Dallas Stars 2015-2016 Impact Player Rankings #9: Johnny Oduya
Get ready for the ninth-most important player on the Stars this season: Abs McGee
Let's get something out of the way right up front: Johnny Oduya will be the oldest defenseman on the Dallas Stars this season, turning 34 on October 1st. But hey, you know what they say about senior hockey players, right?
In fact, the only player on the team older than Oduya is the Stalwart Vernon Fiddler. That's nothing to be concerned about, though, as the Stars will have zero players over 35 on the team to start the season. And while their average age as a team is (surprisingly) on the slightly older side of a suddenly young NHL, the top-tier players are still well-south of their peaks.
NOTE: As we get into the single digits of this series, now is a good time to realize that the Stars spent the offseason essentially swapping Horcoff, Daley and Garbutt for Sharp, Oduya and Stephen Johns. Let's throw Antti Niemi in there, too. Also, Nichushkin and Nemeth should be healthy. This roster has--yes, yes, "on paper"--improved at an unheard-of rate, even with the absence of Brett Ritchie.
Okay, so who is Johnny Oduya? While he has some amount of name cachet, he's not being billed as a savior of either the team or its blue line. He isn't going to score a ton of points, and he's not a flashy sort of defender. The veteran Swede has won a couple of Stanley Cups, and he's also pretty used to playing tough defensive minutes, even if Niklas Hjalmarsson might have been the slightly more defensively elite player of his most recent pairing. So for a team like Dallas, who treated its own goal line like a Six Flags turnstile on a Saturday, Oduya's defensive prowess and veteran stability look to be welcome additions. Let's find out just how welcome.
In fact, Oduya's contributions are going to have a significant impact in Dallas for a few reasons, the most notable of which being that he will be taking a lot of the minutes Trevor Daley absorbed for Dallas last year (earlier in the season, at least). If you forgot how that went for the team, then feel free to look here, here or here. If you don't want to click, then I will just remind you that Trevor Daley did not tend to shut the other team down when he was on the ice. So even at Oduya's age, and even granting him some proximity benefit from playing aside Hjalmarsson that he won't necessarily get in Dallas, it's really tough to see how he won't make the Stars' defense much better.
Here, let's look at 5v5 scoring chances and shot attempt differentials for the higher-end Stars and Hawks defensemen last year:
Farther right means more scoring chances allowed by your team when that player was on the ice; higher up is more scoring chances created for your team during his shifts. Blue means more shot attempts created for your team, and red means more shot attempts allowed. This isn't a comprehensive graph meant to show what each player is in their totality, but it is a good shorthand way of telling you what happened last year. (Hi, Trevor Daley. We see you way over there.)
Johnny Oduya could start the season aside Jason Demers, and you can see why that would be an appealing prospect for Lindy Ruff. Sure, you don't have quite the offensive production that Daley is capable of bringing, but if you're the Dallas Stars playing Ocarina of Time, swapping Daley for Oduya is like going from the cheap-but-flammable Deku Shield to the Hylian variety. You aren't afraid to go into the volcano anymore.
I don't worry too much about Oduya's relative shot production being slightly negative, by the way. He was playing on the best team in the league, so I'm not going to fault him for not being quite as great as Duncan Keith, for example. In fact, it wouldn't shock me to see those numbers be just as low in Dallas or even lower, given that he will probably be absorbing similar defensive zone starts (which I believe to be somewhat related to shot differential) while playing behind Goligoski and Klingberg. As long as Oduya can provide the expected reduction in scoring chances allowed compared to Daley, I think we'll be happy, especially if that frees up Klingberg and Goligoski to do their thing on offensive zone starts.
The one thing you would notice immediately about a Demers/Oduya pairing, however, is what you notice about all of Dallas' current top-four defensemen: there's still not a ton of size. Now, as we discussed regarding Julius Honka, I don't think size is quite the Biggoron Sword that it once was on defense, so there are plenty of reasons to still have confidence in Oduya and Demers as a defensive pair. That said, it wouldn't totally surprise me if one of the Stars' younger, bigger defensemen saw some time opposite Abs McGee and/or Demers during the year. Even the best teams tend to rotate defensemen as the season progresses, after all.
Ultimately, the biggest reason offered by Stars brass for Oduya's addition is also the most difficult to quantify: yep, it's Veteran Presence and Knowing How to Win.
So, what will Oduya mean to the Stars this season? If everything goes right, perhaps it will be that same, nebulous characteristic cited by Nill: Johnny Oduya is Here to Show the Stars How to Win. If the team can do so on a significant level, then Stars fans should be perfectly happy to echo Nill's praise, quantifiable or not.