Indecisive, ineffective, and inconsistent.
These were a few of the words being thrown around regarding the play of Alex Goligoski through the first quarter of the season. The 27 year old defenseman acquired by the Stars in a still-divisive trade was supposed to be the puck-moving, top-pairing defenseman the team has desperately searched for since the departure and retirement of Sergei Zubov. Goligoski has taken his fair share of criticism and then some, but the light at the end of the tunnel is within reach.
Just over two years ago, the Dallas Stars sent James Neal and Matt Niskanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Alex Goligoski. The trade payed dividends for the Stars quickly, with Goligoski scoring 5 goals and 15 points in the 23 games he played for the Stars after the trade, with James Neal scoring just 1 goal in the 20 games he played for the Penguins.
The 2011-2012 season added a new, less flattering narrative. Battling an injury in the early part of the season, Goligoski struggled with staying healthy and staying consistent. He appeared in 71 games and scored 9 goals and 30 points, but James Neal’s 40 goals and 40 assists with Pittsburgh dwarfed Goligoski’s numbers and, in addition to Matt Niksanen’s increased role and production, the trade began to appear lopsided in the Penguin’s favor.
The 2012-2013 season didn’t start much better. He again struggled to play consistent, high-quality defense and couldn’t find his scoring touch.
The decision was made purely based on Goligoski’s play, which simply hadn’t been good enough. The Stars, who have been relying on rookie defensemen like Brenden Dillon, Jordie Benn, and Jamie Oleksiak to make an impact day in and day out at the NHL level, needed a veteran like Goligoski to play at the top of his game and they weren’t getting it.
Fortunately, the message seems to have been heard by Alex Goligoski. In his first game back after the scratch, Goligoski had two assists and has been playing at a noticeably higher level. Goligoski then turned in his best performance of the season in a crucial divisional tilt versus the San Jose Sharks on February 23rd, assisting on Michael Ryder’s game winner, making a crucial keep at the blueline, directly leading to the goal:
He added an assist on Jamie Benn’s dagger late in the third period as well:
Alex Goligoski had a rough start to this abbreviated season, where every mistake is magnified two-fold, but with time and confidence, he can prove himself to still be the player they traded for. His eight assists lead the Stars defense and while he’s still looking for his first goal, it isn’t for a lack of trying. His 35 shots lead all defensemen and is tied for fourth on the team.
He’s an important and significant piece of this rebuilding Stars team and they simply cannot afford for him to be struggling. Stephane Robidas, for all the grit and leadership he brings to the Stars blueline, will likely not be apart of the team past next season.
It’s players like Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley who will be responsible for leading a defense corps that is stacked with promising young talent into the future. The Dallas Stars aren’t far off from being a consistent playoff team and Alex Goligoski will be absolutely essential if they want to return to the promised land.