DALLAS — For nearly 60 minutes, Tyler Seguin made plays that belonged on Claude Julien’s blooper reel.
Seguin swung his stick to try and jar pucks off opponents’ blades. He approached puck carriers backside first and bounced off his checks. He peeled north and blew his defensive-zone coverage. After an offensive-zone turnover, he hesitated before backchecking. It was SOS — Same Old Segs, the stuff that drove his former club cuckoo.
Late in the third, with Ottawa’s Robin Lehner off for a sixth attacker, Seguin aimed for an empty net twice within 74 seconds. The Stars center iced the puck both times. His second whiff, a three-quarters fling that wobbled wide right, gave Ottawa an offensive-zone faceoff with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Seguin faced off against Kyle Turris. Seguin scraped the puck into the corner. Time ran out. Dallas won, 5-4.
Ten minutes later, two emergency medical technicians hustled into American Airlines Center’s home dressing room. A Dallas player was suffering from dehydration.
Approximately 30 minutes after the win, the player emerged. A green bandage covered the hole where the EMTs had threaded the IV into his tattooed left arm. The previous morning, after reporting to the Stars’ practice facility, he had been sent home after vomiting.
“Far,” answered Seguin when asked how off his game he felt. “I feel better now after getting some fluids. Next game, should be good.”
In that Tuesday game, Seguin landed just one shot on net. Jamie Benn, Seguin’s left wing, had one shot, too. It was the ninth time in his previous 10 games Seguin didn’t score a goal.
But Seguin played 20:55, most of any Dallas forward. He won the late faceoff. When your employer believes you can be the NHL’s best, such plays are mandatory. Even if you’re dehydrated.
“He knows he’s one of the leaders on the team. He cherishes that,” said general manager Jim Nill. “That’s a part of Tyler Seguin people don’t realize sometimes. He wants to be the guy. He accepts accountability. With that comes the pressure to do things right. Doing things right isn’t always scoring goals. It might be blocking a shot. It might be being the first backchecker. It’s about doing all the little things right. That’s where he’s really grown as a player.”
A one-sided trade
On Tuesday, Seguin will welcome his former team to Dallas. The Bruins have found some traction. But for chunks of the first half, the Bruins needed speed, skill, and scoring — qualities Seguin brings in abundance.
Seguin is tied for the league lead with 28 goals. He has 183 shots, second after Alex Ovechkin. Only 16 of his points have been on the power play. In five-on-five play, Seguin is averaging 1.66 goals per 60 minutes, more than Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, and Phil Kessel. Seguin possesses the puck more than he chases it, although he only needs an instant to lock and load his whippy, heavy shot. He is younger than every Bruin except Dougie Hamilton and David Pastrnak.
“He can be the best player in this league if he wants to be,” Benn said. “He’s taken his game to another level this year. The future’s going to be exciting to watch for him.”
Seguin, 22, is under contract through 2019 at $5.75 million annually. It is $4.75 million less than what Kane, Seguin’s Swiss lockout teammate, will make starting next year. It is only $1.75 million more than the Bruins are paying Loui Eriksson.
The Bruins believed they were getting a sure thing in Eriksson: a second-line veteran who could score, pass, defend, and play in all situations. They moved Seguin partly because he was anything but a sure thing.
A season and a half later, the trade is sprinting in the wrong direction for the Bruins. Eriksson is a good fit on the third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer with 28 points. He’s averaging 17:54 minutes of ice time per game, second among team forwards. But the 29-year-old Eriksson’s skating is declining. He is under contract for one more season at $4 million.
Reilly Smith is playing at his ceiling as a No. 2 right wing who benefits from playing with Patrice Bergeron. Joe Morrow is in Providence. Matt Fraser is in Edmonton, waived because he couldn’t get open to use his heavy and accurate shot.
General manager Peter Chiarelli noted the organization’s concerns about Seguin’s off-ice activities factored in the trade. Chiarelli declined to provide examples of Seguin’s behavior.
“That ship’s sailed,” Chiarelli said of the trade. “We’ll learn from it, listen to the pundits, and take the hits.”
Had Seguin remained in Boston, he would have stayed at right wing. He would not have displaced Bergeron or David Krejci.
It was the move to center, however, that ignited Seguin’s emergence. On the wing, Seguin moved in stops and starts. In the middle, Seguin flows constantly. This gives him the launchpad from which he accelerates to ludicrous speed.
“At center, there could be a broken play,” Seguin said. “But I’ve swung with so much speed that I’m gone by the time I get the puck. The D have to respect that and back off. It creates more opportunities for myself and my linemates.”
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff emphasizes a five-man pack. Like Julien, Ruff believes in offense from defense. When the Stars win the puck in transition, Seguin attacks up the ice with speed and numbers, just like Julien wants his players to do.
“I think so. Yeah, I do,” Ruff said when asked if Seguin could have produced similarly in Boston. “There’s two things that play into it. Him and Jamie Benn have had a tremendous relationship. Could he have found somebody there? I think he could have. Claude’s system is not a lot different. He’s got some good players that were ahead of him up the middle when you’re talking Bergeron, you’re talking Krejci.
“In the opportunity to get here, to get more minutes, and become that No. 1 centerman, was something that was probably a better fit. Boston didn’t have a need to do that right away.”
No longer wanted
On July 4, 2013, Seguin was celebrating the holiday on Cape Cod with 30 or 40 friends. Suddenly, his phone exploded with more than 100 texts, most saying the same thing: “Dallas?”
Seguin couldn’t get enough reception at the vacation house to check his voicemail. After a 15-minute drive into Osterville, Seguin got the news from Chiarelli. He then spoke with Nill. He returned to the house. The party continued.
The next day, Seguin returned to Boston. He cleaned out his apartment. Then he drove eight lonely hours home to Toronto.
“I was really sad,” Seguin said of the solo drive. “But then it was really quick to excited. I talked to Jim. They gave me an opportunity at my natural position of center. They wanted me to be a first-line player. They wanted me to earn my way. There was a flash of excitement.”
Anticipation coupled with anger. It wasn’t enough that the Bruins gave up on Seguin. They made it clear on “Behind the B,” their in-house television program, that they were quite comfortable with tearing Seguin down and leaving the pieces for all to see.
“If we get guys we think we can win with, then it is what it is,” said former assistant GM Jim Benning, during a spring meeting, of moving Seguin. “We’re winning every year. We’re not baby-sitting.”
The show also captured a meeting in Jersey City before the 2013 draft.
“I just think there’s too many red flags with him,” said current assistant GM Scott Bradley. “He has a lot of talent. We know that. He should be scoring. I’m disappointed. He brings up Kane. If he gives us half of Kane, we win the Stanley Cup. I don’t like the way his game is going. He hasn’t proven that he’s tough enough or plays our style of game. I don’t know if a leopard ever changes his spots. But he’s going to have to, or else we’re going to be sitting here next year doing the same thing.”
Seguin heard about the show. He didn’t like it.
He also heard the chatter about the Bruins hiring security guards in Toronto during the playoffs to make sure he was in his room. Not true, Seguin said.
“I don’t think there will ever not be that feeling of motivation or proving people wrong,” Seguin said. “Just with how everything went down once I got traded. Everything that came out after it, all the rumors and everything. It’s definitely something that drove me. I can’t hide from that.”
Work in progress
This weekend, Seguin will join Bergeron, his former center, in Columbus as an All-Star.
“I look at myself and see how much I’ve grown in just a year and a half,” Seguin said. “I definitely hope I haven’t hit my ceiling yet.”
For all his production, Seguin has underachieved. The Stars believe he has the power to do more.
“We’re going to push him,” Nill said. “We’re not going to let him off the hook. We’re not going to let him cheat. We think he can be one of the best players in the league. We’re going to make him accountable. There’s going to be times he’s not going to like it. He might get sat down a couple shifts because he’s not doing it right. We might have some meetings behind the scenes to say, ‘Here’s what you’ve got to do. You’re not doing this right.’ The great thing about Tyler is he listens to that and he accepts it.”
The Bruins went through this for three seasons. They loved his talent. They didn’t like his deficiencies: taking defensive shortcuts, not competing hard enough, not being professional. They worried he was content with being a 25-goal scorer when his ceiling demanded double.
Moving to center, playing with Benn, the motivation of the trade, and maturation have made Seguin a better player than he was in Boston. But some bad habits remain.
He has grown into 200 pounds of shredded Texas beef. If Seguin would pause, engage, and lean into his opponents, he’d be strong enough to separate players from pucks and go on the attack. Instead, he cheats.
“Don’t go by players,” Ruff said. “Don’t make it a stick fight. Make it a body-on-body fight first. Then get on the stick. It’s something I’m preaching to the whole team. But in Tyler’s case, when he gets the skating ramped up and there’s just a stick fight to create an offensive chance, you can get a chance going the other way. But if you don’t, sometimes you’re giving up a pretty good chance the other way.”
Dallas has the NHL’s No. 2 offense (3.13 goals per game). But they allow 3.27 goals per game, third worst in the league.
After Sunday night’s 6-3 win over the Blackhawks, they are 2 points out of eighth place. Seguin has made the playoffs for five straight years. That streak is in danger.
A reborn Star
Nill likes to say that for three years, Seguin attended hockey university in Boston, where he studied under instructors such as Julien, Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara.
Seguin is in his fifth NHL season. He is still in the first stages of a life reboot.
“When I came in, Jim sat me down and said, ‘Anything that’s happened thus far, we’re going to move on. We’re going to build something here. We’re going to pretend this is Day 1,’ ” Seguin said. “Sometimes it almost feels like me being in Boston was like being in college. It’s different. This is the type of team I was supposed to be drafted to more than into a Stanley Cup team. It doesn’t happen like that. This is where I was supposed to grow.”
The juvenile Twitter account that once blipped out homophobic tweets is now Version 2.0. It is a PG collection of Dallas Stars Foundation retweets, product endorsements, and fan pictures.
He started Seguin’s Stars, hosting patients with spinal cord injuries at home games. It is in honor of his close friend Derrek Moseychuk, who was injured in a car accident while Seguin was still a Bruin.
On Dec. 1, Seguin’s marketing team launched his website. It includes quotes from Seguin on hockey, stories on his career, and pictures of the tattoos that snake around his arms.
His most recent tattoo is on the inside of his right arm. It is of Toronto’s CN Tower and the street signs from his childhood home.
For now, Seguin said he is finished. There is no space remaining on his arms.
It’s not so with his career. He will turn 23 on Jan. 31. A blank canvas, smooth and white as a freshly made sheet of ice, lies before him. Seguin can turn it into anything he wants.