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Surveying The Ice: A Look At Moveable Players and Lineup Configurations Ahead of the Trade Deadline

Neither Valeri Nichushkin not Brett Ritchie seem to be solidifying their spot in the rotation. Perhaps it’s time to try something else.

NHL: Dallas Stars at New York Rangers
Secondary Scoring comes from many sources.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the Dallas Stars lineup. Who could be viable as part of a trade package? Who needs more time to develop? Who needs a better look at the NHL level? Below are some thoughts on the potential trade pieces in the Stars’ lineup. However, if the Stars decide not to acquire another forward, they could instead ice a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defenders, with options that I’ve outlined below. (All NHL stats listed are from the 2018-19 season only.)

Brett Ritchie

Position: Right Wing
NHL Stats: 34 games, 6 points, -1 rating

Although he seems to be getting the majority of time in the lineup, Ritchie isn’t the best passer and the value of an occasional goal doesn’t seem to offset regular questionable decisions and trips to the penalty box. Other teams might value his defensive style of play, so he could be central to a trade deal.

Valeri Nichushkin

Position: Left Wing
NHL Stats: 41 games, 7 points, -5 rating

Valeri Nichushkin can’t seem to get out of his own way. He’s a solid back-checker and periodically pulls off an amazing setup that goes to waste on the fourth line. As his streak of no goals continues, his confidence and value degrade further. While a former first rounder, after more than 40 games without a goal, it might be time for the Stars to cut their losses and package him in a trade deal.

Denis Gurianov

Position: Right Wing
NHL Stats: 19 games, 4 points, -3 rating

Denis Gurianov has shown flashes of first round talent. His speed and potential have kept him in the mix, in spite of occasional issues with focus.

Joel L’Esperance

Position: Center
AHL Stats: 49 games, 42 points, +3 rating

L’Esperance is leading the AHL in goal scoring, but hasn’t sniffed an NHL roster, so is an unknown quantity if called up to contribute to the Stars playoff push. He needs a good look at the NHL level, and time to transition his AHL scoring streak to the NHL echelon, so he might not be a viable trade option for the Stars.

Roope Hintz

Position: Left Wing
NHL Stats: 33 games, 8 points, -5 rating

Hintz has solidified his place in the starting lineup, which leaves the Stars with a pillow fight for the last forward spot. With his youth, speed, and tenacity, it would be worth Dallas’ while to hold him back from a trade.

Dallas may just solve the problem of a final scoring winger by acquiring one at the trade deadline, and if that happens, then all bets are off on how things shake out. In the meantime, who’s in and who’s out for the last spot in the lineup is that tired old cliché about deck chairs and the Titanic.

Defensively, the Stars reacquired Jamie Oleksiak from the Pittsburgh Penguins, fully intent on keeping him in the lineup as left defender on the third pair. As a result, Connor Carrick and Julius Honka split nachos as regular healthy scratches while they take up two roster spots. (Many fans have wondered if Honka will be central to a trade package due to the numerous healthy scratches this season.)

The above setup is winning. Dallas is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, which might be incentive to keep well enough alone.

On the other hand, secondary scoring is still a major issue, especially if and when the Stars get behind. This has been smoothed over by a resurgent Tyler Seguin and an unsustainable goal differential in the third period. However, the Stars cannot solely rely on Seguin for scoring, and GM Jim Nill has hinted at looking for an offensive forward acquisition ahead of the deadline.

There is, however, a different option.

With a single unproductive forward slot available, and two offensive-minded defenders watching every game from the press box, the Stars could roll out 11 forwards and seven defenders.

This isn’t completely unprecedented. Jon Cooper has done this periodically over his career, including in the playoffs. The Boston Bruins looked at doing it a few years ago.

What this really boils down to is options. If the Stars are down a goal with five minutes left in the third, they might prefer to put Honka on the right side instead of Roman Polak. This works specifically because the defenders offer such contrasting styles.

The configuration also works for the forward combinations. Instead of rolling out a standard fourth line, they would give the talented younger wingers opportunities with top six talent instead of anchoring them with less skilled players.

This does put a bit more pressure on the coaching staff to manage line combinations and ice time. Dallas has had some issues with penalties for too many men on the ice, but overall handling the combinations should be no more difficult than dealing with combinations in an injury situation.

Hockey is forever changing, but the best coaches know how to adapt along with the talent available to them. In many cases, that is about having options and using the flexibility that those options give to the team’s advantage.

A scoring forward at the trade deadline is a Deus Ex Machina. An 11/7 configuration could be done right now.