This past weekend the folks over at Defending Big D contacted us to answer a few questions about the Anaheim Ducks ahead of tonight's game against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center, which means turnabout is fair play. We spoke with Marcus Dingler to get the local perspective:
1) Dallas bucked a recent trend amongst Cup champions by tying a significant portion of their cap ($10.4 mil.) up in net. Will it be a 1A-1B situation with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, and which goalie do you expect to see more starts this season? What's your 'way too early' feeling about who gets the critical games down the stretch/first crack at the playoffs should Dallas qualify?
I expect the starts to go pretty close to 50/50. My way too early prediction for the "clutch starts" is that Niemi will be the guy. I was/am nervous about the 1A and 1B because (a) goalies are weird and their psyches are sensitive and (b) $10.4 million in the paint is a lot. However, the Stars were hurt badly by goaltending last year. Lehtonen was poor, but the team could ill-afford to bench him in his slumps because the backups were AHL level replacements. Niemi has afforded the Stars some stability. Realistically, the Stars need league average goalie play and they will be contenders. Last year the team didn't get that. This year, Dallas is hoping Niemi and the rest he can afford Lehtonen will change that. My gut says Niemi gets the big starts late in the year.
2) The Stars youth is renowned around the league, but this offseason saw the bringing in of Stanley Cup winners Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya What sort of impact has their play and presence had on the team?
Patrick Sharp has been the perfect fit for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Benn and Seguin are underrated in their own end, but I can't stress enough the way Sharp has impacted the play of the first line. He does all of the little things right. He wins board battles, he wins loose pucks, he is a great passer, and he is always available to move the puck. He has been a great top-end glue guy for 14 and 91. Defensively, Sharp has been better than advertised.
Oduya paired with Jason Demers has been excellent so far. Oduya, not unlike Sharp, has such an intelligent stick and reads play at an incredibly high level. He has proven to be a willing shot blocker and he is especially clean exiting the zone. Oduya plays a "boring" game, and after last year's debacle I think that is exactly what this team needed. Just a little bit of vanilla can go a long ways. He is not particularly chatty (at least from what we can see), but his play seems to have rubbed off on Demers at the very least. Both are dirty work players and the Stars were happy to take them off Chicago's hands.
3) GM Jim Nill made it clear defenseman John Klingberg is a significant part of the future of Dallas' defense, locking him up through 2021-22 on a deal with a $4.25 mil cap hit. What does he bring to the team right now, where do you project his play going, and how big of a fan are you of giving 23-year old players long term deals?
Generally I am not a fan of any contract over 4 years. That being said, Dallas has been looking for a number 1 defenseman for a long time. With Klingberg last year, the further you dive into his stats the better you feel about his future. Besides the stats, just watching the kid play is impressive. He always has his head up, he dictates the pace of play, he is creative, he is responsible, he sees the ice like a video game. He makes at least 2 plays every game that Stars fans haven't seen from the blue line since Sergei Zubov.
I think Jim Nill saw what happened with Montreal and P.K. Subban and said, "we can't afford a bridge deal with this kid". He is productive and the game seems to have already slowed down for him. Only time will tell, but the general feeling is that this deal looks like grand larceny in 3 years.
4) Rank the Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp trio amongst the top lines for the rest of the league, as well as against other big lines in Dallas history. Could they possibly be/what would it take production-wise for them to be the most dangerous line Dallas hockey fans have ever seen for the Stars?
The Stars' first line, in my opinion, is the best contiguous line in the game at this point. Benn and Seguin are the highest scoring duo in hockey by a comfortable margin since Seguin's arrival in Dallas, and when you add a forward like Sharp to that pair it looks pretty formidable. Hossa/Kane/Toews or Malkin/Crosby/Kessel would be equally terrifying, but those groups don't spend a lot of even strength time together. I would have a hard time putting any line in the world on the ice before 14/91/10. Offensively, defensively, this line is as good as it gets from top to bottom.
All time is a different story mostly because Benn and Seguin haven't had the same guy ride shotgun with them for more than one year. The individual trophy cases will be comparable to the Brett Hull/Mike Modano/Jere Lehtinen line when it is all said and done, I have little doubt about that. But in the end if you don't win it all there will always be an asterisk by your name. It will be fun to watch them continue to grow up and put their jerseys in the rafters, hopefully next to a Stanley Cup banner.