The Numbers Behind the Numbers: The Dallas Stars Bottom Six
If and when Dallas brings in capable checkers, look for Benn and Eriksson to see zone start rates closer to 55%. More offensive zone starts means more chances to score, which in turn leads to an increase in production.
Based on where things stand right now, I’d say these combinations could be seen on opening night (whenever that may be).
Brenden Morrow – Cody Eakin – Tomas Vincour
Eric Nystrom – Verne Fiddler – Ryan Garbutt
Vincour was given pretty easy minutes in 2011-12, but he was able to generate offense consistently. Morrow isn’t a top six forward at this stage of his career, but his leadership and intangibles will be invaluable to the young Stars. Eakin is the wildcard here – he projects as an elite checking center in the NHL, but how close is he to getting there?
He plays like Zach Parise. He isn’t as skilled as the former Devil, but he has an unbelievable work ethic to go along with great instincts and a well-rounded offensive skill set. Gaglardi is a huge fan of the WHL and I’m not surprised the Stars are going to be infused with a lot of WHL guys in coming years – Eakin, Benn, Dillon, Vincour, Fistric, Matt Fraser, and so on.
Eakin played 30 games for Washington last year. He was given relatively easy minutes there (a 51.6% offensive zone start rate and a Corsi Rel QoC of -0.403, the second lowest among all Washington forwards who suited up for at least 30 games). To say Eakin is ready to play a shutdown role would be premature, at best. However, he can’t do any worse in the role than Fiddler did last season.
Fiddler and Nystrom are much better suited for a fourth line role – they will still be able to contribute offensively, but they’ll have less defensive responsibilities.
Wandell is a wildcard here, too. Wandell has shown himself to be a very solid NHL forward at times. Conversely, he has had stretches were he looks completely lost. The Stars didn’t trust him against top competition last year, but he did perform well in a sheltered role (much like Vincour). If Derek Roy’s injury lingers on, or Eakin struggles in a checking role, Wandell is the most likely candidate to fill in.
Each time he has been given an opportunity to play top six minutes, Wandell has failed to run with it. With a one-year, one-way contract in his back pocket, 2012-13 may be his last chance to prove the Stars that he is a part of the rebuild.
Dallas has several young forwards who will see time with the big club – Fraser, Alex Chiasson, and Scott Glennie, among others. The bottom six is anything but set in stone right now, and things could change quite quickly if one of the prospects has a very strong training camp.
The Stars are taking a short term gamble that Eakin is ready. If he isn’t, Fiddler and Wandell will likely compete for the center spot on line three. If Roy returns on time, he will be able to shoulder some of the load defensively – he is superior in his own zone to Ribeiro (likely one reason why the Stars acquired him).
2012-13 will be a transitional year for the Stars. Even if the Stars miss the playoffs again, the right pieces are in place, both off the ice and on, for sustainable improvement. The prospect group is relatively unknown outside of Dallas, but there are all types of players who are pushing for roster spots (scorers, grinders, defensive defensemen, and puck movers).
The bottom six was arguably the biggest weakness in Dallas last season. The Stars simply didn’t have the depth to compete each night, and an overreliance on their top players was a huge reason for their late season collapse. On paper the bottom six looks to be improved (especially if Morrow is able to contribute more than he did last season), but hockey isn’t player on paper.