Puzzled Piece: Assembling the Stars defense for optimal output

I'm puzzled for this piece, get it? The current assortment of defensemen is befuddling and counterintuitive of the Tanev acquisition. What writing is on the wall for the team as they gear up for playoff and how can we overreact to what's written on said walls?

Dallas Stars v Montreal Canadiens
Dallas Stars v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Seeing the Stars blow a three-goal lead after a five-game winning streak is a tough pill to swallow. The Star players excelled through two periods, and fans were catching a glimpse of the team’s capabilities when firing on all cylinders. After a few key material breakdowns, the Stars' lead was gone, and postgame reflections began to set in. To that end, I find myself staring at the lines as they’re assorted and questioning the decisions made by the coaching staff. 

After the Chris Tanev trade, Gary Bettman was supposed to walk to Dallas and give the Stars the Stanley Cup, it was the only thing they were missing! At least, that’s how it felt when the team sacrificed little to shore up the weak spots of their defensive right. However, the thing about making up for those weak spots is that you also need to remove them for the strength to be realized. Keeping Jani Hakanpaa in the lineup beneath Tanev anchors them from new heights their defense could reach.

Tanev was brought in to block shots and dissolve offense, which is vital to a potent penalty kill. If Hakanpaa remains with Lindell on the top PK pair, why would the Stars trade for a PK specialist? Additionally, addressing Lindell, I’m dubious about pairing him with Tanev at even strength. With Harley and Heiskanen on the top pair, that’s two puck-moving defensemen on the top pair with 0 on the second. The only silver lining of Suter-Hakanpaa as a third line is both have distinct roles. 

The point of acquiring a top 4 RD, in Tanev, was to eliminate the prospect of forcing one of the talented lefties to their off-hand side. Ideally, the top four are rounded out to Heiskanen-Tanev & Harley-Lindell, or swap Lindell & Tanev to get similar results. The only lefty that grades out better playing on the right side is Lindell, as his pairings with Heiskanen & Harley have yielded expected goal percentages of 67.6% and 67.1%, respectively (the highest on the team by 5% each). The top four are evident but need to be reimagined, unlike the last pair.

Jani Hakanpaa
Dallas Stars v Toronto Maple Leafs / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

You thought I was done grilling Jani Hakanpaa? Guess again. The ire of Stars Twitter has been cast on the 6’6” Fin as he’s been slowly outed as a penalty kill pylon that makes Ryan Suter look like Roman Josi as a puck-handler. Unable to exit the o-zone, get past neutral ice, or carry the puck any length has reduced his role to two things: a) be large and b) get in the passing lanes since you can’t defend the rush. There’s only one reasonable explanation as to why he's playing over the Nils Lundvkist “I can’t play you because I don’t trust you” developmental paradox, he's serving as a placeholder.

While I stare over the shoulder of someone I perceive is making the wrong move, I also recognize that hockey coaches and GMs have more elaborate plans than I do. If the Stars want Suter playing with a big-bodied partner, perhaps they’re prepping him for a Bichsel call-up come playoff time (a la Thomas Harley 2023). It would hinge more on DeBoer’s trust than NHL readiness since you can’t coach 6’5”, and he’ll have to pick what weakness he wants the team’s weakest link to have. Lundkvist grades out well alongside Suter as well, but it wouldn’t be a Dallas Stars season if there wasn’t a prospect in the coach’s doghouse. 

Once Hakanpaa is replaced, whether it be by Bichsel or Lundkvist, the top PK unit will demand Tanev’s presence. At this point, it will be more functional to operate with Lindell once they have a certain level of chemistry established. This explains why they are currently being deployed together, instead of assigning one of them to the offensive powerhouses that are Heiskanen & Harley. With the even distribution of talent and skill for optimal usage, the Stars’ defense core will restore its strength and form a Cup-worthy group. 

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