The Dallas Stars spent the early July part of their offseason beefing up their offensive arsenal by the additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. They also added on a skilled backup goalie in Anders Lindback, who will fill the void that the Stars have struggled with over the past few years.
But the thing that surprised almost every Stars fan was Jim Nill’s choice to stay mute and irrelevant in the defensive free agent category. With names like Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Christian Ehrhoff entering and exiting the pool without Nill even attempting to reach out to them, many worried that he forgot about the Stars defense and their struggles in the past season.
The Stars defense had a lacking and downright disappointing season. Though they finished 16th in goals against on the year, which is average, their internal problems went unseen in regards to statistics. They constantly turned pucks over in the zone, handed over free breakaways, and were never able to consistently hold the blue line in the offensive zone. So, with no new additions and basically the exact same lineup returning for next year, everyone has acquired the assumption that the Stars blue line will hold back the team’s possible success next year.
But this new defense will succeed.
The Stars lost no significant defenseman over the offseason, and will be returning ALL six starters from the postseason last year.
Jordie Benn will be starting up his second FULL season with the Dallas Stars organization, and had a premiere season you could only expect from a rookie. Benn, who just turned 27, performed well in his first full year with the Dallas Stars, ending his season with 3 goals and 17 assists in 78 games. Benn paved his own way in the postseason as well, finding 3 assists throughout 6 games started. Mainly being paired with the struggling Gonchar or Dillon could have held him down, but he made sure to always perform at his best. Benn has magnificently updated his skillset since he started the majority of his career as a part time blue line server during the lockout season of 2013 and will improve even more in the years to come.
Sergei Gonchar is the Stars oldest player and is setting up to serve his second season with the Stars, which also turns out to be the last year of his contract. He may be looking forward to retirement in one year, but his last year needs to be a good one, especially after a poor performance in his first year as a Star. Gonchar, who recently hit age 40, had one of his worst showings since he joined the league 19 seasons ago. He tallied a team-low 2 goals and only 20 assists thorough 76 games. His postseason stats were even less attractive, going in and coming out with 0 goals and 0 assists and only a -3 rating to show for his six game appearance. With an offseason full of Stars fans hoping for a buyout or trade that never happened, he needs a stellar year to help his career to go out with a BANG. Look for an increase in effort and strong finish as a veteran leader.
Brenden Dillon is a bit of a stretch. Jim Nill has made it public that the Stars organization has already offered a new contract to Dillon, who is currently an RFA. Dillon, 23, has not responded, but is expected to. Dillon has now played two full seasons with the Dallas Stars, but his numbers have not been able to back up how elite of a young talent he truly is. Dillon played all except the last two regular season games, and ended up with 6 goals and 11 assists. His playoffs were cut short by four games with an injury, but in his two performances, nothing showed up except a -2 rating. Some wanted to get rid of Dillon for a more experienced, two-way defenseman to take his place. But with that not happening, Dillon will have a chance to prove those people wrong in the first place. He is by far the Stars most physical blue-liner, and knows how to use his colossal frame. Expect a major burst from him in the coming year.
Alex Goligoski had a decent year in the stat column, but not so much during the in-game performances. Goligoski, 28, has seen some of his best days back when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his more recent days in the past 4 seasons with the Dallas Stars have not been as impressive. Goligoski pulled off 6 goals this past season and 36 assists, which turned out to be a career high in that category, in 81 games, but couldn’t figure out how to play consistently. Goligoski constantly gave away pucks and let an offensive attack maul the blue line, which led to an onslaught of negative opinions and hopes of a trade from Stars fanatics. He turned it around towards the end and came out of the postseason with 1 goal and 3 assists, which turned many people’s opinions around. Goligoski performs very well when paired with Trevor Daley, so expect that to be the Stars consistent defensive pair in the upcoming season.
Trevor Daley is the longest tenured Stars player on the team at the moment, and was the only player on the current roster that was with the organization in their last playoff run. He had a good year and one you would expect from a veteran. Daley, 30, pulled off 9 goals and 16 assists in 67 games, with only one long absence during a lower-body injury in December. His postseason performance was above average, scoring 2 goals and tallying 3 assists. Daley led Dallas’ defensemen in goals during both periods. Plain and simple, he is the Stars most reliable and consistent defenseman.
So that leaves five defensemen and one open void. The opportunities are endless for who this sixth defenseman will be:
Kevin Connauton is a young blue-liner who has spent his past few seasons in the Stars farm system. He filled the injury void this past season, and ended up playing through 36 games and tallying 1 goal and 7 points. He is an on-and-off player that is not entirely reliable. Some enjoy his play, but throughout the various polls I have put out, it seems as though most are not looking forward to seeing him take a starting spot.
Patrik Nemeth is the second top candidate, and will look to fight for the starting gig as well. Nemeth started for the Stars defense in all six of their playoff games and performed extremely well. Many enjoy his style of play as well as his physicality and want to see him starting next year with a full-time roster spot, including myself. Nemeth has proven his play in the AHL, especially in the Texas Stars’ most recent Calder Cup run, and is on his way to becoming an elite player.
Maxime Fortunus, Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak, and Cameron Gaunce are all valid choices as well. So, as you can see, it’s a bit of a mess, but training camp and the preseason will help clear the entire mess up.
But this post was to help you to think on the positive side about the Stars blue line. It won’t be as horrible as you might think, and the Stars should see a massive upgrade next year in all arsenals. It may take a few years to completely fire on all cylinders, but in the meantime it will still succeed.
Who do you want to see as the Stars’ sixth man?
Comments and questions below, and as always I appreciate you taking the time to read! Go Stars.