If you can’t beat them with quality, why not try beating them with quantity?
That appears to be the same sort of thinking that the Dallas Stars, under the guidance of general manager Jim Nill, are going to be taking with their blueline next season.
It’s no secret that the defense was one of the biggest areas of weakness on the Stars last season. Dallas was 27th in the NHL in terms of goals against last season, and while much of that blame falls on Kari Lehtonen and a career-worst .903 save percentage, the Stars were also 19th in shots allowed, showing that the team in front of him was still below-average.
When looking at the team’s group of defenders on paper, this shouldn’t have really been a surprising outcome. Rookie John Klingberg was a revelation, but he’s an offensive-defenseman first and foremost. The team’s top veteran defenseman was Alex Goligoski, and although he’s more than capable of defending his own zone, his focus is more on two-way play instead of shutting down other teams. The same can be said about another vet in Trevor Daley, although Daley was significantly worse than Goligoski at preventing scoring chances. Jordie Benn and Jason Demers were solid puck possession players, quietly two of the better blueliners in the league, but far from superstars. Beyond them? A trio of rookies in Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak.
It’s not a terrible group, really, but as can be seen, there’s a notable lack of star power. No Duncan Keith. No Drew Doughty. No Shea Weber. Nobody close to that level.
The problem is, how does a team fix this? The Stars would probably love to add a defender of that caliber, but then again, so would roughly 90% of the other teams in the league, and when teams have a player like that they’re usually not very willing to move them.
So, as I alluded to at the start of this article, the Stars appear to be taking a different route.
The team recently signed veteran Johnny Oduya, who is coming fresh off of his second Stanley Cup championship with the Chicago Blackhawks this spring. Although Oduya isn’t a Keith or a Doughty, he’s a steady, reliable solider, and gives the Stars something else aside from star power: depth.
With Oduya added the Stars are now back up to eight defensemen (Daley was traded in early July as part of the Patrick Sharp deal). While there was some speculation that Dallas might try to make another move or two to alleviate the perceived logjam a bit and shorten themselves down to seven defenders, that appears to not be the case, according to Nill.
“We are set up that we can run eight defenseman. It’s not an issue at all. It’s a long year,” Nill said recently. “When we started putting our team together for next year we knew we’d probably have eight defenseman. With the travel and injuries, I think the more defenseman you have, the better.”
It’s a bit of an unconventional way of going about things, but the rationale behind it makes sense.
The veterans, Goligoski, Oduya, Benn and Demers, should be able to adequately fulfill their roles and log a lot of minutes. Klingberg, one would imagine, will build upon a stellar rookie season and continue to grow into one of the league’s top young defensemen. And with Nemeth, Jokipakka and Oleksiak not only are all three young and improving, growing more and more ready to take on bigger roles on the team, but the Stars will have the luxury of being able to dress whoever’s playing the best at any given time.
With so many defenders in the fold it seems entirely unlikely that the team will be forced to play someone that’s struggling, or injured, or not ready for significant minutes at the NHL level. And when you have a team that can score in bunches like the Stars can, getting consistent, average defending should be more than enough on most nights.
Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but it’s going to be one of, if not the biggest, Dallas storylines to follow this upcoming season.