On the Radar: The Defensive Debate
The Dallas Stars had a great offseason. They landed a top-end #2 center. They acquired a skilled winger that fits into either line of their top-six. They re-signed a highly effective one-of-a-kind, fan-favorite and an underrated, reliable center who can be a face-off specialist to multi-year extensions. They also added depth by signing a big, back-up netminder and versatile NHL veteran forward. By all accounts, the Stars are an improved team heading into a brand new season. However, for all of the positive moves Dallas made, for some people, one lingering question remained.
What about the defense?
For all the moves they made, the Stars left the defense virtually unchanged heading into the new season. After the buyout of Aaron Rome, Dallas has five defensemen on NHL contracts - Jordie Benn, Kevin Connauton, Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski, and Sergei Gonchar. Additionally, restricted free-agent, Brenden Dillon is expected to be re-signed soon to give the Stars six one-way contracted guys on the blue line. They also have a pool of youngsters who will challenge for playing time from the start of the season, and considering that teams dress six defensemen a night, it’s a safe bet that at least one guy outside of that half-dozen will crack the opening night roster.
So, exactly why did the Stars stand pat on defense this summer as they revamped everything else?
In a recent Q&A on the Stars website, General Manager Jim Nill answered that exact question. One reason he gave as to why Dallas did not land a defenseman was that no available player fit what the Stars wanted for a price they felt comfortable spending. Given who the Stars currently have on their blue line, most would agree that a depth defenseman is not what anyone is calling for. The Stars have depth. What those asking for a change want to see is a high-end #1 or #2 defensemen. After seeing the Stars land Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza in back-to-back summers, they want to see the equivalent on defense. But it just wasn’t out there this year. And in a short period of time, Nill has proved that he will pull the trigger on the right move when it’s there. But also that he won’t force it when it’s not.
Nill surveyed his options and didn’t love what he saw. He didn’t believe that a 38-year-old Dan Boyle or 37-year-old Willie Mitchell was the right fit at over $4 million a year. He didn’t want to spend $5-plus million on Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen. No one can accuse the team of not wanting to spend this off-season. They dished out more than $15 million in new contracts, with deals for Dillon and Cody Eakin still to come. They just wanted to spend wisely, and did not find that value on the open market.
So instead of reaching for something that wasn’t there, the Stars front office looked at their roster and decided that they were ok as they are. And that was another thing Nill brought up in his interview. He pointed to the Texas Stars and their championship run, crediting the defense as a big reason for their success. Focusing back on those youngsters who plan to earn a roster spot in training camp, Nill singled out four guys specifically. They are Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg, Patrik Nemeth, and Jamie Oleksiak. Additionally, Cameron Gaunce filled in for nine games last season and proved that he can be counted on as well. All of a sudden after adding those names to the mix, five NHL contracted defensemen quickly turns into 11 guys on the back end, and a fierce battle in training camp.
Last year a total of 12 different defensemen suited up for the Stars. But only five of those were everyday guys in the lineup. So, even though the Stars didn’t add a defenseman in the offseason, there are guaranteed to be new faces as regulars this year. Nill is banking on those guys to contribute heavily.
The emergence of the minor league guys, plus the lack of value on the NHL’s open market were more than enough to give Nill and company the confidence they needed to play their current hand. However, there is one more pivotal reason that they were comfortable making that decision.
Stay tuned, and we’ll dissect that one next week.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.