Stars want top-two d-man, but know they’re ‘hard to find’


In the aftermath of their playoff elimination to Anaheim, the Dallas Stars seem to be focused on one specific area to improve next season — defense.

From the Dallas Morning-News:

“Moving forward, it would be great to have a No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman, but there are 25 other teams that want the same thing,” [Stars GM Jim] Nill said. “That’s probably something we’ll have to draft and develop. It’s hard to find a true No. 1 defenseman.”

While [Lindy] Ruff added: “We came a long way from the start of the year to the end of the year on the defending front, on what we gave up, the shots we gave up and the quality of chances we gave up. We made good strides. I still believe we are a big defender away from being a harder team to play against. I think we have some young guys that could easily step in there. [Patrik] Nemeth got a little bit a taste of it. I have high hopes for other players in the organization as well that I’ve seen play.”

It was no huge secret Dallas’ Achilles heel in the postseason was its lack of blueline talent and depth. When Brenden Dillion — a good young d-man, but not an elite one — out for the first five games, Dallas rolled with a six-man unit comprised of Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski, Sergei Gonchar, Jordie Benn, Kevin Connauton and Patrik Nemeth. The result? Dallas surrendered 20 goals over the six-game series, including seven on the power play — the most allowed by any team in the opening playoff round.

The Stars’ prospect cupboard has some intriguing stuff in it. The big one — literally — is Jamie Oleksiak, the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder taken 14th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Still just 21, Oleksiak wasn’t NHL ready the past two years (only playing in 23 games) but could be the future of Dallas’ defense.

Even with Oleksiak on the way, it’ll be interesting to see what Nill does in free agency. He made a big splash last summer by signing Gonchar to a two-year, $10 million deal and, given the relative lack of age an experience on the current blueline, could go the veteran route again — though it’s worth noting that, based on pending UFA projections, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of top-two d-men available.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.

Missing McDavid: Yakupov’s goalless drought now at 15 games

Cononor McDavid, Nail Yakupov
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When Connor McDavid went down with a broken collarbone, many expected his linemates — Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov — to be adversely affected.

But probably not this affected.

Yakupov — who, prior to McDavid getting hurt on Nov. 3, had 10 points in 12 games — has gone in the tank offensively since losing his running mate.

The Russian’s goalless drought (which, to be fair, began while McDavid was still playing) is now at 15 games, and he’s failed to score a point in seven straight — all of which is a cause for concern for head coach Todd McLellan.

From the Edmonton Journal:

When does [McLellan] say “he’s got to score a goal.”

“We’re at that point now,” the coach said.

“He’s had some great looks,” said McLellan.

There are a few issues at play here.

Chief among them is that Yakupov’s gone from skating with Pouliot and McDavid to Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks — and no offense to Letestu and Hendricks, but that’s a significant downgrade in offensive talent.

So when Yakupov does get time with the likes of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl, it’s usually on the power play — which only ratchets up the pressure to score (because who knows when the next power play will come?)

McLellan acknowledged the team needs to set up Yakupov more — “we’ll work with his linemates to help him, we’ll get him out on the power play where his strengths are,” he said — but, like any coach, stressed that the player needs to help himself out, too.

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.