Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars - Game Six

Should Dallas be worried about its ‘Zoolander’ defense?


The Dallas Stars revamped their offense and have No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen locked up for some time, which only seems to shine a brighter light on what’s believed to be their biggest weakness: team defense.

The Stars front office seems confident that they’ll improve from within after a quiet offseason in that area (but, again, certainly not on offense). The team’s website passes along some favorable quotes from some prominent figures in the franchise, including head coach Lindy Ruff’s take from an interview with The Ticket’s Bruce Levine.

“I’m excited about our defense,” Nill said. “We kind of had two different defenses during the season. There was the early-season defense that we didn’t know who was going to play with who, how they were going to match up, how it was going to fit. And then you had the defense from January on that played very well. We know now what that fit is. We’re excited.”

The team seems especially excited about perceived improvements from oft-criticized blueliner Alex Goligoski as well as Trevor Daley. Still, Defending Big D brings up an interesting problem in an amusing way by referencing Derek Zoolander’s inability to turn left: will the Stars’ defense corps be greatly limited by the lack of right-handed shots at that position?

Remember, NHL players make decisions in fractions of seconds. Working from the backhand means every action comes with an extra step. That step reduces the fluidity of a player’s actions. It’s an opportunity for the forecheck drop the hammer, or for the penalty kill to slide into a shooting lane. Bye bye one-timer. That step is also an opportunity for error. Just look at the curve of your average hockey stick. The split second it takes to ensure a wobbling puck doesn’t slide under the blade is more than enough time to pull a forward offside or close off a pass.

Then again, Mike Modano brought up an interesting point while talking up the Stars for Dallas seems to be rebuilding piece-by-piece.

“I think it’s been very positive, a kind of piece-by-piece process, but that pretty much goes with a lot of teams rebuilding. Bits and pieces become available, there are big trades to acquire the personnel you want and Jim did that with the Seguin deal,” Modano said.

In other words, maybe that proper right-handed defensive piece didn’t present itself just yet. There are plenty of times for that to happen – perhaps the trade deadline? – so in the mean time the Stars might as well say the right things about their defense being really hot right now.

Marchessault, Pirri providing great bang for buck

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during Opening Night of the 2016-2017 NHL Season against New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on October 13, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This summer’s free agent class was highlighted by a number of big-money deals.

Yet through the first month of the season, the real highlight has been the guys that came on the cheap.

Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where Jonathan Marchessault — signed to a two-year, $1.5 million deal with a $750,000 cap hit — has been a revelation. The undrafted free agent, who spent time with the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Lightning, has five goals and 10 points through seven games with the Panthers.

Marchessault is playing on the club’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and leads the Panthers in scoring.

“It’s been a wonderful find for us,” team president Dale Tallon told Sportsnet. “He’s real tricky and good down low. Sees the ice well. He’s not the biggest guy. Some guys slip through the cracks. Some guys are late bloomers.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not get drafted.”

In New York, one of Tallon’s ex-players is providing equally good value.

Brandon Pirri, who went most of the summer without a contract before signing with the Rangers in August, is off to a terrific start. Inked to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, Pirri has four goals and six points in seven games, and leads the team in power-play markers.

“I’m glad we’re the ones who got him,” Derek Stepan said, per the Associated Press. “He’s got a knack for the net. It’s not easy to score goals in this league and he seems to be in those areas to score.

“That’s a difficult thing and, to me, that’s a skill. If you have it, it’s special and it’s rare.”

Some other under-the-radar signings that have stood out:

— The backup goalie position in Montreal was a disaster last season, so full credit to GM Marc Bergevin for solving it on the cheap. Al Montoya was brought aboard for $950,000, and all he’s done is go 3-0-1 with a .955 save percentage and 1.47 GAA. He also provided crucial stability at the start of the year, too, when Carey Price was sidelined with the flu.

— In Dallas, Adam Cracknell has capitalized on the opportunity provided by all the club’s injuries at forward. Signed to a two-way deal with a $600,000 cap hit, 31-year-old has two goals and three points through seven games, appearing in every contest for the Stars this season while averaging over 10 minutes per.

Patrick Wiercioch, who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from Ottawa, signed with Colorado for $800,000. The 26-year-old d-man has been great offensively, with five points through five games, leading all Avs blueliners in scoring.

— Speaking of Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion did well to sign Tom Pyatt out of the Swiss League. Inked to a one-year, two-way deal worth $800,000, Pyatt returned to the NHL after two years abroad and “has been really good for us on both sides of the ice,” according to head coach Guy Boucher. Pyatt has three points through six games and is one of the club’s top penalty killers.

Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

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Tim Leiweke is best known as the former president and CEO of sports empires AEG and MLSE. (And also for calling out the “just terrible” character of the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

But Leiweke has a new gig now, and according to the Seattle Times, he may end up playing a key role in Seattle’s long-running arena saga.

A powerful, new Los Angeles-based company headed by sports executive Tim Leiweke and concert kingpin Irving Azoff wants to renovate KeyArena and make it compatible for NBA and NHL use.

“We believe in the KeyArena location,” Leiweke, CEO of the 11-month-old Oak View Group, told The Seattle Times in an interview Thursday night. “We believe that the studies have proven — and we will continue to do additional studies as we go through this process — that there is a chance to renovate and make that arena work for music and sports.”

We wrote yesterday about the potential renovation of KeyArena. It’s worth noting that Leiweke’s new company was formed in partnership with MSG, which owns the New York Rangers. Leiweke’s old company, AEG — which owns the Los Angeles Kings — is also interested in the KeyArena project.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray confirmed yesterday that the city will issue a request for proposals in early January “to solicit specific plans from private parties interested in the redevelopment of KeyArena. Proposals would be centered around developing an entertainment facility that can host meetings, concerts and sporting events.”

Where that leaves Chris Hansen’s SoDo project remains to be seen. Hansen started this week’s avalanche of news by offering to build his arena without public financing.

Murray did note in his statement that any KeyArena proposals would “join the recently-revised proposal from the group led by Chris Hansen as possibilities for the development of an arena in Seattle.”

Related: Is the NHL just waiting for Seattle?

Rantanen to debut on Colorado’s ‘kid line’ with Grigorenko, MacKinnon

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to facing the Carolina Hurricanes at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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It’s not often a 22-year-old is the elder statesmen on his line, but that’s exactly what Mikhail Grigorenko will be on Friday night.

Grigorenko’s the resident greybeard on Colorado’s “Kid Line,” one that features 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon and, for the first time this season, 19-year-old Mikko Rantanen.

Rantanen, taken 10th overall by Colorado in 2015, will make his season debut tonight against Winnipeg, after missing time with an ankle injury and fulfilling a rehab stint in AHL San Antonio.

Needless to say, the Avs are glad to have him back.

Rantanen had a terrific ’15-16 campaign. He split AHL Rookie of the Year honors with Providence’s Frank Vatrano, and helped Finland capture gold at the World Juniors. Rantanen also became the second-youngest player (18 years old) to participate in an AHL All-Star Game and earned a late-season recall to Colorado, where he made his NHL debut and appeared in nine games.

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Rantanen has the size and physique to be a real force alongside Grigorenko and MacKinnon.

And he’s hoping he can be a force at the NHL level for a long time.

“I want to do what I do best, bring my strengths to our team,” he said, per the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I want to do everything I can to stay here. I would like to stay here for a while.”

It’s fair to suggest head coach Jared Bednar made this move in the hopes of providing a spark. The Avs are 3-2-0 to start the year, but have lost two of three and haven’t played since last Saturday.

MacKinnon is tied for the team scoring lead with five points through five games, while Grigorenko sits tied for second in assists, with three.

McIlrath clears waivers, which may surprise a few people

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Dylan McIlrath #6 of the New York Rangers takes the puck as Matt Moulson #26 of the Buffalo Sabres defends at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Alain Vigneault got his wish. Dylan McIlrath has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Hartford.

McIlrath, 24, was placed on waivers yesterday after getting into just one game for the New York Rangers through their first seven.

“Selfishly, I hope he clears waivers and goes to Hartford and plays,” the Rangers’ head coach said. “But if somebody would pick him up and give him an opportunity, I’d be very happy for him.”

Many speculated that McIlrath, a right shot, would get claimed, perhaps by a team like the Boston Bruins. But the emergence of rookie Brandon Carlo, combined with the return of Adam McQuaid from injury, made a claim less likely for the B’s. Carlo and McQuaid both shoot right, as does regular Colin Miller. (Ditto for Kevan Miller, though he’s on injured reserve with a broken hand.)

And so McIlrath remains a member of the organization that drafted him. Hartford plays tonight and tomorrow at home to Lehigh Valley and Utica, respectively.