After Signing Johnny Oduya, How Do the Dallas Stars Defense Pairs Fit?
The Stars have upgraded their defense, but they just got to the "some assembly required" part of the instructions.
After much anticipation, the Dallas Stars finally made everything official yesterday, sealing the deal with Johnny Oduya, his beard, and his abs in what looks to be a "Win Now" move.
The post-Sharp/pre-Oduya period felt a bit like that afternoon after you booked the limousine for prom but before your date had actually said "yes," so it's nice to be moving on to more concrete things now, or at least to know who's going to be in the limo.
A couple of things right off the bat: I won't be factoring Oleksiak or Johns into this discussion. As much as I believe the Stars when they say they want the best defensemen in the lineup, things will have to go sideways quite a bit before they'd carry nine defensemen (both Oleksiak and Johns) on opening night, so I have to think they'll take advantage of Johns's waivers exemption, eventually recalling him during the season. He's got plenty of potential, but someone once said something about potential just being a word until it is actualized. The Stars have the ability to be patient with Johns this year, and I think they will do so, at least to start the season.
Oleksiak doesn't seem (in my eyes) to figure into the Stars' plans unless he blows the doors off training camp at this point. He lost the competition last season despite some good play at times in the NHL, and I don't see the Stars changing anything on that front unless space is created somewhere else (i.e. if Jokipakka gets moved). Carrying eight defensemen is possible, if also less than ideal, but given the many good, young blueliners pushing for an NHL look, it doesn't make much sense for the Stars to carry eight bodies on the back end for more than a few games here and there. What if Mattias Backman or Esa Lindell has a Klingbergian autumn? Yes, you don't want to lose Oleksiak for nothing, but this wasn't Jim Nill's draft pick, remember. My sense is that he will not be afraid to move Oleksiak for an acceptable return, but now we're getting bogged down in speculation again.
Okay, so for comparison, let's look at the Stars' defense on opening night last year:
Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn - Brenden Dillon
Kevin Connauton - Patrik Nemeth
(Note: Connauton only played nine minutes that night. Also, Johnny Oduya played 25 minutes for Chicago.)
The season would see much fluctuation in those pairings as a brief appearance by Sergei Gonchar was followed by those of John Klingberg and Jason Demers, while Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak also stopped by for significant portions of the season after Nemeth suffered his wrist injury.
By contrast, here is how the Stars ended the season:
Daley - Klingberg
Nemeth - Jokipakka
Benn - Demers
(And yes, Benn/Demers did have less ice time than Nemeth/Jokipakka, so those are "true" pairs to a certain extent. Goligoski, of course, was scratched with a nagging injury as the Stars had been eliminated already.)
So the Stars now have much of the same corps to work with. You can slot Goligoski in with Klingberg for now, but the rest of the pairings are complicated by Oduya's signing, which is not a bad thing. We're not talking too many cooks in the kitchen here--more like too many soldiers for the uniforms available. And having extra soldiers is a good thing if my Nerf war experiences have taught me anything.
Okay, here's how these folks looked last year per War on Ice (5v5 time only):
Oduya was used as a shutdown defender by Chicago last year, which is largely a result of being paired with Niklas Hjarmalsson, shutdown extraordinaire. The Stars last year deployed Benn and Demers in sort of a shutdown-lite role, with Klingberg and Goligoski getting the bulk of the power play time (and the ice time in general).
Goose and Klingberg will likely start together again this year, which is what happens when you are the best pair on the team for a good stretch of time. Nemeth could see some time on Cornrow's wing again, but that's something I'm not betting on until Lindy gets his Ruffling into midseason form.
Because Oduya is more or less taking Daley's spot on the roster, he would certainly seem to be a fit on that second pairing somewhere, but the question sort of becomes: what is the second pairing? Demers and Benn kind of hold the title at present while Nemeth and Jokipakka (despite the final game) averaged slightly fewer minutes.
But that's where Trevor Daley's vacated position is so odd. Daley still spent a significant amount of time with Goose during the season, but he played with Jokipakka nearly as much. So if you're looking to plug Oduya in without disrupting the Demers/Benn possession magic, then Oduyakipakka might be the 2nd pairing for you.
It's almost unthinkable at first blush to have Nemeth sitting as the seventh defenseman in favor of Jordie Benn and Jokipakka, but just remember that this happened more than once last year after Nemeth returned. His size is noticeable, and his potential is obvious, but the thing about having a bunch of good defensemen is that you can only play a few of them on a given night. Nemeth was not always one of the best ones, and that could well happen again this season.
Wait a minute, though. As the Lightning--the only team who scored more than Dallas last year--proved during their Stanley Cup run, there's nothing wrong with playing seven defensemen. And think about it: with a young defense group that needs some experience as they learn and grow, what better way to help them do that than by playing both Nemeth and Jokipakka on a given night--sorry, Sceviour/Moen--and rotating them opposite Oduya? They can compare notes, and they'd both be learning the same things at roughly the same pace. If you're looking for a way to have your cake and give it ice time, too, then going with seven defensemen might be as good an option as any.
Will Lindy Ruff actually do this? Well, it may end up being a moot point if Jim Nill gets active in the trade market again before October; but even if he doesn't, the Stars probably would prefer to have the ability to roll four lines as opposed to double-shifting a forward more often than necessary. Still, the Stars have a glut of blueliners, and they're going to have to be creative in order to use them. Whether that creativity will be seen in the press box assignments, the line changes, or the trade market is going to be the big question until it isn't anymore.