Good morning, Stars fans. It’s the weekend, and I thought I would help start your two-day break with the second part of my three part series. In the first part, I told of the fortunes that lay in the Stars near future regarding the department of offense. But, on a more humbled note today, the defense is a completely different story and that is one of the main reasons why I said that the offense may need to do some carrying next year.
But no matter, here’s part two: the defense.
Are The Stars The Team To Beat Next Year? The Defense:
The Dallas Stars 2014-2015 defensive group. The ultimate myth. The great unknown. The elusive question. The undetermined outcome. What will it look like come next year? Well, here’s a projection that could be worth something:
The clicking of the first line:
The Dallas Stars will at least have one positive on their defense. Even if the other two lines are tangled up and unmistakably lost, they will have one ace in the hole: their first line.
Goligoski started out his second straight season in a slump, just simply trying to find his feet. After the ninth game of the season, he was sitting on a -10 +/- rating and no points accumulated whatsoever. So, with Ruff seeing the struggle occurring, he jumbled the defensive pairs and pulled Goligoski towards Trevor Daley, and thus commenced the beginning of the Stars new blue line powerhouse. Goligoski turned up 6 goals and 36 assists throughout the regular season and completed with a +9 rating. Even though his stats spoke for themselves, Goligoski became the target of many Stars fans as the new trade bait last March right before the NHL trade deadline.
Goligoski had a hokey-pokey year, though, and we didn’t know which Alex would be suiting up on a given night: the point hog Alex or the turnover-happy Alex. He constantly turned the pucks over in the Stars zone which sometimes would lead to a quick goal for a lucky opposing player. This, as you know, frustrated many a fan even to the point of booing. So Goligoski is a risky player to keep on your team. Case closed. But nonetheless, he’ll still be taking part in the first line duties because of how he meshes with Trevor Daley.
Trevor Daley is the Stars leader on defense. Daley is currently the longest serving player on the entire Stars team, and has been touring since ’04. Daley is the Stars most offensive-minded defenseman, contrary to Goligoski who likes to stick to the blue line, and has no trouble in taking a puck to the net when he can for the quick score. Daley ended his year with 9 goals and 16 assists through 67 games played, with only one long-term injury that benched him back in December. He also pulled out a +10, which was largely due to his partnership with Goligoski. Daley is the Stars most skilled defenseman and proves it on the ice in each game. He will be plotted on the first line come next year with his partner-in-crime once again.
The youngness of the second line:
Brenden Dillon is a gamble. First of all, he is currently not a full-time employee of the Stars, as a new contract between the two parties has not been negotiated yet. But if one does follow through, as most are expecting it to, then Dillon will be placed on this line. Dillon had an average season this past year and really found himself struggling down the stretch. He ended his second year in the league with a measly 6 goals and 11 assists, but still held on to a +9 rating. He was torn down by an injury and missed the first four playoff games, before coming back for Games 5 & 6 and looking utterly lost during his time on the ice. But his best skill is his physicality, which always lingers on the ice and something which he could pull at any second. When he is with Benn though, they seem to have a special connection and with Benn’s skill and Dillon’s physical presence, the two make quite the pair when on the ice.
Jordie Benn performed pretty decently for his first FULL season as a member of the Dallas Stars. He registered 3 goals and 17 assists with an astounding +16 rating. He loves to move the puck around and very rarely wastes it on a turnover. He dug up 3 assists in the postseason as well. But with his bright future and his ability to produce while next to Dillon, these two should make a strong yet not fully matured second line for the Stars next year.
The obliviousness of the third line:
So the third line, this seems to be the stumping question for everyone. So, with Sergei Gonchar still lurking in Big D and no trade or buyout looking imminent, it seems as though Gonchar will be placed on the third line for what looks to be the last year of his career. But who is going to be serving next to Gonchar? The world may never know.
Sergei Gonchar had a train-wreck of a season and sent many Stars fans into an uproar. After many hoped that he would be the veteran leader that the Stars jigsaw of a defense needed, Gonchar turned out to be gasoline to the fire. He spent most of his season looking like he was a rookie and finished his season with 2 goals and 20 assists, in which a 0 point playoff performance soon followed. This sent fans into an uproar, demanding that Gonchar be sent out and banished from Dallas forever. But, what they didn’t take into account is that it’s a little difficult to get rid of a geezer with no more stats to prove himself and a big bucks contract. So it looks as though Gonchar will stick around for another year and will most likely fit into the third line to try and coach up whichever youngling finds his way up on the roster first.
So who is the sixth and final man to tag along with Gonchar? With Nill keeping his hand down and staying silent as all the free agent defensemen made their way to new homes, the Stars are going to have to turn to Austin to find themselves a new blue-liner. So who’s got the stuff? There are a few choices:
Kevin Connauton, who as we all know spent a portion of his season playing for the Stars, mainly alternating with Aaron Rome for an injured defenseman’s position. Connauton had 1 goal and 7 assists through 36 games, and looks as though he has a promising future ahead of him. He is the most likely candidate for the job at the current moment.
Patrik Nemeth, who spent the entire postseason with the Stars, as well as playing a major role in the Texas Stars Calder Cup run. He proved himself with Dallas playoff run after being a shot in the dark choice by Lindy Ruff that many didn’t expect. Nemeth has a good chance at the spot as well.
Jamie Oleksiak and Cameron Gaunce. These two filled in for a couple games last year when injuries struck, and both played average. Both went pointless in their short expeditions in Big D last year. Look for both to play the same role as last year.
The miscellaneous of names, including Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg, and Maxime Fortunus. These three performed exceptionally for the Texas Stars in their postseason run. All three are being talked about for the Stars sixth position, but don’t count on any of them snagging the primetime spot.
Nonetheless, all the defenders mentioned above will definitely get their shot at training camp and prove what they’re made of.
The bottom line:
The Stars 2014-2015 early defense grade: C+
Yep. It’s not pretty. The reason that’s the grade they’re getting is because of the uncertainty of who is going to be starting next year mixed with the average age and experience in the group and the ailing performance that most of these players put up last year when they started, all adds up.
It might not be pretty next year in the defensive arsenal. But the Stars and the fans are going to have to be patient and the young ones might even surprise us. But Jim Nill must really believe in those young guys if he’s willing to sacrifice all the big name defenders that were sticking out on the market earlier this month. But we’ll just have to wait and see. The Stars have not seen a decent defense since probably 2008 when they last saw the postseason before this year, will this be the year? It’s too early to call, but we just have to hope it will be better than last year.
The third and final part of this series will be up soon on goaltenders. Stay positive for next season. It’s promising to be an interesting one.
Comments and questions below and Go Stars.