Sometimes a transaction is made that makes you scratch your head. You can sit around considering the implications of the move, the reasons why it happened, and every in and out in between alpha and omega without fully comprehending the move only to realize that in the grand scheme of things it shouldn’t be that significant.
The Dallas Stars signed forward Lauri Korpikoski to a one-year deal for $1,000,000. Collective Twitter dander has been raised and enough shade has been cast on the move from Edmonton Oilers fans that it almost seems like they’re trying to overcompensate for a strange 24 hours of moves. And all of this over the Stars signing what should ultimately be a fourth-line forward who soaks up some penalty killing minutes.
On the one hand, it’s pretty easy to understand the lukewarm reaction. Korpikoski isn’t a point producer. At the high-end of the spectrum over his career, he’s gotten to Antoine Roussel levels of performance, but in one of the high-end years he shot an unlikely-to-be-repeated 17.8%. Over the last handful of seasons he’s languished around a 44% Corsi rate. Again, not good.
He kills a lot of penalties, but there isn’t much evidence that he’s been effective doing it. His teams gave up 113.47 Corsi attempts per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time the last couple of seasons with him on the ice. That’s…a lot, but how much of that is him? He’s played with the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. He hasn’t been appreciably worse than any of his teammates. It’s entirely possible he’s been a passenger on teams full of passengers.
We’ve seen with Trevor Daley that a system change can make a fairly large difference. The Chicago Blackhawks fixed the problems that plagued him in Dallas before giving up on him way too early, while the Pittsburgh Penguins reaped the benefits. The point here being that the numbers don’t necessarily tell everything. If the skills are still there, as they were with Daley, it isn’t out of the question that Korpikoski could make an impact down the lineup for the Stars.
The only puzzling aspect of the move is Gemel Smith. By all accounts he’s had a nice training camp. My initial reaction was to think he should take the spot now occupied by Korpikoski, but the reality of prospects is that the Stars and Smith both hope he develops to be a player like Korpikoski. In his AHL career, Smith has scored about a well as Korpikoski has in the NHL. If you believe Korpikoski can be an asset defensively then it makes sense to roll the dice with him while Smith plays more in Austin.
What this does allow the Stars to do is maintain depth. Sure, there is a lot of evidence suggesting he isn’t particularly good, but often it is really easy to forget that there are a lot of really bad players who end up playing NHL minutes. After rosters get set for opening night the roster options outside of the system get incredibly sparse. If you need to add to your depth with replacement level or near replacement level players the time to do it is now if you want any selection at all.
Injuries have popped up repeatedly throughout camp. The Stars aren’t going to want to be in a position where they are forced to use a Gemel Smith or a Matej Stransky. Ideally the young players, particularly those not really in the future plans, force a move. If they don’t force you to take them over Korpikoski, a player given a ton of penalty killing time over his NHL career, then ultimately that’s on them.
I feel like my mind has been in a figurative Chinese finger trap for several hours trying to figure out how to discuss this move. The solution for getting out of the trap is easy enough if you just relax and take the situation at face value. At face value all the Stars have done is maintained depth without blocking a premier young player. Maybe they see some upside with his skill set, but if it doesn’t work out they can waive him with little penalty.