It’s hard to look at Radek Faksa’s numbers from 2018-19 and think that he had a decent year. Most troubling was a shot share coming in at 45.9 percent. Admittedly, a 73.1 defensive zone start percentage didn’t help matters. In addition to that, Faksa’s line tended to play against the opposition’s top line, which didn’t help anyone on that line. Unfortunately, the statistics confirm what most eyeballs could see — a regression in the Dallas Stars’ young defensive stalwart.
This regression has led some to call for moving Faksa while his value remains high, especially since Jason Dickinson has shown the potential to slot into the shutdown center role.
Before jettisoning Faksa, it is worth looking at what happened under new head coach Jim Montgomery. Unlike 2017-18 under Ken Hitchcock, Faksa’s playing time stayed steady throughout the year. He played heavy minutes and he was trusted against top lines.
Playing time may not have changed, but Faksa’s linemates did. Prior to this year, Faksa’s customary wingers were Antoine Roussel and Tyler Pitlick with Dan Hamhuis on the backend. This year, Blake Comeau replaced Roussel on the wing and Esa Lindell, and to a degree, Roman Polak on defense.
As a result, two things happened, both of which hurt the Faksa’s line and especially its shot share.
First, Faksa spent significant time starting in the defensive zone, and much of that time alongside defenders with limited zone-exit skills. Frequently, this left the shutdown line hemmed into their own end, either winning board battles without being able to clear the zone, or worse, chasing the puck for extended periods. If you can’t clear the zone, you aren’t going to control shot share.
Second, on those occasions when Faksa’s line exited the zone with possession, they were likely to dump and chase. This is where Faksa missed Roussel, especially his tenacity as the first forward in on the forecheck. Prior to last year, with Roussel’s pressure, the Stars could effectively use Pitlick (and with surprising success, Brett Ritchie) as the second forward on the forecheck. Faksa could play a high zone position, reading the play to either support his wingers or to slow down an opposing rush attempt if the forecheck failed.
Neither Comeau nor Pitlick ever transitioned into an effective first forechecker. Later in the season, the Stars attempted to use Andrew Cogliano in that role, however nothing ever effectively gelled. Whether it was a lack of tenacity, a slow step on the puck, or a poor coordination, no combination was able to attack the puck as effectively as the third line had during the 2017-18 season.
With that, there is still an argument that Faksa is expendable, especially with the development of Jason Dickinson as a shutdown center. Dickinson has certainly shown flashes of becoming a key component of the team’s future; however, this is still based mainly on glimpses of potential, not consistency over an 82-game season.
Dickinson shows promise as a top-six winger, as long as he has strong linemates. There is also some potential for him as a fourth-line center, although Justin Dowling took most of that time late in the season and during the playoffs. Given usage, Dickinson’s future role is trending as a winger.
So now what? Well, I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts.
Last year, Faksa put up 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists), and 12 of the assists were primary. Dickinson’s career numbers are nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points. He was the Stars’ fourth leading goal-scorer.
Faksa plays best with an aggressive forechecking forward. The Stars have limited resources here, but given that Alexander Radulov is unlikely to find time with Faksa, Roope Hintz or (if he’s signed) Ryan Hartman are worth a look for pairing with Faksa.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Faksa’s shutdown role in the defensive zone could use a puck-moving defender. This worked with Alex Goligoski when Faksa came up, and Dan Hamhuis was more than serviceable in the role. Unless the Stars are intent on turtling in the last few minutes, that probably means no Esa Lindell and no Roman Polak.
Dickinson’s numbers on the penalty kill were outstanding, especially compared with Faksa. Dickinson has earned first unit time on the penalty kill, a role that has served the team well.
Given Dickinson’s synergies with Faksa, and what the Stars have seen with Cogliano and Comeau in that role, Roussel’s free agency contract with Vancouver doesn’t look as bad as it did a year ago.
Faksa has earned his spot as a shutdown center and the Stars don’t have a viable, proven successor. Dickinson is a good teammate, not a good replacement. The key for the coming year is to develop an offensive threat within the checking line.