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Stars Fairly Well Squared Away at Blue Line

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

For the most part, the Dallas Stars’ defensive core is a group that figures to return mostly intact for the 2011-12 NHL regular season. But this is a group that does lack a true No. 1 defenseman, a void that could be filled by newcomer Alex Goligoski, who was solid in his 23 games after coming over from Pittsburgh in a pre-deadline deal (5-10-15, +12).

And the 25-year-old blue liner actually played 83 games last season, 60 with the Pens before the trade and another 23 for Dallas after the swap for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. Goligoski clearly showed his value in anchoring the Stars power play, especially in the wake of Brad Richards’ absence and it’s clear he has the makings of a No. 1 defenseman but might be best served as a No. 2 or No. 3 in the rotation.

Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk is definitely a big fan of the ex-Penguin.

“I think the addition of Alex Goligoski has been huge for us. It’s allowed our defense to be a lot more mobile, move the puck a whole lot better,” Nieuwendyk said.

For much of those 23 games, he was paired alongside Stephane Robidas and the 34-year-old veteran defenseman also liked what he saw from his new teammate.

“He and [Richards], they played real well together on the power play. He brought that new dimension that we didn’t really have,” Robidas said. “It was a really good addition on our team. It will be nice to have him for a full year next year.”

Always the definition of durable, Robidas played all but one regular season game in 2010-11. He brings a solid mix of poise, veteran leadership and a solid all-around skill set to the Dallas rearguard.

The seasoned blue liner was paired with Nicklas Grossman for a majority of the season but the 26-year-old Swedish defenseman missed 21 of the Stars’ last 26 games due to an assortment of ailments.

However, there is some good news on Grossman, whose strong presence was missed by Dallas down the stretch. He did play two games for Sweden at the recently-concluded IIHF World Championships, so there are clearly no lingering health concerns.

During the season, Trevor Daley earned a deserved contract extension and for a good part of the season, the 27-year-old was paired with Jeff Woywitka and it was a partnership that worked fairly well.

But Woywitka is an unrestricted free agent and it’s unsure if the Stars will bring him back or not. If Daley had his way, he’d love to see his defensive partner back in Dallas next season. Woywitka also would like to return.

“It’s a great core we have now,” Woywitka said. “Adding Goligoski, he’s a great player that can skate well. It seems like he takes a lot of pressure off Robi. He can concentrate more on playing against other teams’ top lines. We’re great puck moving guys and guys who can make the passes in our own zone.”

Also in the mix last year was 36-year-old Karlis Skrastins, who also brought a veteran and unassuming presence to Dallas and bruiser Mark Fistric, who played in 57 games.

But like Woywitka, Skrastins is an unrestricted free agent and his future in Big D is uncertain at best. However, there could be an option in the Stars’ system, 21-year-old Philip Larsen.

The Danish-born defenseman performed well in 18 games with the AHL’s Texas Stars (0-9-9) in his first professional season. He also has four games of NHL experience with the Stars but is he ready to make the leap to full-time NHL player? Well, wait and see because that one won’t be answered until training camp at the earliest.

While there is definitely room for improvement, it’s clear that this is a pretty solid group, at least the unit’s most veteran player thinks so.

“I think we have a pretty good group,” Robidas said. “He [Grossman] had a great year this year and played real well. Goligoski played really well for us after the trade. Trevor had a career year. He played really unbelievable. Woywitka had a great year after barely playing last year. He didn’t really start the year. Towards the end of the year, he was a big part of our defense. [Fistric] had a great year too. I think we’re pretty solid. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and keep getting better. I think that’s the main thing for all of us. We have to keep getting better as a team and as a d group we want to get better too.”

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