Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Stars outlook: Defensemen
By Mark Stepneski
The Dallas Stars defense has been considered a weak link by many over the last couple of years, but GM Joe Nieuwendyk conducted a significant overhaul of the blue line by bringing in three new defenseman over the last six-and-a-half months.
His first move was the acquisition of Alex Goligoski from Pittsburgh for left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen prior to last season’s trade deadline. Goligoski gave the Stars a skilled, puck moving defenseman and he didn’t disappoint. In 23 games with the Stars last season he registered 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) while averaging 26:04 of ice time.
“I think that’s been a focus for us is to improve our defense. Going back to the Goligoski trade, I think that was a very important trade for us,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s going to take – if he didn’t already have a prominent role – he’s certainly going to take one this year. But now we’ve added some size.”
That size came via free agency. One addition was veteran Sheldon Souray (6-4, 233 pounds), who played in the AHL last season and has been plagued by injuries the last couple seasons. Some might see it as a risky move, but Nieuwendyk doesn’t
“Souray to me is not a gamble. I think we are getting a real motivated player,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s an NHL player and plays with that edge that I like and I think that maybe we’ve lacked a little bit on our backend. He’s not fun to play against.
“On the other side, if he can develop some chemistry with (Mike) Ribeiro or Goligoski on that power play, we’ll have a weapon back there that we haven’t had for a few years either.”
The other addition was Adam Pardy (6-2, 220 pounds). He was slowed by injury last season, but the Stars think there is a lot of upside to the former Calgary Flame.
“Adam Pardy is a guy a lot people won’t know a lot about. I know even before my time in Dallas, even with the organizations I had been with, there was a lot of talk about keeping an eye on this kid because he was an up and comer,” Nieuwendyk said. “We think his mobility and his size are going to be a big asset for us.”
One of the goals this season is for the Stars defense to play a harder, more physical game and Nieuwendyk said some of the offseason moves will pave the way guys Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric to do just that.
“I think with the addition of two more big bodies back there with Souray and Pardy and the additions of big bodies up front with Eric Godard and Jake Dowell, and Krys Barch, we’ve toughened up our team at both ends,” said Nieuwendyk. “And I think that’s going to allow guys like Fistric and Grossman to really play physical and feel comfortable doing it.”
With Goligoski, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley the Stars also have a strong group of mobile, puck moving defensemen. Robidas has been a rock on the Dallas blue line over the years. Although Daley will be 28 at the start of the season and playing in his seventh full NHL season, Nieuwendyk said there is still some untapped potential.
“He just has too many good tools to not be able to do more. I think this is going to be a big year for him,”
Nieuwendyk said. “Our defense is shaping up sort of the way I would like to see it in today’s NHL. You look at Chicago’s success and Detroit’s success over the years and you have defenseman that can move the puck and handle the puck and make plays. We’re getting that way with Goligoski and Robidas and Trevor is an important part of that. I think he is going to take a big step this year.”
With the changes in personnel – like at the forward position – there will be some work to be done on how the pieces fit together. Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan said training camp and the preseason will be a time to try some different pairings.
“I know that Robi and Souray have played together in Montreal. Robi and Gross have played good together here. Who is a great complement for Goose and Dales as both are skating, puck moving guys?” Gulutzan said. “I think that will be mixed and matched a little bit too because you just don’t know what clicks. I’m sure the defensemen won’t know. The defensemen losing their partners won’t know exactly. With (Jeff) Woywitka not here with Dales, I am sure Dales is ready to try something new.”
Gulutzan also expects a competitive camp with the Stars having seven NHL defenseman under one-way contracts.
“Who is the clear cut seventh? I don’t think we have one, which is great for depth,” Gulutzan said. “There’s going to be some inner competition there for guys to elevate their games.”
Pushing for NHL time
Gulutzan said the Stars believe they have some good depth below those top seven defensemen. Veteran Brad Lukowich has 658 NHL games under his belt. Highly regarded prospect Philip Larsen has seen NHL duty each of the last two seasons. AHL veteran Maxime Fortunus played eight games for Dallas in 2009-10. And Brenden Dillon, a free agent signing out of Seattle of the WHL, was impressive with Texas of the AHL last season and is another highly regarded prospect.
“There are those four guy and outside of Lukowich, who is going to anchor that ship down in Austin, those three guys – Fortunus, Dillon and Larsen – are coming in to make a statement to stay here,” said Gulutzan. “We feel in our organization we have pretty good depth.”