Dallas Stars Trading Jamie Oleksiak Makes Defensive Situation More Ideal

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 27: Jamie Oleksiak
CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 27: Jamie Oleksiak /

Jamie Oleksiak packed his bags and headed for Pittsburgh yesterday after the Dallas Stars finalized a trade with the Penguins. It was a smart move for Dallas that will only help their defense down the road.

Jamie Oleksiak is no longer a Dallas Stars defenseman. For a little while there, it seemed as though  those words would never hold truth. Yet now they finally do.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Stars made the announcement that they had traded Oleksiak to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In exchange, they picked up a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Let me start by saying this: I think Jamie Oleksiak has the tools to be a good top-six defenseman in the NHL. But the Dallas Stars never got a chance to see those tools, and that came to be a problem.

When Oleksiak was drafted by Dallas in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, there was a mass of hope for the Dallas defense. Oleksiak, who weighs in at a massive 6-7, 255 pounds, was one of the largest players in Dallas Stars history. Applying his size to a blue line that needed help with physicality was expected to be a perfect combination.

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  • The Big Rig made his debut with the Dallas Stars on February 1, 2013 during the lockout season. One game later, he registered an impressive six hits in a game against Arizona. From there, he was off and running.

    Oleksiak became known primarily for his physicality and ability to use his size to his advantage. He was a hitting machine, could effectively close out offensive rushes by taking out the puck carrier, and was heavy on the back check. No. 5 also had no issue with dropping the gloves and fighting on a regular basis to help create a spark for the team. It also helped when he won a majority of his fights with ease.

    But the hype ended up being short-lived and rather inconsistent. Throughout the last five seasons or so, Oleksiak struggled with making his presence known while in Victory Green.

    From the 2014-15 season to now (280 games worth), the Big Rig started in 140 of them. Within that span, Oleksiak also endured a few reassignments to the Texas Stars.

    Starting in 50 percent of the potential games after multiple seasons in the organization is not ideal for any hockey player. It’s especially not ideal for a first-round pick. This is where the frustration settled in.

    Many of the Dallas Stars faithful began questioning Oleksiak’s worthiness of a roster spot, and were quick to point out his outstanding flaws. The Stars had spent the past few summers renewing Oleksiak on short-term, one-year deals, likely hoping that he would eventually do enough to earn a long-term deal. That never happened, and tensions began to rise.

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    These complaints began to grow and bubble up and overflowed at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.

    As the Stars entered yet another season filled with high expectations, their defense sat murky and unsolved. Their problem was that they had too much talent on the roster. With nine NHL-ready defenders and only six starting spots, some cuts needed to be made.

    Patrik Nemeth’s name was the first one thrown on the chopping block. After an average performance in training camp and the preseason, Nemeth was waived by Dallas. The Colorado Avalanche claimed him and have used him as a reliable starting defender for most of the 2017-18 season.

    That cut things down to eight. The next name tossed out was Oleksiak’s.

    There were a few things that led to these rumblings. His inability to become a consistent starter and outwork one of the other starters in the system was a primary one. But his inconsistent play when in the lineup, somewhat lacking defensive skills, and his inability to play at a solid and competitive level when returning to the lineup after serving as a healthy scratch contributed to it as well.

    Dallas Stars
    Dallas Stars /

    Dallas Stars

    Overall, it seemed as though Oleksiak was never able to find his identity with the Stars. He had his pros and he had his cons, but he never really did anything to overshadow those cons. It just didn’t work out.

    So Stars general manager Jim Nill did what any sensible GM would do: he traded away Oleksiak.

    The trade capped off a two-month long debate for the Stars. Oleksiak and fellow Dallas defender Julius Honka had been interchanged in the lineup for a few months, but neither had proved themselves enough for Ken Hitchcock to make them a full-time starter. But Honka had started in four straight games, and things looked as though they were beginning to lean in favor of no. 6.

    But this trade did more than just settling a debate and giving “Free Honka” supporters victory in their cause. It also opened up a new world of opportunity for the Dallas Stars defense.

    With Oleksiak out of the picture, the Dallas defense is now down to seven players. Once Marc Methot returns from a knee injury, Honka will likely return to the press box and serve as a healthy scratch. He will be prepared to fill in for any potential injuries to the starting six. But in order to get him playing time, there may also be an opportunity to rotate him with another starting defender, like Stephen Johns for example.

    It also gives hope to the growing corps of young Dallas defensemen. Names like Gavin Bayreuther, Dillon Heatherington, and even Miro Heiskanen who are proving themselves in minor league play now have a chance to move up a notch.

    For the past few years, the Stars have been putting their hope, time and efforts into both Oleksiak and Nemeth. This year, there was simply too much for their patience to bear.

    The NHL is a business and requires a constant pace. There is no time to sit around and wait for something to happen. The Stars learned that lesson with Oleksiak.

    There is a chance that Oleksiak will go to Pittsburgh and turn into a top-four defenseman using his size, reach, and physicality. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery or a new defensive scheme.

    But for the Dallas Stars, they made the best move for their team currently and for their future. It was time to abandon the Oleksiak experiment and give the younger defenders a brighter outlook.

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    The Stars are moving on to bigger and brighter things on the blue line. That much is guaranteed. Goodbye and good luck, Big Rig.