The Dallas Stars' Three Most Likely Defense Moves for July 1st (AKA TODAY)
Dan "the Ham" Hamhuis! Brian "Sorry about 2008, Brian" Campbell! Free agency is upon us, and so we respond with the three most likely outcomes for the Dallas blue line.
Well, despite the infinite grist of time that seemed to precede it, today has arrived. That's right, I am talking about Canada Day. Happy Canada Day, everyone!
Oh, also NHL Free Agency begins today at 11am CST, if you're interested in things like that. I am going to assume you are, because even if you weren't, I am still supposed to write this anyway.
On Wednesday, we looked at possible goalie options. Yesterday, we checked out the forwards. Now, let's get to the thing we've all beaten to a pulp, making further discussion (or writing) completely irrelevant: the defense.
Now, the Stars have already made a move on defense, bringing back Jordie Benn ("the one with the beard, right?") on his second consecutive bargain of a three-year deal. That doesn't exactly fix everything that ails Dallas, but it does mean that those poor reporters will have at least one defenseman keeping them company in the press box most of the time. Who that will be, of course, remains to be seen. (Personally, I think they'll find a way to scratch Goligoski here and there, just for old time's sake.)
There has been a fair bit of talk about what it would look like to roll with the kids on defense. Stephen Johns and Johnny Oduya were more or less a third pairing in the playoffs last year, so for starters, you'd either be scaling them up or asking Jordie Benn and Friends to take on some decently tough minutes. "Friends" in this case refers to Jamie Oleksiak, Esa Lindell, and Patrik Nemeth, of whom the latter seems the best pick to throw beside John Klingberg if no reinforcements come to town today.
Now, I highly doubt the Stars roll with Oduya, Benn and a bunch of players too young to rent a car next season, even if one of those players is John Klingberg. For one thing, there appear to be good options available, and for another, this team is ready to win now. Youth needs experience to win, but you never know how well your youth will play until you give them that experience. Unfortunately, Dallas didn't get as much insight into Oleksiak and Nemeth last year as they might have, on account of the team was really good, and Lindy Ruff didn't seem interested in switching things up when the club was rolling.
When Oleksiak and Nemeth (and Lindell, briefly) did get into the lineup, it was always with minimal minutes. The penalty killing was done by Oduya, Demers and Goligoski, with Jordie Benn and Nemeth getting sundry shifts when necessary. So, there appears to be a need for someone to take some minutes standing in front of a P.K. Subban one-timer, if we could get some volunteers, please.
As far as the power play, yikes. Yes, John Klingberg is your always-and-forever quarterback, but the three next-highest ice times at 5v4 belonged to the dearly departed (and now or soon-to-be wealthier) Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell. Benn and Oduya got some incidental time, but the second unit will obviously look a lot different this year.
Okay, so let's get into it:
Note: Oleksiak did look a bit better as the season went on last year, I thought. There is every possibility that Lindell has some freshman struggles, that Nemeth can't hack it up top, or that Jordie Benn destroys Lindy Ruff at poker and wins 1LD for a week. These slots are provisional, not to say arbitrary. Let's argue about them anyway, though.
Scenario #1: "Brian Campbell Was Totally on the 2008 Sharks, ha ha ha"
Brian Campbell just turned 37. He's been down in Florida for a while making people think that Aaron "Wait, there's a defensive zone?" Ekblad is a perennial Norris, Vezina, Selke and probably Jack Adams candidate. He was traded away from Chicago after one of their cap crunches in the Rotislav Olesz blockbuster. Olesz would play a total of six games for Chicago, while Florida said "thanks a ton, guys" for the next five years. Now, Campbell is a free agent, and word is the Stars are gunning for him alongside, yes, Chicago.
First, let's just say it: Brian Campbell is 5'10", 190lbs. Yes, he's been averaging 22 minutes or so in Florida, but if you've been hoping for someone with size to replace Goligoski, you'd best change the channel, because Campbell's game is pretty much that of an older Goligoski who scores less (though his power play numbers are decent, and let's be honest--who doesn't score less than Dallas Stars players?) and suppresses a bit more.
So, on the surface, this is a cheaper way of replacing Goligoski for a year or two. Actually that might be what this is at its core, too. Depending on how you feel about Goligoski, this is either an attractive thing, or it is not an attractive thing. (Can you believe you get this sort of analysis delivered right to your computer door?)
Sergei Gonchar has sort of ruined Stars fans for evaluating 35+ defenders from the Eastern Conference, so you can be forgiven for going full Nope Octopus on this one. But the Stars have been linked solidly to the carrot-topped little guy (who could probably beat up every single one of us), and thus we must place this one at the top for purposes of probability. Brian Campbell has a lot of folks begging him to take their millions of dollars in order to play hockey. How is your Friday going?
Scenario #2: "Ham Has Many Uses, Such as the Canadian Baconed Variety"
Dan Hamhuis has sort of been this year's Karl Alzner for me, except that Hamhuis is going to be a free agent, meaning Dallas can sign him without asking for permission. That's a good thing, too, considering what happened the last time the Stars asked for permission to acquire Dan Hamhuis.
As far as what Hamhuis can provide Dallas, well, allow me to quote one of the most brilliant (not to mention self-effacing) writers I have ever read:
5. Dan plays on the Penalty Kill a lot
I get the sense that some Stars fans were not thrilled with the amount of PK time Alex Goligoski had to absorb over the past couple of years. While that was as much a virtue of need (after Demers and Oduya, the Stars really didn't have any other good, experienced options) as anything, signing Dan Hamhuis offers them the chance to ice an extremely seasoned penalty killer whose weight starts with a 2 and whose height starts with a 6. No matter how much stock you put into Size on the Kill, it's hard to turn down such an option when it offers itself up for nothing but American Money Dollars.
6. Dan starts in the defensive zone a bunch, and he survives
Dan hasn't required much sheltering in his career, and even last year, he tended to start a bit more of his shifts in his own zone, and he successfully drove play the other direction. That is good, as "easier" minutes are best dispersed among the bottom four. Giving Hamhuis some of the "tougher" minutes (to which he accustomed) allows Lindell (for example) the opportunity to start closer to the opponent's net. It also means the Stars can continue to bring Stephen Johns along slowly, too.
7. Dan makes his teammates better
I won't embed the chart, but you'd best take a look at just how much better Dan's buddies tend to play with him than they do without him (and remember, we are speaking in relative terms, since this is Vancouver, and they are a bad team). The big upside here, aside from better players being upside embodied, is that Hamhuis is a steady sort of defensemen who just does the right things consistently enough to benefit his team. This is a different version of Alex Goligoski, who, while also quite good, tended to make things more exciting in both directions. If you are looking for "one o' them defenders what keeps things nice an' manageable," then Hamhuis just might be the NHL defenseman for you.
The Stars wanted Hamhuis before, and there is reason to believe they still want him now. If Campbell gets his wish and returns to Chicago, I'd be shocked not to see Dallas grab Hamhuis unless the price is egregiously high, which is a phrase I should append to every single free agent sentence I ever write.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't add that Hamhuis was willing to waive his no-trade clause for a trade to Chicago this year as well. So, cheer up: the Blackhawks might get either one of the best left-handed defenders available!
Scenario #3: "It's not Easy Being [in Victory] Green"
Jacob Trouba, Tyson Barrie and Matt Dumba have all been rumored to be available this week on some level. Those are three very solid young defensemen! The only problem? They are all in the Central Division, which means that the Stars will need a heck of a lot of leverage (we're talking Patrick Sharp Trade leverage) in order to convince another team to let Dallas take over the care and feeding of their great young player for the next decade.
So, while such a trade isn't impossible, you're probably more likely to try for a Kevin Shattenkirk or--no, sorry, he's also in the Central. Uh...Cam Fowler, I guess? Unfortunately, the Stars already traded Jack Campbell, otherwise I would have written 4,000 words on why the #11 and #12 picks in the 2010 draft need to be traded for each other (it would have taken more from Dallas, obviously) right now, just for the poetry of it.
Patrick Wiercioch is also going to be available after being released by Ottawa. He is definitely tall, and there was a good case for his being a diamond in a rough situation last year (though he had a bit of a tough year in 2016). If better options don't materialize, might Dallas supplement the cupboard with Wiercioch while sending another even taller defenseman out in a separate trade?
The Stars could just stand pat for now, too. Jason Demers was acquired in November, so the opportunity to improve later on isn't going anywhere if free agency is prohibitively expensive. The luxury of cap room is the ability to wait around for something better. That worked pretty well last year.
More optimistically, Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns might make the defense look a whole lot better than we expect, even if they don't end up reuniting their Cedar Park pairing. Patrik Nemeth (or heck, even Jamie Oleksiak) could take a big step forward, at last. Jordie Benn could even show some of the possession magic from his pre-Oduya days alongside Demers again and earn second-pairing minutes. Did you think this was going to end with me being happy about the prospect of Jordie Benn on the second pairing? Well, life is full of surprises. Free agency is, too.