Stars GM Jim Nill had a checklist for the off-season.
Topping his team’s needs was a goaltender, one who could man the Dallas crease and provide better than average goaltending, something the Stars have been without for years now. He completed that task by acquiring and signing free agent-to-be Ben Bishop, which meant Nill’s focus had to shift to bolstering a blueline that was in dire need of some shutdown help.
And as of Monday evening, Nill can check that off of his summer to-do list, as well.
After much speculation that the Vegas Golden Knights were set to flip Marc Methot, who had been plucked from the Ottawa Senators in the expansion draft less than one week ago, Nill was the GM to step up with an offer that was enough to pry Methot out of Vegas, sending a 2020 second-round pick and 2017 194th-overall selection Dylan Ferguson to the Golden Knights for the 32-year-old rearguard. Some will consider that a shockingly minuscule return for Methot, especially considering his apparent worth to the Senators ahead of the expansion draft, but that makes the deal that much sweeter for the Stars who needed and have now landed another piece to solidify their at-times-shaky defensive corps.
Methot may not have seemed like the obvious candidate to land in Dallas given recent reports of the Stars’ interest in Vancouver Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev and the talk in recent weeks about Dallas’ potential to flip the third-overall pick to beef up the back end. However, after the Stars utilized the lottery-won selection to draft defenseman Miro Heiskanen, Nill’s focus has to shift to landing a rearguard via the trade market or free agency. And with Vegas boasting an excess on the blueline and Dallas’ obvious interest in adding a shutdown defender, it would have been hard for the Stars to do much better than acquiring Methot.
As far as style goes, Methot may not fit the mold of the Stars as we’ve known them for the past few seasons, but what he lacks in style he more than makes up for with substance. He can be relied upon to take minutes against top opposition, and there wasn’t a Senators defenseman in 2016-17 who consistently faced a tougher quality of opponent than Methot. That was never more evident than the post-season, where Methot drew the likes of Sidney Crosby, Rich Nash and David Pastrnak as common opponents during the Senators’ run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. That he was given those assignments on a defensive-minded Senators squad is a testament to his ability in his own end, and Methot’s knack for making the smart play more often than not and avoiding mistakes in the defensive zone can pay big dividends for the Stars next season.
There is an added benefit to bringing Methot aboard, too, and that’s his ability to play with an offensive-minded rearguard. Over the past three seasons, Methot has skated nearly 2,600 5-on-5 minutes alongside Erik Karlsson. The two have been as close as it comes to inseparable on the Ottawa blueline, and while there’s no one-for-one comparison of Karlsson, arguably the most talented offensive defenseman the league has seen in years, the Stars have a talented puck-moving, high-scoring rearguard of their own in John Klingberg. That Methot knows how and has proven he can play alongside a rushing blueliner like Karlsson, he seems an obvious fit to suit up next to Klingberg come the 2017-18 campaign.
The importance of that can’t be understated, either. Klingberg emerged in 2015-16 as a potential Norris Trophy finalist — he finished sixth in voting — when he put up 10 goals and 58 points in 76 games for the Stars, taking on top-pairing minutes in his second season in the big league. Klingberg took a step back offensively in 2016-17, however, and had more than his share of hiccups defensively, as well. Pairing the 24-year-old with Methot might be able to give Klingberg the stability he requires to excel next season, though. For a Stars team that is likely going to see some change in style, that’s of utmost important to the blueline’s success this coming season.
But adding Methot doesn’t only impact Klingberg. Bringing in a veteran, shutdown rearguard of Methot’s calibre also allows for veteran Dan Hamhuis, who had some difficulty adjusting to Dallas this past season, to shift down the lineup alongside youngster Esa Lindell. Pairing the two together gives the Stars a more solid top four of NHL-ready defenders than they’ve had in some time, eliminating the need for big, shutdown minutes out of the likes of Stephen Johns, Greg Pateryn or Jamie Oleksiak. For coach Ken Hitchcock, who will almost assuredly play a more defensive game than former Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff, having a sturdy top four could prove invaluable.
The Methot acquisition doesn’t necessarily mean Nill has to be done adding, however. Remarkably, the Stars still have more than $18-million to work with this summer, money that can be spent on further bolstering the back end if it’s deemed necessary or cap space utilized to build up the Stars’ bottom six with some defensive-minded pieces that can chip in here and there or help improve last season’s league-worst penalty kill.
Whatever the case may be, though, the Methot move alone stands to help the Stars improve enough to turn 2016-17’s disappointment into a Texas-sized turnaround in the coming campaign. And for a team with the potential to blast their way into Stanley Cup contention, the Methot move — with his shutdown potential and ability to suit up alongside and provide support for Klingberg — could be looked back upon as the most important Dallas made all off-season.
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