Examining the Dallas Stars Defense Without Trevor Daley

Breaking down the 11 games Daley missed with a knee injury last season gives us a clue to how deployment may work with the seven remaining Stars defensemen.

It's been more than a decade since the Dallas Stars prepared for a season without Trevor Daley. Making his debut in 2003-04 and playing 81 games in 2005-06 after the year-long lockout, Daley played 756 games with Dallas, missing more than 10 games only twice in 11 seasons.

Now, after sending Daley and Ryan Garbutt to the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns, the Stars have to determine the best way to field a defense without him.

I've written this before, but despite Daley's struggles in the possession game last season, the Stars defense was not appreciably better at preventing shots or scoring chances in the 11 games he missed with an MCL sprain.

The Stars had a 59.1 CorsiFor percentage in the two games prior to his injury in March, averaging of 30 shots against and 10.4 high danger scoring chances against. They had a 55.3 CF% in the seven games after he returned, with 24.8 shots against per game and an average of 8 high-danger chances against.

While he was gone, Dallas had a 55.9 CF%, 25.2 shots against, and 11.3 high danger scoring against. None of those are appreciably different, especially when you consider sample size issues. In fact, they gave up slightly more high-danger scoring chances without him, though there is likely a strength-of-schedule component that has not been accounted for in the sample size problems.

Despite the limits of those statistics, the relatively consistency points to that some other players may have been eating the relative possession minuses during that time period, something the metrics somewhat bear out.

It should also be noted that the Stars defense was much better during this part of the season, after Jan. 1 (though wins were inconsistent at times because the goalies were voodoo). There may have been a larger or different effect of losing Daley when he was struggling early in the season.

First, the 5 v 5 stats, with focus on the CorsiFor percentage, scoring chance for percentage and high danger scoring chance for percentage relative to the zone starts (for zone starts, positive indicates more starts in the offensive zone).

All data on these charts came from the fine folks at War-on-Ice.com:

Jordie Benn 11 0 1 1 50.00 52.52 51.69 -4.82 15.19
Jason Demers 10 1 1 2 52.87 51.69 55.07 -10.59 15.05
Alex Goligoski 11 2 3 5 57.11 58.17 57.48 7.19 17.20
Jyrki Jokipakka 11 0 1 1 54.90 58.43 57.00 1.71 15.33
John Klingberg 8 0 3 3 62.01 59.72 61.80 10.94 16.56
Patrik Nemeth 11 0 3 3 56.60 60.36 58.82 4.89 16.41
Jamie Oleksiak 4 0 0 0 56.88 57,78 65.52 -20.56 13.05

There are a few interesting trends here.

The Stars were "sheltering" Goligoski and Klingberg at even strength, most likely in an attempt not to hide their defense but to give the pair maximum ability to cause chaos if in the offensive zone. And both were very successful at that (it's here Klingberg shows off the magical unicorn that he was - those numbers are ridiculous).

Demers and, to a lesser extent Jordie Benn, were taking the brunt of the defensive zone starts, and their possession numbers suffered a little for it. As we'll see in a bit, they also took on difficult minutes on both special teams. The surprising thing to many might be just how hard they buried Oleksiak with defensive zone starts, though there are some problems with sample size things here. Four games is not a lot to draw conclusions from, even in an 11 game set.

For those of you who may be concerned about Benn's numbers, they are basically comparable to rumored free-agent target Johnny Oduya, who, for the season, had a 51.09 CF%, 51.66 SCF% and 51.16 HDSCH% with a -5.23 zone starts in slightly more even strength minutes.

At 4-on-4 even strength, the numbers looked a little different:

Jordie Benn 11 0 0 0 16.67 50.00 - -61.54 0.46
Jason Demers 10 0 0 0 50.00 66.67 100 -8.33 0.74
Alex Goligoski 11 0 0 0 41.18 40.00 66.67 38.64 1.17
Jyrki Jokipakka 11 0 0 0 46.67 37.50 60 33.93 0.9
John Klingberg 8 0 0 0 69.00 41.67 80.00 26.67 1.42
Patrik Nemeth 11 0 0 0 69.23 44.05 75.00 -66.67 0.82
Jamie Oleksiak 4 0 0 0 100 37.50 - - 0.52

First of all, there are some obvious sample size issues here. Even over 11 games (or four for Oleksiak), there's just not that much 4-on-4 time, and the personnel decisions are dictated by pending special teams situations, such as one of an opponent's players coming out of the box to start a power play.

Still, it's interesting to note that Goligoski, in particular, seems to struggle in these situations. Jordie Benn gives up shots, but those don't translate into scoring chances in the way that Goligoski's or even Jokipakka's do.

On the power play:

Jordie Benn 11 0 1 1 70.00 72.73 100 8.06 1.24
Jason Demers 10 0 1 1 83.33 84.62 100 -1.81 1.78
Alex Goligoski 11 0 3 3 89.36 80.95 81.82 -11.35 2.62
Jyrki Jokipakka 11 0 0 0 - 0.00 - 7.25 0.04
John Klingberg 8 0 0 0 92.75 89.19 99.44 12.47 3.95
Patrik Nemeth 11 0 0 0 50.00 50.00 100 7.35 0.16
Jamie Oleksiak 4 0 0 0 66.67 - - 6.90 0.20

This category is where Klingberg's unicorn-like tendencies really shines through. The Stars experimented with both three and four-forward power play units during this stretch, accounting for his significantly greater time on ice than Goligoski, who also had strong numbers (though gave up a few more meaningful shorthanded chances going the other way).

While Benn and Demers gave up more raw shorthanded shots, they notably were able to prevent the really dangerous chances that particularly Goligoski gave up. None of Nemeth, Jokipakka or Oleksiak received meaningful time on the power play.

Finally, the penalty kill numbers:

Jordie Benn 11 0 0 0 14.29 16.67 22.22 1.15 2.03
Jason Demers 10 0 0 0 10.34 11.76 25.00 -4.79 1.91
Alex Goligoski 11 0 0 0 16.67 17.86 6.67 0.48 2.36
Jyrki Jokipakka 11 0 0 0 5.26 9.52 0.00 -9.25 1.51
John Klingberg 8 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 - 0.05
Patrik Nemeth 11 0 0 0 35.78 36.36 16.67 22.27 1.50
Jamie Oleksiak 4 0 0 0 - - - -14.29 0.05

What becomes clear looking at these numbers is Benn and Demers are the team's best penalty killers. Nemeth has some strong numbers but they're likely because of very favorable zone starts (essentially, he mostly went on the ice after the team had produced a shorthanded chance, so he could easily kill 20 seconds of a shift getting a shot in the offensive zone if the center won the faceoff).

While Demers and Benn give up slightly more shots than Goligoski, they are much, much more successful at limiting scoring chances in this situation, which is what you look for on the PK. Shots are going to happen, so you concentrate on not giving up the pass across the box or slam dunk from the slot.

Jyrki Jokipakka got a surprising amount of penalty kill time in deep zone starts, but he struggled in those. The zeros in the high-danger scoring chance column indicate he was never able to really move the puck out of the zone for any sort of short-handed opportunity while on the ice, and combined with the low CorsiFor%, it points to that his groups likely struggled to get the puck out period.

Oleksiak and Klingberg were kept essentially off of the PK.

So was does this mean going forward?

The Stars are actually in pretty good shape. You can make a strong argument that Daley did not hurt the defense as much as many believe, but that complement to that argument is he didn't make them any better either. Without any additional personnel, the Stars currently field seven NHL-experienced defensemen with solid possession metrics, including two sets of four that have strong statistics on special teams.

There is an obvious risk in drawing conclusions from 11 games of data during a stretch of the season where the forwards (and even the goalies) played well, but there is no real indication that the Stars should be worried about filling a hole left by Daley on the ice.