Beginning in 2008-2009, the Dallas Stars spent two seasons searching for themselves. They did not spend forty days and nights in the desert, nor did they sit under a Bodhi tree for forty-nine days. Rather, the Stars were lost in the wilderness while they attempted to develop a defensive corps in the wake of the departures of stalwarts Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher and rental Mattias Norstrom. Instead of bringing in veteran replacements, the organization threw the defensive responsibilities over to a group of young defenders: Trevor Daley, Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric, and Nicklas Grossman. The learning curve was steep - the Stars fell from ninety-seven points and a trip to the conference finals in 2007-2008 to eighty-three points in 2008-2009 and eighty-eight points in 2009-2010 and failed to make the playoffs in either season.
Any young defenseman would find the task daunting. But Grossman used the opportunity to flourish. The big Swede took on one of the toughest roles in hockey and steadily improved, creating a role for himself, one of the most difficult in the league.
Never known as an offensive dynamo, as his .117 points per game can attest, Grossman's progression can be seen in his underlying statistics. Many of these numbers can be located on Grossman's Player Card at behindthenet.ca.
|Season||Corsi||RCorsi||RCorsi RK||Adj. Corsi
Notice Grossman's Zonestarts. In each of the last three seasons, he's had the most difficult Zonestart percentage on the team. This season is no different - Grossman is not only last on the Stars in Zonestart, he ranks 144th out of 148 qualifying defensemen for the most difficult starting position in the NHL. Matt Niskanen is the primary beneficiary of Grossman being made to skate uphill night in and night out. Niskanen's 53.9% Zonestart ranks 34th easiest of 148 qualifiers. Using Zonestart to normalize Corsi, Grossman's numbers show a defenseman with a defensive burden getting the job done. His adjusted Corsi improves each year and the shots numbers show a defenseman capable of moving the puck in the right direction.
And he's moving the puck in the right direction against increasingly difficult competition. In 07-08, Grossman played against bottom end competition with top end teammates. The following year he played against middling competition with bottom end teammates. Marc Crawford is more of a power vs. power coach and as such, Grossman has become the go-to guy in Dallas. In 09-10, Grossman faced top level competition and played with top level teammates. That trend continues this season.
Grossman was a restricted free agent during the offseason and while I thought he'd be an ideal Offer Sheet target, NHL executives thought otherwise and allowed Grossman to sign in Dallas on the cheap. According to Capgeek.com, Grossman signed a two-year contract for $1,625,000 annually. A more cynical writer might suggest something rotten in the state of Denmark, but I digress. As I said in the Offer Sheet target article, I believe Grossman to be worth nearly double what he signed for.
Grossman's career arc and defensive game look similar to a Copper & Blue favorite - Zbynek Michalek. They are both beasts of burden, both play the best competition from the worst starting spot on the ice. Michalek found his payday in Pittsburgh in July and Grossman will eventually find his.