If it isn’t bolted to the ground it’s on the way out. Patrick Eaves went to Anaheim first, Jordie Benn was sent to the Montreal Canadiens, and now Johnny Oduya has been sent back to the Chicago Blackhawks.
In return for the veteran defenseman the Stars picked up Mark McNeill and a conditional fourth round pick. The condition on the fourth round pick is similar to what most of these conditions have been. If Chicago makes it through two rounds and Oduya plays in 50% of the games the pick rolls into the third round.
McNeill is a 24 year old forward who was the Blackhawks’ first round pick in the 2011 draft. He has been essentially a 20-goal scorer in the AHL prior to this season. This year he has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in 58 games.
Materially this deal isn’t much different than the trade that sent Jordie Benn to Montreal. A potential depth player who may need a change of scenery and a fourth round pick for a veteran defenseman seems to be the Stars' trade of choice at this deadline. I would imagine McNeill will join the NHL roster soon to give him a chance to make an impression down the stretch.
In 129 career games with the Stars, Oduya recorded 29 points. He gave the Stars exactly what they expected after signing prior to last season. Oduya brought a steady defensive presence that helped the Stars get over the playoff hump. Like seemingly everyone else this season he has battled some injuries that have limited his games and production.
The pressure is now squarely on the younger defensemen on the roster. Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Stephen Johns have two months to sell themselves to Jim Nill and his staff. Lindy Ruff has already called this a meritocracy the rest of the way. The guys playing the best hockey will be in the lineup. With the expansion draft coming up they need to show something now.
From my view Johns still has the most upside of the three by a decent margin, even if he has struggled at times this year. Nemeth and Oleksiak are definitely on the fringes. Both have shown flashes in the past, and we’ll see if either is able to put it together consistently down the stretch.
A wild card in the defensive picture the rest of the season is Julius Honka. As good as he is the team may just want to leave him in the AHL to make a playoff push, but it seems very possible that he could claim a permanent NHL roster spot sooner than later which would further cut into the time the others have to prove themselves.
We’re about 18 hours from the trade deadline with the Stars in full sell mode. Now we wait to see if Nill offloads anyone else. My money lies with 'yes,' but we’ll see definitively soon. As tough as it is to see these guys move on, it’s also nice to see them finally committing to a direction. Watching the same struggles nightly with no open efforts made to change the mix up has been tough for fans at times. Now the focus is squarely on the future.
Let’s see what they’ve got.
You can follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220.