Before I start with my thoughts on the Stars defense and what should be done with each member of it, how about this team’s play the last night? I know they would prefer not to give up a 3-0 lead to the lowly Oilers, but the fact that they came out in the third and took a 3-3 game over was great. Lehtonen had a good third in net, the offense woke back up after taking the 2nd period off, and the team played as a whole for the third period. The end result was a 6-3 roller-coaster win for the Stars. But one big factor for the game was the return of Mike Modano, who chipped in just under 13 minutes in ice time. Modano assisted on Jamie Benn’s goal early in the 3rd to make it 4-3 Dallas. This gave Mo 800 career assists, another big milestone for the best American player ever. Later in the 3rd Modano again set-up Benn to give the Stars a 6-3 lead. Two old-timers looked great Friday night. Modano had 2 assists and brought energy to the game as it wore on, and Jere Lehtinen had a goal and 2 assists to end a horrible slump he has been in offensively for a while now. Dallas plays at St. Louis tonight, and Crawford has said that Lehtonen will start in the net again with probably the same lines skating against the Blues. Now, onto the defense and what should be done with each member this offseason:
Trevor Daley: Daley is a very interesting case. While he is one of the only members of the defense that has been here for a few seasons, what he is for this defense is still unclear to some. While I know some fans and bloggers who like Daley, I know just as many who want him gone from the blue-line. His skating ability is very nice for a defender and he can jump up on the rush like Coach Crawford likes, he at times still gets caught in the offensive zone and leaves his defensive partner and goalie having to deal with odd-man rushes. But through 73 games this season Daley has only 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) and has been the most common victim I can remember for own-goals. Daley often seems to get caught watching in his own zone, either resulting in goals going off of him and past the goalie or in pucks getting through him to an opposing player. Some still old that he is young and learning, but he is not like some 26 year-old players as he has now played 5 full seasons in the NHL. Although early on thought to be a potential top level offensive D-man, we are now seeing that he is about average NHL defenseman with a slight lean more towards the offensive. And with money kind of tight with this team right now, I am not 100% sure on Daley at 2.5 million next season. Do I see Daley as a 5th or 4th blue-liner? Yes, but I think he is slightly over-paid and if I had him I would see what I could get for him. Should he go? I would say no, but if you could get value in return or package him I would be fine with trading him.
Mark Fistric: If you had not watched the Stars defense extremely close this season, you might think Fistric is just a guy stuck out there and is someone often switched between partners. But a closer look shows that Fistric is definitely young player who can be a big part of the future of the Stars and in a good way. Despite through most of the season only seeing limited minutes and not being given many opportunities, he has racked up the best +/- on the team at +24. Being positive a few could mean being out on the ice at the right moments. But being a +24 means Mark is a guy you want on the ice. He can check, looks to have good positioning almost all the time when he is on the ice, and is still only 23 years-old. Not too bad for a kid in his first NHL season spending more time in the majors then the minors. What confounds me though is that he is still stuck on the 3rd defensive pair most nights when he does play and only picks up 10-15 mins on the ice. Should he stay? HECK YES! And next season he needs to be their 4th defenseman.
Nicklas Grossman: Another young player that this team has had to lean on this year, Grossman has played primarily as one of the Stars top 2-3 blue-liners this season. And although he has struggled a little at times, Grossman has been probably the Stars 2nd best defender this season behind Robidas. He is the only other Dallas defenseman with a positive +/- besides Fistric, sitting at a +4 as of today. He is someone the Stars had hoped would add a little more offense from the point, as he only has 7 assists and no goals from the point, but he is continuing to show why the Stars think he can be a solid NHL defenseman in his own zone. Should he stay? Yes, and he will hopefully stay. He can be the 2nd or 3rd defenseman on this team and at 25 is still learning. I think they should add one big name defender to take more pressure off of Grossman and Robidas, but I think Grossman is a solid 2nd pair NHL defenseman who can be a good part of this team for a long time.
Matt Niskanen: Now here is where we start to get to the part of the defense I am having problems watching. Matt Niskanen is still young, at 23, but he is the young member of the D that many have grown tired of watching. Niskanen has now spent three seasons at the NHL level, and has gotten worse each year. His first season, many fans and players were excited by Niskanen’s play and early results as a talented two way defender. He showed that he could possibly be a offensive blue-liner and point man on the power-play. But in his three years, his +/- has gone from +22, to -11, and now sits at -11 late this season. His points increased from year one to two, but have dipped this year. But the hugely notable thing with Nisky’s game this season has been the constant turnovers. He is seemingly every night turning over the puck at his attacking blue line or even his own blue line. Niskanen nightly appears to be on the ice when Dallas’ goalies get left out to dry by a turnover or the defense being out of position. Should he stay? NO. I am not only saying this because of his continued struggles handling the puck and turning it over, but also because of his continued struggles defending in front of his own net. I was vocal at the deadline that I thought Dallas should have moved Nisky, either in a package or with Turco for another defenseman. I can see the potential offensively, as he has a big shot and can pass the puck. But often he seems to be as a guy who is partially to blame when the defense just falls over and leaves the goalie on his own. And also Niskanen’s head does not seem to be where it was at some point. He struggled a lot last year and despite lots of talks and hopes that he would be able to figure it out, it seems like he is not getting any closer. I think Dallas NEEDS to trade him, and see if another team is willing to give the young man a chance to start over and maybe player under some more veteran partners rather then playing in a young defense here in Dallas.
Stephane Robidas: Very much the work-horse of the Stars defense, Robidas is being lean on and maybe a little too much. Robidas is the most established and dependable member of the Stars defensive group. Robidas has been given the big money here in Dallas compared to the rest of the defense, and deserves it. Since coming to Dallas, Robidas has shown a more offensive side and has put in his highest goals, assists, and point totals. Sitting at 10 goals, and 30 assists for the season with a few games left in the year, Robidas has shown that he can be the big shot at the point on the power-play and the solid defensive player at the other end. His -5 does not look great, but when he plays the most minutes of any defender and plays in every facet of the game, it is understandable after how this year has gone. Should he stay? Of course. He is the Stars best defender and is also great attacking. I think that ideally Robidas is more of a #2 defenseman or as someone who will be better with another star defender in the line-up, but he is the best Dallas has and earns his paycheck. Some wish that he would be a more vocal leader, but I see Robidas talking plenty and think he is an “A” and not a captain type.
Karlis Skrastins: Brought in during the off-season to be a veteran and a stay at home defender, Skrastins has given mixed results to the Stars. Dallas has given him almost 20 minutes a game and has put him on the 2nd pair most nights. He has also seen time on the penalty-kill and is on the ice a lot. But Skrastins is not the type of defender I think this team wants in its new system. He is old, 35, and is not a superb skater. He is for the most part a stay at home defender, but one major problem is that even when he stays at home he gets out-skated often. While he has shown he knows hockey, he has also at time just been flat out beat by the attacking players. His age has shown more as the season eases on, and his play has seemed to look worse as the season has gone on. Should he stay? No. He was an alright pick-up if he were playing less minutes or was the extra man who plays about half the season. But he is not and the Stars have tried to make him be a 2nd pair defenseman most nights, and his age and lack of speed and agility have shown.
Jeff Woywitka: A pick-up to hopefully be a 3rd pair defender or to be the 7th man, he has been just that for most of the year. He has played limited amounts of time, only playing 36 of 78 games up to this point in the season. But he has not mirrored the performance he had last season with St. Louis when he had 18 points and was a +8. In his limited time has has only 3 assists and is a -6 this season. He is a big body and is still somewhat young at 26. But I don’t see the Stars keeping him in any big way for next season. Should he stay? No. Just from a point that I think he is not going to be a solid NHL defender, or at least one that the Stars need. He could be a 6th or 7th defenseman type guy, and may be that here next year. But he is not a key guy and not someone I think they should really worry about bringing back next season.
Tune in tomorrow night for my thoughts on the Stars forward group, and sometime this coming week for a look at some of the Stars prospects who could be playing with the team next week. As of right now, the Stars and Blues are tied at 0-0 after the 1st period in St. Louis. GO STARS!