It’s completely plausible that the Dallas Stars could, in their current defensive incarnation, be a playoff team. Led by veterans like Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, and Alex Goligoski and bolstered by the emergence of rookie Brenden Dillon, along with the fabulous performance of goaltender Kari Lehtonen, the Stars certainly aren’t terrible. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the Stars are rolling out a defense corps that features a rookie on every single pair (the aforementioned Dillon, Jamie Oleksiak, and Jordie Benn).
While Dillon has been a solid fixture on the Stars number one pair along with Robidas, Oleksiak and Benn’s experience has been much rougher. They’ve been called up and sent down between Dallas and Austin multiple times and it’s obvious they have struggled to adjust to the NHL game.
The Stars have other options, but this has been the lineup they have had to roll out while Philip Larsen and Aaron Rome have been out with injuries. But even when Rome and Larsen have been healthy, they too have struggled to find a consistent spot on the ice. Yes, the Dallas Stars could make the playoffs, but can they expect to make a deep playoff run with this defense? Not likely, but crazier things have happened.
While Jordie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak will undoubtedly grow and perform better with time (Oleksiak in particular has shown increased confidence in the last few games), it’s apparent that the addition of a veteran defenseman and the demotion of a rookie defenseman to the AHL would be mutually beneficial. The Dallas Stars would gain some much needed consistency and whichever player is sent down, likely one of Benn or Oleksiak, would return to playing top pair minutes in all situations for a Texas Stars team destined for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Who’s For Sale? Is It Even Worth It?
It’s hard enough finding a team that’s willing to give up a tried and true defensive asset, it’s a whole other beast trying to acquire said asset.
If the Stars are going to try and make an upgrade on defense, it has to be more than a rental. Stephane Robidas, who has served as the de facto number one defenseman for the Dallas Stars since Sergei Zubov’s health and age caught up with him, has just one year left on his contract. Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are on long term contracts and Aaron Rome will remain as a depth option through the 2014-2015 season, but other than that, the Stars current defense consists entirely of players under the age of 25. All of which, save for Philip Larsen, are in their rookie season.
Now, this certainly bodes well for the future. The Dallas Stars have a remarkably deep system filled with talented and promising prospects that only continues to get better. But what about the present? Do the Stars simply ride out the season, and the playoffs should they qualify, with their current defense or do they go out and make an upgrade?
If a trade does come to fruition, who could the Stars target?
There’s the usual suspects, who’s names have been floated around the media for various reasons. Jay Bouwmeester, he of the flailing Calgary Flames, is rumored to be available. Of course, Bouwmeester, despite being the epitome of a consistent hockey player (he hasn’t missed a game since the 2005-2006 season), is lambasted due to his massive $6.68 million cap hit.
If Calgary does decide to move Bouwmeester, Jarome Iginla likely wouldn’t be far behind. It would signal the long-awaited rebuild in Calgary, and General Manager Jay Feaster will be seeking a hefty price for two of his top players.
There’s Tyler Myers, of the similarly flailing Buffalo Sabres, who is struggling in the first year of his 7 year, $38.5 million contract. It’d take true desperation for a player of that caliber to be traded after struggling for just half a season. But if it came to pass, would the talented 23 year old find new life in the state of his birth?
Or perhaps the Stars are seeking to pry away a defenseman from the Boston Bruins, a team heavily rumored to be interested in Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow.
The list goes on and on with defenseman rumored to be on the trading block, but one thing is clear: If General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk is seeking to acquire a defenseman who can play in a top 4 role with the Stars, it’s going to be costly. The Dallas Stars don’t necessarily have the making of a so-called ‘buyer’ in the trade market, as they’re currently fighting to remain in a playoff spot, but such a transaction would have to be about more than just this season. It has to be about the future of the team.
What if Alex Goligoski continues to struggle? Of what if he simply never lives up to the potential that was expected of him when the Stars traded away James Neal and Matt Niskanen? Brenden Dillon is quickly turning himself into one of the Stars top defenseman, but he can’t do it alone.
The Dallas Stars have two options: Wait on the rookies, let them continue to develop and rely on goaltending and offense to make up where the defense might fall short; or acquire a veteran defenseman for both the present and the future, risking the price it may cost to acquire such a defenseman. Each option comes with its own pros and cons. Which one will it be? We’ll see soon enough.