In the second part of our series on burning questions facing the Dallas Stars, we discuss the new faces in the room. Dallas was among the most active teams in free agency this summer, making a splash on Day 1 that not many expected. After adding veteran defenseman Ryan Suter, general manager Jim Nill continued on to add Luke Glendening, Braden Holtby, Michael Raffl, and Jani Hakanpaa. While it is was unknown how Nill would approach the summer, he made it clear that defense was the most important hole to fill. Not only did he sign two defensemen and a goaltender but also added two forwards known for their defensive abilities. Whenever a player moves to a new team, it is always a question of how they will fit in. This will be a vital aspect that the Stars will be keeping a close eye on heading into the 2021-22 season.
Adjusting to a New City
While it is challenging for any player to adjust to a new city, we are going to focus on Glendening and Suter here since they have spent most of their careers with one club. Glendening has played his entire eight-season career with the Detroit Red Wings while Suter spent his last nine seasons with the Minnesota Wild. As Stars’ fans witnessed two seasons ago with Joe Pavelski, it can be very challenging to adjust after spending so much time in one city. Pavelski moved from San Jose after 13 seasons and struggled early on in Dallas. It was not until the NHL neared the COVID-19 stoppage in the spring that he really found his stride. Since then, he has been one of the best forwards and even led the team in points last season. For both Glendening and Suter, it will be important for them to adjust as quickly as possible.
Familiarity will be a friend for both of these players, both having connections and roots within the Dallas organization. Suter is a longtime friend of Pavelski, growing up in Wisconsin, while Glendening is familiar with Nill from his time in Detroit. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is a huge step in the process of becoming comfortable on a new team and should pay dividends early on.
Where They Will Fit In
When Nill signed these five players, he not only brought in a defensive focus but added a load of veteran experience. The years of experience and heights these additions have reached will add to the core of a Stars’ group looking to make another run at the Cup. Now the question is, where might each player fit in throughout the lineup?
Glendening is as much of a defensive forward as one can get. He blocks shots, kills penalties, matches up against the opponent’s offensive lines, and will not provide much offense on the other end. He will likely slot in on the fourth line to solidify a hole left by Andrew Cogliano, who was signed by the San Jose Sharks this summer. For Glendening, his biggest attribute is his faceoff ability. Over the past four seasons, he has been above 55 percent on the dot, including a career-high 61 percent last season. With Roope Hintz, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Radek Faksa also available, Dallas will now have even more strength down the middle — a vital part of any teams’ success.
Raffl is a similar player to Glendening. The eight-season veteran plays a defensive-minded game and has the ability to help on the penalty kill. While his numbers have decreased over the past few seasons, he has shown the ability to throw his body around and play a physical game.
Like Glendening, he should produce between 15 and 20 points, but his offense will not be his strength. He will likely be among the forwards battling for fourth-line minutes on this deep Dallas forward group.
Suter was the biggest addition to the Stars this summer. He was added to fill the hole in the top four, which was left by Jamie Oleksiak who was drafted by the Seattle Kraken. Suter is a very well-rounded defenseman — he skates well, moves the puck up the ice, finds himself in the right position to make plays, and is able to play heavy minutes when needed. The reason he can play those big minutes is his capability to play in every situation. Whether it is on the power play, penalty kill, or 5-on-5, he brings something to the table and has earned the trust of his coaches. Now, with one of the best top-four defenses in the league, the Stars have the freedom to pair Suter with either Heiskanen or Klingberg to see which combinations are the most effective.
“Ryan has been one of the top defensemen in the NHL for many years,” Nill said. “That’s a great veteran who has a great presence. He reminds me a lot of Chris Chelios when I was in Detroit. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t seem to age. He’s a heavy body, he’s got iron lungs and he’s a great skater. When we lost Oleksiak, that’s a big hole to fill. We’re fortunate to be able to find a player of Ryan’s caliber.”
Arguably the most underrated addition of this group is Hakanpaa. While he has only played a few seasons in the NHL, he has shown flashes of how high his potential can be. At 6-foot-5, 207 pounds, he will bring the size and physicality that was lost with Oleksiak. If he can find a way to play that style of defense, he will have a ton of success among a smaller-sized Dallas defensive group. It is a safe bet that he will play on the third pairing along with Andrej Sekera, Joel Hanley, or even Thomas Harley. It also helps that he is from Finland and adds to the already dangerous “Finnish Mafia.”
Last, but certainly not least, is Holtby. He has reached the highest peaks in his career, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and the Stanley Cup in 2018. Unfortunately, he struggled over the past two seasons with the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. Last season in Vancouver was the worst of his career. After that, it is easy to forget that he was among the NHL elite at the position. At only 31 years old, it is not a stretch to say that he has plenty left in the tank and just needs to find the right team to fit into.
Dallas may be that perfect fit with their defense-first system and strong defensive core. Holtby will be in a battle for a roster spot along with Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger. If Bishop is able to play following his injury, it is likely that Holtby will need to edge out Khudobin in order to make the team. The odd man out between those two will likely see a trade in their future. However, if Bishop is unable to start the season (which seems likely), Holtby will have a chance to grab the starting spot and bring competition to the position. He will not only bring veteran leadership like most of the names above, but is now the third goalie on the roster that has been to the Stanley Cup Final. That is not something to be taken lightly.
Nill certainly surprised the hockey world with his moves in free agency this summer. The players added hint that he has doubts about Bishops’ health and also that he feels his team has enough offensive firepower within the room. If he is correct, adding these heavy defensive players to the group may be enough to push them into a deep playoff run.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!