick and Radek Faksa even ahead of him. While this might be considered a weird stat, I think this is noticeable enough to be included in the discussion around the inconsistency in his game the need to improve at the NHL level.
Although, there is a difference when Honka was on the ice versus off the ice, and looking deeper at the statistic, we find that the Stars’ play overall increased as a result. The team’s record when having Honka on the ice is 25-12-5, and without him they are 16-20-4. The stat sheet may not be filled in, but Honka provided Dallas with much more when on the ice this season.
Honka slowly but surely improved upon his game this season, as he cleaned up the little mistakes and worked on moving the puck a little faster on the ice. He got more of a feel for the NHL game by staying with the Stars for about half of the season. However, the inconsistency still evident in his play at times proved deadly to his success and ultimately his stay in Dallas, which made the roller coaster continue on for the young defenseman. The ability to earn more and more ice time will come down to whether or not Honka can clean up his game and prove himself a weapon to the next head coach that Dallas hires.
Unfortunately, there are no celebrations for us in the #FreeHonka movement yet. Those of us leading the call for more consistent ice time for Honka are all still wary of what’s to come. However, with the possible addition of Miro Heiskanen to the defense this upcoming season and the pending contracts of Stephen Johns and Greg Pateryn, the possibilities are vast for what can happen in the saga of Honka’s career.
Let’s get down to business and let the debate begin! Does Julius Honka need to be freed or not?
Grade Julius Honka’s 2017-2018 Season
This poll is closed
A - IT IS TIME DALLAS UNCAGES THE BEAST!
B - I can hop onboard with the movement, but am still a little wary of his play overall.
C - Honka provides Dallas with something special, but the inconsistency means he isn’t ready and should stay in the minors.
D - I am on the anti #FreeHonka movement and hope the new coach keeps him in the minors.
F - Dallas should just use Honka as trade bait.