The Dallas Stars are still trying to work out the kinks on the blue line. At 9-8-5, the season has not started as well as the defending Central Division champs would like and an ongoing theme has been the shuffling of personnel on defense. The latest change is the benching of veteran Dan Hamhuis for tonight’s match-up against the rival St. Louis Blues. This is the second time this season that Hamhuis, who signed a two-year, $7.5MM contract with Dallas this summer, has been scratched, as the Stars desperately seek balance and production on the back end. Hamhuis was brought in in an effort to make up for the losses of Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell, but to this point has been a disappointment.
Hamhuis will be joined in the press box this evening by Stephen Johns, who was recently recalled from the AHL’s Texas Stars. Johns was given a starting role to begin the 2016-17 season, but had fallen out of favor and been demoted last week. In his stead, more play time has been given to fellow young defensemen Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth, and Jamie Oleksiak. However, that trio has also failed to impress as well, delivering just five points total at a combined -6.
The newest member to the platoon is promising rookie Julius Honka. Honka made his NHL debut last week and appears to be sticking around. A player in the mold of star teammate John Klingberg, Honka appears poised to at least bring some more offensive production from the blue line, even if it’s at the expense of team defense. That is the trade-off that Klingberg brings, and Dallas has fallen in love with the 24-year-old defender who put up 58 points last season. If Honka brings that ability, he may be able to bring some roster stability to the Stars as well.
Klingberg is well behing his 2015-16 pace with just 11 points thus far, but is the undisputed leader of the defense. The other two reliable members of the “D” corps have been Johnny Oduya and Jordie Benn, but Oduya was recently placed on the injured reserve with a lower body injury and is out “indefinitely”. A blue line group that is already struggling will have a hard time without the veteran leadership and locker room presence that Oduya brings. However, it will force the Stars young defensemen into bigger roles. If the increased play time and pressure doesn’t break them, it could benefit the team in the long run.
For tonight, the Stars will ride with Klingberg, Benn, Honka, Lindell, Nemeth, and Oleksiak, but expect Hamhuis to return to the lineup for the next game with a fire underneath him. One way or another, the team will have to find a way to maximize the talent they have on the blue line into a cohesive and productive defense. Otherwise, it will be a long season in Dallas.