Out of all the defensemen we've covered so far, Alex Goligoski is the first true, 100% first pairing D. Compared to our last defenseman, Keith Yandle, at 5 on 5 Alex Goligoski is in almost every way superior. And yet, Goligoski comes with less hype than Yandle, and will most likely come with a cheaper price tag. So, he's definitely worth talking about.
The kind of defenseman Goligoski is is rather hard to describe. He's a bit of an enigma. When he was with Pittsburgh, he was clearly an offensive defenseman that was used almost exclusively as such. When he was traded to Dallas, he was asked to take on a new kind of role. They needed him to be their #1 D, to eat big minutes, to be defensively responsible, and all of that jazz. He did that. He was a #1 stud D.
He did it damn well, in fact. In his age 25 season in Dallas, in 2011-12, he was downright elite defensively. That year, he was 6th among all D in delta Corsi against impact. He continued that trend, playing as a legit #1 D on both sides of the ice for quite a while. Until, well, this year. This year, he didn't play the same kind of sparkling two way game he had become known for. Instead, he was paired with the offensively minded John Klingberg, and the two of them were given heavily predatory starts. The Stars made their second pairing their shutdown pairing instead, and gave them the difficult minutes.
You'd think that this would improve Goligoski's numbers, no? Well, not really. After being put back into an offensive role, Goligoski started taking more risks in his game. A lot of them didn't actually end up working out all that well. And so, his defensive numbers took a bit of a nose dive. Goligoski, who normally suppresses shots, had his worst season in terms of dCA impact since he was a Penguin. His xGA rel was just, well, bad. Just really really bad. By xGA, he was about as bad this year as he was good in 2011-12.
The way I see it, there's two different possible explanations. The first is that this is the new normal for Goligoski. Whether it's age or some other reason, Goligoski is now simply an offensive defenseman with defensive deficiencies. The other possibility is that Goligoski is a player who's effectiveness varies with the role he's asked to perform. If he's asked to play minutes in all situations and be defensively responsible, he'll do that. But if he's asked to be an offensive defenseman, he'll do that while making costly mistakes.
If the first situation is what's true, you're essentially signing a better Yandle for a slightly cheaper price. I don't think I'd pull the trigger on that deal. If the second situation is true, you're essentially getting a more offensively gifted Johnny Boychuk but slightly cheaper. If I knew that were the case, then I'd sign him in a heart beat.
For the record, I think it's much more likely that the second explanation is what's true. As much as people like to talk about how certain player x should get more ice time or be put in harder situations, you have to realize that performance doesn't scale like that. Sometimes players will excel in certain roles but struggle in other ones. Just as a sheltered" offensive defenseman might not do as well playing the minutes of a #1 D, that #1 D may not do as well as the 3rd pairing guy if he were given his minutes. It's a more logical explanation for Goligoski's performance that thinking that he's now much worse at 29 than he was at 28.