Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill is likely to get at least a few offers for disgruntled defenseman Julius Honka. After all, many teams are in need of a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman. A lack of demand is not the problem. What is, however, is how the Stars are one of them.
Honka’s Star Has Fallen
Obviously, Honka does not have an extensive NHL resume at this stage, even as a soon-to-be 24-year-old. That presents multiple problems for Nill, seeing as Honka was healthy-scratched for the Stars’ final 35 regular-season games and didn’t see any playoff action. As a result, the Stars don’t exactly know what they have in the 2014 first-round pick, who only has a total of 87 NHL games under his belt. Nor is his value exactly at an all-time high.
So, the solution should be clear: Play him.
It’s admittedly not always that simple. However, it shouldn’t exactly be a brain buster when there are arguably only four NHL-caliber right-side defensemen on your roster during into training camp, excluding Honka who remains unsigned.
Granted, one of those defensemen is John Klingberg, who’s a thoroughbred through and through. Honka has no real shot at usurping him on the depth chart, regardless of how much ice time head coach Jim Montgomery gives him. From there on out, it’s relative slim pickings, though.
Honka Compared to Other Stars Defensemen
One of those other defensemen, Stephen Johns, won’t be participating in training camp after missing all of last season with post-traumatic headaches. Another, Roman Polak, while valuable from a defensive standpoint, is not only on the wrong side of 30 at age 33, but a remnant of a supposedly bygone era where teams were resigned to being pinned down in their own zones at times instead of trying to keep the puck in their opponents’.
Then there’s Andrej Sekera. The Stars signed him to a team-friendly, one-year deal after he was bought out by the Edmonton Oilers, which should tell you all you need to know. Sekera, whose mobility should be an area of concern after a series of lower-body injuries limited him to 60 games over the last two seasons, was no longer seen as a viable defensive option by the Oilers of all teams. That’s kind of like getting kicked out of Mensa for being too smart… only at the opposite end of the spectrum.
In any case, the point is Honka could theoretically overtake any of those guys on the Stars’ depth chart on the right side. It’s especially true with regard to Sekera, even if only due to the fact that the veteran can also play on the left side, which is also potentially troublesome beyond stalwarts Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell.
Honka vs. Oleksiak
Ironically, Jamie Oleksiak projects as the potential third-pairing guy there, which is enough to give a guy flashbacks. Before Honka, Oleksiak was just the latest first-round pick not to work out for the Stars. Oleksiak was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins two seasons ago after failing to find his niche as a Star after six seasons in the organization. Honka is entering his sixth season now.
Of course, Oleksiak was re-acquired once it became obvious the Stars had a use for a mobile, 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman after all. Really? The situation is humiliating enough due in part to the price tag being the same 2019 fourth-round pick the Penguins gave up initially. However, what’s most embarrassing is how Oleksiak is seemingly destined to remain buried on the Stars’ depth chart as yet another failed first rounder.
Sure, Heiskanen is both the exception and undeniably exceptional, but it’s exceedingly difficult to screw up a third-overall pick. Going back from his 2017 draft year, the Stars have failed to hit a home run on a first-rounder since, maybe, 2005 when they selected Matt Niskanen at No. 28 overall. You’d have to go all the way back to 1997 when they got Brenden Morrow at No. 25 overall for the last legitimate home-grown franchise player.
Stars Share Some Responsibility
That’s not just embarrassing. It’s systemic failure, and, now, if they give up on Honka, the Stars will have failed again. There’s every reason to believe Honka is a bust, but until he’s played regularly the Stars won’t know for sure. If he is, so be it. Trade him. However, if that turns out to be the case, Honka won’t just be a bust, but another bust. However way you slice it, the Stars need to take some responsibility here and change the way they operate.
This isn’t only on Nill, who was hired ahead of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. However, he does have a responsibility to act in the best interest of Stars. Not only would it be a bad look on the franchise to give in to a player’s trade demands, but the only real reason to trade Honka at this point would be out of the player’s best interests, to do him a favor. If all Honka is seeking is a chance, why not actually give him one with the Stars?
Based on Honka’s lack of success so far, Nill would only be negotiating from a position of weakness anyway. So, it makes little sense to give up Honka when the Stars would be getting little in return. It makes perfect sense to actually keep him in the fold, add more mobility to the back-end, and try to turn it into more of a position of strength. Problem solved.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.