Birthplace: Dorval, Quebec
2015-16 Salary: $3.6 million (Two year contract, $3.4 AAV)
By all indications, Ken Holland is looking for offense first in this year's free-agency class. If he's looking for a player to steadily create offense from defense, he should look to Dallas Stars defenseman Jason Demers.
Demers, 28, comes from one of the better puck moving systems in hockey. The Stars were able to consistently outskill their opponents with a precise breakout and fluidity through the neutral zone. Demers was key in this system, often being relied on to make the first pass. He's also been a contributor to the to the Stars power play, registering 3 goals and 2 assists.
As cited by Derek Neumeier of Defending Big D, Demers began this past season playing pivotal minutes for the Stars and excelled through his steadiness,
It's not just shorthanded where Demers is trusted defensively by his coaching staff, either. According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Demers starts a higher percentage of his even strength shifts in his own zone than any other Stars defender, at 35.6%. While his possession metrics might not seem like much at first glance (51.49 CF%, -1.85 CF%Rel, according to War-On-Ice), they're actually pretty solid when you take into consideration just how heavily he is leaned on and what sort of role he's asked to play.
Demers grew into his role as a top four defenseman playing big minutes in tough situations. He sustained his plus-possession numbers (54 CF%) and his shots increased while his shooting percentage ticked up over 7%. While some of Demers' success could be owed to playing with Dallas' highly skilled forwards, based on Darcy McLeod's comprehensive analytical breakdown, he's made his defense partners (predominantly Jordie Benn and Johnny Oduya) better. He showed flashes of offensive capability and positional responsibility earlier in his career with the San Jose Sharks. In 2013-14, Demers' final full season in San Jose, he had 34 points in 75 games while blasting a career-high 105 shots.
One of Demers' most attractive attributes is his right-handed shot. The Red Wings power play dropped dramatically from second in the league in 2014-15 to middle of the pack. Despite adding a right-handed shot in Mike Green, part of the Red Wings power play problem was relying on left-shooting veteran Brad Richards to not only lead the breakout but also quarterback the point once they were finally set up. Detroit's second unit was futile, seemingly missing a fluid zone entry and set up. Adding Demers to lead the second unit while promoting Green to the first unit could balance out the power play giving it a much needed fresh look under new assistant John Torchetti.
The Downside of Demers
The biggest barrier to a right-shooting, puck moving defenseman like Demers could simply be market forces. This morning, Sportnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that Demers is looking to net $5.5 million AAV (average annual value) on his next contract. It's telling that Stars general manager Jim Nill decided to let such an impact player test free agency. So far Demers has made a visit to the Edmonton Oilers, but you have to wonder if talks have cooled since shocking trade of Taylor Hall for fellow right-shooting defenseman Adam Larsson. With the Red Wings UFA target being a forward I don't imagine them being willing to spend too high on a defenseman.
On March 8, Demers suffered a shoulder injury on a hit from behind by Montreal Canadiens forward Lucas Lessio. While he returned late in the regular season, Demers, with the rest of the Dallas defense, struggled through a sloppy first round win vs. the Minnesota Wild then an upset at the hands of the St.Louis Blues.
Demers has a history of injuries in his relatively short career with concussion and wrist issues that have caused him to miss substantial time. Sometimes injuries follow a player due to his style, sometimes it's just bad luck. Considering Demers' injuries were caused by Lessio's hit from behind and a head shot by our old friend Corey Emmerton, I don't expect him to struggle to stay healthy. Still, head, wrist and shoulder injuries always lend lingering concern.
Another concern is Demers taking too many penalties. His total this spiked to a career high 72 minutes this past season despite only playing 62 games. Oddly, Demers penalty minutes jumped sharply once he joined the Stars in a trade 20 games into the 2014-15 season.
The Red Wings could try to remedy the slot left by Kyle Quincey with a younger, cheaper option that's waiting for an opportunity; think Xavier Ouellet (who must clear waivers), right-shooting Nick Jenson or hell, even Brendan Smith! However, Holland has made it clear he'd like to add a defenseman via trade and we know his tendency toward seeking veteran NHL talent.
If Holland is going to dole out the cash, fixing the blueline with a proven defenseman like Demers would be a good investment without having to give up prospects or high draft picks.