A big summer for the Dallas Stars as an organization definitely changed the team. A couple of longtime fan favorites in Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro were traded for new pieces in Cody Eakin and Derek Roy to try and stir things up while changing the core of the team. Add in the signing of veteran wingers and offensive threats Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, and the Stars will definitely have a different looking forward group this fall. Some have called the Stars one of the most improved teams in the NHL with their offseason changes, with many pointing to the fact that they could potentially go from the worst powerplay in the league to one that might provide difficult to stop if chemistry is found between the new faces and stars Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
But what about the defense? While the Stars defense was not horrible last season, way too often Kari Lehtonen acted as the team’s savior, pulling out wins that the team honestly didn’t deserve. A great goalie can save an average defense, but a great goalie can only do so much. The defense has been an issue for years now, with the Stars often only having a two or three true top-four defensemen. The team has been void of true top-pairing talent since Sergei Zubov went home to Russia. While Stephane Robidas has stepped-up and been a strong part of the defense in recent years, his days may now be numbered at 35-years old.
So with changes done to the forward core and struggling powerplay, was the defense overlooked? The immediate thing that is noticeable is the lack of size and physical presence in among the blueliners. Sheldon Souray made a big splash with his offense early last year, but over the whole season his biggest contributions came as the big defenseman that could clear the crease and battle down low with big forwards. Souray is of course now in Anaheim and the Stars could miss that size and strength more than some expect this coming season. What will the defense look like this fall?
Well right now the guaranteed defensemen are Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric, Stephane Robidas, and Philip Larsen. Out of those five blueliners, three are offensive/puck-moving types with Fistric being the only defensive defenseman in the group and Robidas more of a mix of the two styles. The only one of those that has size is Fistric at 6’3″ and 230 pounds, with the other four all measuring in at 6’1″ or less. The sixth and final spot will be fought for by rookie Brenden Dillon and offseason signing Aaron Rome, both coming in with good size but both still coming in under Fistric. That leaves two out of their top seven at 6’2″ or taller, with three of their biggest names (Goligoski, Robidas, and Daley) under 6’0″. So with an average defense that will likely feature more puck-moving and stick checking than physical presence, why was the defense not addressed?
It likely is too late to do much now unless the Stars and GM Joe Nieuwendyk are willing to make a splash via a trade, but the defense is essentially going to remain the same going into a new season. Rome replaces Pardy basically and if Dillon shows that he ready this fall (it appears he will) he will take the roster spot left by Souray’s departure. But is that an improvement? Not likely. They finished 15th last season in goals against and for better or worse they will roll out a similar look this season on the back end. Maybe another season together for the top-four will produce better results. Maybe Dillon really is ready to be a big part of a changing team. But maybe the improved forward lines will not be enough if the defense is still undersized and missing the top-line talent. The franchise is growing talent from within, but is this defense good enough and strong enough to get this team back to the playoffs in the loaded West? One thing is for sure, Kari Lehtonen can not continue to be the best player simply for the Stars to just survive some nights with this defense.
Tags: Aaron Rome Alex Goligoski Brenden Dillon Cody Eakin Dallas Stars Derek Roy Jaromir Jagr Joe Nieuwendyk Kari Lehtonen Mark Fistric Mike Ribeiro Philip Larsen Sheldon Souray Stephane Robidas Steve Ott Trevor Daley