Matching Minors: Stars Expected to Go On Defensive in Off-Season
Now that the immediate hurt is fading, Stars fans are left reflecting on what was a pretty good season. They're also left speculating on a roster with a surprising number of spots up for grabs. Today we focus on the defense. Robert and I scour the league for guys named "John" who might
Yo, Robert. Seeing the first couple player grades has me thinking about the Stars' backline. Seems like a couple of guys got torched a little bit, and that the Stars have a few questions to answer. We also need to distract ourselves from the fact that San-freaking Jose might be four wins away from a Stanley Cup. Speculate with me!
Robert: How did you get this number?
Wes: You kidding? It's in my phone under ‘pedantic blowhard!'
Let's start with the four unrestricted free agents and one RFA: Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, and Kris Russell are all in the former category while Jamie Oleksiak is in the latter. I know at this point I'm supposed to get all next-level #fancystats with you, but really, all I have are two very simple questions:
1 -€” Who would you bring back?
2 -€” Who do you think the Stars will bring back?
I mean, I know there's a lot of new hotness down in Cedar Park, but it would be crazy to blow up the defense completely, right? Can the Stars really head into the offseason planning on John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, Stephen Johns, Patrik "John" Nemeth and a bunch of question marks? Also, I literally just noticed the John thing. Weird.
Robert: I don't see how Nill could leave the defense alone while keeping a straight face. I'm not opposed to the idea of asking Nemeth and Oleksiak to take regular shifts on the third pair, but unless you think Lindell is ready for top-pair minutes next to Klingberg, there's a pretty big hole to be filled, and no one ready to do so.
Nothing from Oduya indicates he could be trusted with those minutes, and while Nemeth/Klingberg with heavy OZ deployment is intriguing, recent comments by Klingberg hint that he's more comfortable playing next to slick skaters than with the old school "balance" pairs of OD/DD. If I'm a GM, I try to make Klingberg as comfortable as possible, and Nemeth doesn't really scratch that itch right now.
So, I guess I'm saying, yes: I expect a move for another defenseman, familiar or new. Also, I think they will trade Oleksiak by Thanksgiving. Maybe this will be the year that prediction actually turns out to be correct.
Wes: I feel legitimately bad saying so, but I think you're dead-on about Oleksiak. How can last season not be taken as anything other than a total white flag for the big-un.
I also think you set me up with the perfect segue! Why don't you dazzle all of us with whatever move you expect? There are a couple of "names" in the 2016 free agent class. Keith Yandle and Dan Hamhuis are probably the closest things get to having a headliner, but there are a few Marek Zidlicky/Justin Falk/John-Michael Liles-type options floating around. Also, did you know Mattias Ohlund still shows up on the FA list?
Robert: You wonder if Nill might try for a cheap Hamhuis deal, if only to spite Vancouver by making sure they did indeed lose him "for nothing" after raising the price at the deadline. Or, in a less petty mood than I, Nill might simply figure that Hamhuis can handle 21 minutes a night with decent defensive aptitude and sign him to an Oduya-like deal. That would give Lindell time to ascend the left side of the defense while also providing for Oduya's departure next year, should it happen. That puts less pressure on everyone involved.
Also, Alex Goligoski is three years younger (and only two inches shorter) than Hamhuis, so- *ducks incoming bricks from 50% of the fanbase*
Wes: I mean, Trevor Daley, barring injury, would be playing in a Stanley Cup final. There are crazier things in the universe than Stars fans suddenly realizing how valuable Alex Goligoski has been to this team. I feel like that one is more a question of how much other teams are willing to pay. The Stars have to want him back, but I think Term is going to be an issue. Whatever they do they cannot screw up the salary cap timeline around Benn and Seguin's next deals.
What do the Stars even need? I know the unit gets blasted for being a bit on the small side, and lacking physicality. That said, the team's identity is all passy passy / skatey skatey. Do you chase versatility or do you double-down on the notion that having the puck is more valuable than cracking skulls? How do you see the character of the Stars defense changing before now and the start of next season?
Robert: They actually don't need much, really. Yes, top-pair defenders are hard to find, but they have the elite player already locked down. Finding a Stralman is a lot easier than finding a Hedman, even if that wasn't the case for the Actual El Guap-- er, the Actual Stralman just the other summer.
Beyond that, what are the holes? The right side of the defense is fine for the long term, assuming Honka, Hansson and Johns can handle the minutes below Klingberg. The left side has Lindell, Nemeth, Oduya and Oleksiak poised to provide some minutes this year (assuming one is playing on his off-side a bit), with Mattias Backman playing the role of that girl whose number you got at the party last week but who also hasn't returned your phone calls in five days.
To me, the real curiosity is twofold: who ends up next to Klingberg, and who is left standing on the third pairing come October? I can't imagine the Stars would be thrilled to have a younger player on his off side down there, especially if he's playing next to Nemeth or Lindell. Hey, wait, doesn't Jordie Benn play on his off side someti- *ducks incoming hammers from 70% of the fanbase*
Wes: Ah, Jordie. See, I think he's set. So long as he's okay getting the hook once playoff-time rolls around, I see a ton of use in having the elder Benn in and out of the lineup. For me he's the classic steady hand #7, the guy you keep to keep your prospects on the ice in the AHL. Or, he'll chase a larger role on a more limited team.
I think it comes down to what the Stars view as their "window." If it's open now, I think they get more aggressive. Under the right circumstances you could turn the Probably-Will-Be of [Insert Favorite Prospect Here] into an Already-There NHL-Level asset. If you're bold.
More realistically, I think the Stars realize they've got at least one more season and an ability to be patient. I'm not in love with the idea of throwing so much youth into the lineup, but it worked with Johns, didn't it? If he's legit and Nemeth can rebound even a little bit, suddenly some big questions go away. Throw in a guy like Honka or Lindell and suddenly we're making "fierce" finger snaps.
And that's without even mentioning the guys they'll be playing in front of...