Dallas Stars Might Not Pursue Defense Via Trade
The Dallas Stars are a perplexing defensive puzzle. Though improved, the unit still falls short of true excellence. Sooner or later, a move of some kind will be made. No two players will feel the impact of whatever resolution the Stars decide more than Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers.
With the trade deadline looming, it's only natural to adopt an external focus. There are assets across the league that could help the Stars, and assets in Dallas' system that could be used to swing a deal. However, that's not the only avenue through which the Stars can improve, and a quick deal is not necessarily the Stars' current timeline. No matter what happens this season, there will still be contracts to sign come summertime, and decisions to make about the roster. To me, it is hard to find two decisions more interesting than those about Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski.
Jason Demers has turned into something of a diamond for the Stars. Not only is the 27-year old defender averaging a career high in ice time, he's doing so by nearly two full minutes over his previous best (20:56 vs. 19:29). A big part of why is his versatility. Demers contributes on the Stars' second pair (alongside Johnny Oduya), on the power play (1:45 APPTOI), and on the penalty kill (2:24 ASHTOI). Throw in 18 points (6 G / 12 A) and you've got a player that can do just a little bit of everything. At a cap hit of $2.2 million, that's not bad business.
There are, unfortunately, a few problems with Demers. For starters, at 6'1" 200 lbs, his brand of physicality is more aspirational than grounded in physique. It's hard to rely on the physical tone set by a player of his stature. Demers has also shown little signs of being a legitimate offensive weapon. A career high of 34 points is fine for a defender, but it's unlikely the Stars will want to continue giving more than a minute of power play time each night to a player that's crossed into double digit power play points exactly once, with 11 back in 2009-2010. On the other side of the special teams coin, his short-handed contributions are undercut somewhat by the fact the unit has not been good during his tenure in Dallas (19th in 2014-2015, 20th so far in 2015-2016).
With Demers, the Stars have to wonder where the ceiling is, and what they can do elsewhere in the lineup. At this point it feels fair to assume no leap is coming. Demers is a very good defender, which is a very good thing to be. By all reports he's also stepped into a leadership role for the Stars. On an eye-test level, his compete is great for a young, learning team. If the Stars can shore up their third pairing, in particular, if the Stars can find specialized solutions on the penalty kill and power play, a jack-of-all-trades guy like Demers hold tremendous value, but therein lies the rub.
Teams only want to pay so much for quality depth. Dallas, in particular, also needs to start churning through their defensive pipeline at some point. The question isn't whether or not Jason Demers does enough to be valuable, it's whether or not he does enough well to be of more value than an empty spot on the team sheet.
Then there's Alex Goligoski.
Since joining the Stars in 2010-2011, Goose has been something of a talking point. On the ice, the veteran has soaked up minutes (> 22:00 ATOI every season with the Stars), produced offensively (174 points in 357 games), and been an almost de-facto member of the Stars' top pairing. In particular, Goose has felt like the perfect counterpoint to John Klingberg, who is kind of a big deal. Off the ice, he's been derided as over-rated, under-skilled, and fantasy traded more times than any Star since Trevor Daley.
It's the Stephane Robidas problem. Goligoski does many things well for a team that has traditionally lacked the mostly-mythic "True #1 Defenceman." He's not Ryan Suter on a team that has been seeking a defensive anchor since the likes of Derian Hatcher and Sergei Zubov left town. The dissonance between his role and skillset pushes fans into impolite comparisons. He's not as good as they need him to be, and is therefore crap.
I tend to have fewer doubts about Goligoski on an individual level than most, but his fit relative to the overall unit is a fair question. He's another under-sized (5'11", 185 lbs) gamer. His compatriots in the top four are Demers, Klingberg (6'2", 180 lbs), and Oduya (6', 195 lbs). Goligoski is also 30 years old. Klingberg and Oduya are signed for multiple seasons, and the Stars could still elect to bring back Demers. If the Stars decide to change the complexion of their defensive core, Goligoski could wind up the odd man out.
The Stars have to want one of their many prospects to start pushing for playing time. It's certainly possible players like Jyrki Jokipakka and Stephen Johns could achieve expanded roles at the NHL level. They're just unlikely to do so before this year's free agency decisions are made. They're also unlikely to do so in a vacuum. They need opportunities. If the Stars were more than the league's 19th-ranked defense in terms of goals against, I could see a status quo argument. They're not, though, and this roster's next step likely involves defensive improvement. It's fair to wonder if Demers and Goligoski will be a part of that improvement.