After going through 24 games to start the 2013-2014 season, the Dallas Stars finally got hit by the injury bug that eventually finds every team during a strenuous season. Aaron Rome, who has only played 30 games out of the 81 he has been on the Stars roster started the season on IR.
Things began to spiral out of control when Stars lost another veteran defenseman when Stephane Robidas went down to a gruesome broken leg. Trevor Daley suffered a high ankle sprain December 5th against Toronto which coach Lindy Ruff exclaimed, “I can tell you it won’t be anything short term,” in regards to Daley’s expected absence. Last night in a blowout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, Aaron Rome found himself once again injured which has been described as a lower body injury similar to the one which put him on the IR at the beginning of December.
Dallas has been boasting about amazing defensive depth down in the AHL with the Texas Stars, however their need to call up their young defensive talent has put them in a precarious position where due to the lack of depth of veteran blue liners, the under-developed talent is having to be called up to the big club.
Jamie Oleksiak, the Stars number one draft pick from 2012 was the obvious pick when Robidas went down, has been in 7 games since being called up and has yet to register a point and is a -3 in that span. Kevin Connauton has been on the roster but experienced several healthy scratches until Daley went down and scored his first goal last night in Colorado but is also a -3 to go with his 2 points.
There was a great deal of speculation once word started to spread when Aaron Rome was lost last night in the first period as to who would get called up. There was already a plan taking place to support the return of Vern Fiddler, which would most likely see Colton Sceviour return to Austin, despite him bringing a grit and determination to finish plays that has seen him propel himself to the top of the AHL in goal scoring. However, today news came that Fiddler was going on the IR and Cameron Gaunce would be coming to Dallas from Austin.
Patrik Nemeth was one name that was widely considered to be ahead in his development in compared to Oleksiak, but Nemeth has been nursing an injury and is currently unavailable.
When reached for comment, Dallas Stars General Manager, Jim Nill told StarsInsider.com, “Maxime Fortunus is in an AHL contract and he, along with Nemeth who is injured is unavailable. With the injury to Rome, we required another defenseman and Gaunce has been our best player lately.”
Per the press release from the Stars, Gaunce, 23, has skated in 28 games for Texas this season, earning seven points (1-6=7) and 25 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman from Markham, Ont., has played 11 career NHL games, all with the Colorado Avalanche, collecting one goal and 16 penalty minutes. Originally selected by Colorado in the second-round (50th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Gaunce was acquired by Dallas via trade from Colorado in exchange for forward Tomas Vincour on April 2, 2013.
Of course the injuries and the current quality of play have people wondering if there are any moves that could be made to immediately improve the personnel at the blue line.
“GMs are constantly talking to one another,” said Nill “but we don’t comment on the players that are being discussed. The salary cap has also made making a move difficult.”
Per Capgeek.com, the Stars have approximately $2.7 million in cap space. It doesn’t take an expert in the sport of hockey to know there is no way a team can pick up a legit top-4 defenseman for less than $4 million. In order for the Stars to make that kind of room, they would have to unload two of their top-salaried players. Of course the Stars aren’t going to move Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin or Kari Lehtonen. The next highest salaried players are Shawn Horcoff, Sergei Gonchar, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole and Rich Peverley. All aforementioned players, though contributing in their own way to Dallas, in all intents and purposes have seen their better days and no team will part with a top-4 defenseman unless they experience a drastic wave of injuries to their forward lineup.
So, this is the state of the Stars. No team can go through an 82-game season without experiencing injuries to significant contributors. Hockey is a physically demanding sport. The highly touted young defensive corps down in Austin has been forced into the spotlight, despite being borderline ready. It’s only natural for fans and media to start knee jerking about making moves to improve now. As Jim Nill pointed out, however, even with a desire to constantly improve, the off season moves to improve the scoring has handcuffed the team from a salary cap stand point, so a realistic move for a much needed improvement on the blue line isn’t really there. The Stars are young. The Stars are going to be good. But no one on the Stars are panicking. Neither should their fan base.