We’re finally getting a clearer picture on one of the murkier off-season situations.
After the playoffs ended, questions circulated around the Dallas Stars. How would they handle four unrestricted free agent defenseman? What about the goaltending problem? And how does all of this fit with Jamie Benn’s looming contract extension?
On Thursday, the Stars made it clear that Alex Goligoski won’t be part of the future, and the pending unrestricted free agent had his negotiating rights traded to the Arizona Coyotes for a fifth-round draft pick.
The move confirms an expected void on the Stars top pairing next to John Klingberg.
While it was an unfairly criticized combo, Klingberg and Goligoski were very effective together. They moved the puck well and played into the high-pace, offense-first style for Dallas that St. Louis Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock called the “future of the NHL,” after Game 7 of the second round.
So, how do the Stars move forward?
How about giving Patrik Nemeth a chance on the top pairing?
When paired together this season, albeit sparingly, the duo was effective and played a smooth offensive game. Nemeth may not have the offensive flair of Klingberg, but he can push the play out of his own end and he can give his defensive partner room to create.
They also share a native language — Swedish, naturally — and have been good friends off the ice. When Klingberg was in the midst of his breakout rookie season, he often picked Nemeth’s brain, who was dealing with a frustrating laceration on his wrist when he was cut by R.J. Umberger’s skate in October of 2014.
It would be a rewarding breakthrough for a player that has dealt with his share of frustrations.
Nemeth made his NHL debut late in the 2013-14 season and played in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even after dealing with a broken foot and wrist. He finished that season by scoring the game-winning goal in the Calder Cup Final, which came on a silky backhand in overtime.
In the following season Nemeth should have been a full-time NHL player, but he was cut by Umberger and was limited to 22 games. This season he was stuck in NHL purgatory as Dallas elected to carry eight defensemen and Nemeth spent most of his season watching from the press box.
Pairing Nemeth and Klingberg would allow the Stars to keep the effective second pairing of Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns together, while the third pair would be determined with how the Stars handle remaining unrestricted free agents in Kris Russell, Jason Demers, and Jordie Benn.
Signing Demers would give Dallas a trio of left-right pairs, which Lindy Ruff desires, and he could play with Esa Lindell on the third pair. Lindell will be fresh off a World Cup appearance with Finland, and is ready to make the full-time jump from the AHL.
While it would create stick symmetry, signing Demers would likely force the Stars to trade away restricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak. The 6-foot-7 behemoth and former first-round pick doesn’t do the Stars very much as a seventh defenseman watching from the press box, especially when he could be moved for an asset at the draft.
Once again, more questions with every possible solution for the Stars off-season picture.
But as for today’s deal, it’s a transaction that could work well for both Dallas and Arizona.
The Stars were able to pick up another draft pick for a player they weren’t going to re-sign, while the Coyotes have almost two weeks of exclusive time to try and woo a puck-moving defenseman that would work well with their young core.