Evaluating the 2022-2023 Dallas Stars Defense Core: Coaching

Via Jerome Miron- USA Today

The 2022-2023 Dallas defense is shaping up to be drastically different than it did in previous years. What are those changes and how does this group stack up with its predecessors? This will be a three part series that will discuss the changes in: Coaching, Free Agency, and Internal Development.

Coaching

With Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson still unsigned, and the Stars strapped for cap space, it is very unlikely that any major moves will be made on defense this offseason. So now that the defense looks to be set, let’s take a look.

The change to this defense starts at the top, and oh boy did the Stars make a splash! Dallas chose not to re-sign former head coach, Rick Bowness, who is the new head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. The man they chose to replace him is none other than Peter DeBoer. When it comes to coaching defensemen, you would have a tough time finding two coaches with a more different approach. Bowness’ dump-and-chase strategy relies on forwards attacking the opposition’s defense to create turnovers and a quick scoring chance. There is very little cycling, possession, and defensive involvement. On the other hand, the cycle game and defensive involvement are DeBoer’s bread and butter.

Under Bowness’ system, offense starts by tracking down the puck after it is dumped into a corner. DeBoer has a much different approach, which was highlighted in his introduction as the new head coach of the Stars.

In that introduction, DeBoer stated that “Offense doesn’t start in the offensive zone, offense starts [by] being able to get out of your own zone clean, getting through the neutral zone with speed, and then playing in the offensive zone, getting defensemen involved”.

DeBoer believes that in order to be successful offensively in today’s game, a team has “to be able to move as a five man unit, and get everybody up the ice and involved”. DeBoer’s offensive strategy is much more effective than Bowness’ in today’s game, and utilized the defense a lot more in the offensive zone. It also puts more responsibility on all of the defense to be involved in transition and the attack, not just a few. This is an issue that the Stars had in the last few seasons, and something that DeBoer addresses in his introduction.

Peter DeBoer on getting more offense out of his team in his introduction

In theory, the change in systems will significantly boost the scoring of the Stars, with defensemen like Miro Heiskanen and Thomas Harley having significant growth in their offensive contribution. To say that the Stars have been lacking offense is a major understatement. This team has been bottom 10 in 5v5 goals per 60 in each of the last five seasons, and finished bottom three in that department for three of the past four seasons. With that said, this team is not without offensive upside. The Stars’ prospect pool has a plethora of prospects with immense offensive potential that are itching to make the jump to the big leagues. Mason Marchment is a nice addition that can play anywhere in the lineup, and another summer of recovery should do wonders for Tyler Seguin, but those are topics for another article.

Preaching about getting your defense involved offensively and actually doing so are two very different things, so let’s take a look at defensemen scoring during Rick Bowness’ time with the Stars compared to DeBoer’s time with the Sharks and Golden Knights (excluding 2019-2020 for both).

Over that time, the 5v5 points per game by defensemen under Bowness was 1.41, while defensemen under DeBoer scored 1.83. It should be noted that DeBoer’s teams scored more overall, so those numbers do not represent defensemen involvement in the offensive zone. When comparing defensemen involvement by dividing PPG by defensemen by PPG by all skaters, DeBoer’s defensemen were 12% more involved in scoring than Bowness’. This tells us that DeBoer’s system does indeed utilize the defense more in the offensive zone, and that we should see an increase in production by defensemen across the board.

5v5 Defensemen PPG5v5 Skater PPGDefensemen Involvement
(D PPG/F PPG)
DeBoer1.836.47.28
Bowness1.415.56.25
Difference (DeBoer/Bowness)130%116%112%
Data via NHL.com

It is clear that the coaching change will have a positive effect on this defenses’ offensive output, but how will it affect its defense? The Stars have been making the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, while being one of the worst teams in the league at scoring was not by mistake. They made it by being one of the stingiest teams in their own zone. The Boston Bruins (the Seattle Kraken do not count) are the only team to allow fewer 5v5 goals in the last five seasons than the Stars. Even though the Stars had three different head coaches during that span, their extremely responsible defensive game and superb goaltending have remained as the core of their identity, and the main cause of any success that they had.

DeBoer’s 5v5 defense was average in Vegas, very bad in the latter stages of his tenure in San Jose, but very good in New Jersey and his first two seasons in San Jose. For the most part, if his team struggled defensively, they made up for it with offense, and vice versa. It would not be too much of a challenge for DeBoer to maintain this team’s elite defensive numbers if he chose to sacrifice offense like coaches did before him. Whether or not those coaches made the right decision by prioritizing defense, if this team truly wants to contend, DeBoer must be able to unlock the offense of this team, while maintaining their defensive structure. That is by no means an easy task, and there are not many coaches with the skills to do so, but Peter DeBoer just might be one of them.

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