As the name of a classic American television and radio program suggests, Father Knows Best.
Jim Nill, in the case of the Dallas Stars, would be the father, and at this point people should probably give him the benefit of the doubt for the decisions that he makes.
The wily Stars general manager received quite a lot of flak, mostly from the NHL analytics community, for his move on trade deadline day that sent young defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, prospect Brett Pollock and a high conditional draft pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for veteran defender Kris Russell. While Russell had been a controversial topic of conversation before he was even traded, it’s safe to say right now that the Stars are lucky that they decided to actually roll the dice and pull that trigger.
Russell has become an immediate impact player in Dallas, averaging 23:39 over the four games that he’s played with the team thus far. The other numbers from those four games have been mixed (two assists, but a minus two rating and a 47.3 CF%), but watch him out on the ice and it’s easy to see that his quick skating and decision-making are a perfect fit for the system that the Stars employ.
“He can play the minutes, and I think his mobility and his puck moving is something that can help us,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I’ve been really impressed so far.”
The Stars had been trying to perform a delicate juggling act since the start of the year, rotating a trio of young defenders – Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, and the newly-traded Jokipakka – in and out of the team’s game day rosters, but none of the three had been able to step up and truly establish themselves as secure options to play big minutes for the club. Russell, right off the bat, hasn’t looked out of place doing exactly that, giving Dallas another option on the back end that’s capable of playing an essential role.
The timing couldn’t possibly be better, either, as in a weird bit of serendipity the Stars have suffered a series of injuries on their blueline lately, further cementing just how important the Russell trade is. John Klingberg and Jordie Benn have each been out for a few games and could miss a few more, while Jason Demers was hurt during Tuesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens and could be out for the remainder of the season. With the Stars looking to make some serious noise in this year’s playoffs it’s looking more and more likely that Russell will be an important part of that attempt.
While Nill never could have predicted things to shake out this way, adding a veteran player to a position of weakness to provide depth for the playoffs is a strategy that’s been around the NHL for ages. But few could have expected that Russell would become this important for the Stars, this soon. Well…except Nill, that is.