NHL Notes: Seguin flourishing under Stars system

NHL Notes: Seguin flourishing under Stars system
November 4, 2013, 1:30 pm
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There will be plenty of vociferous critics of the Tyler Seguin trade to Dallas if the 21-year-old ends up lighting the lamp a couple of times against his former NHL team in Boston.

There are already more than a few dissenting voices out there after watching the skilled forward pile up six goals and 15 points in 14 games upon moving back to his natural center position with the Dallas Stars. But the common mistake made by many of those hindsight captains is that they buy the notion that the talented, immature Seguin was going to do any of those things while in Boston.

There were very real questions about the youngster’s ability to ever thrive as a core, 20-minute member of Claude Julien’s system that rewards attention paid to detail and competing for every one-on-one puck battle. The little things are every bit as important as the big ticket items to the Boston Bruins, and Seguin was always more of a big-picture kind of prospect.

There was every belief among B’s management Seguin would quickly turn into a 30-goal, 90-point type guy for a forever .500 team like the Stars. But with the points also comes a flawed player that’s barely in positive plus/minus who “wins” 37 percent of his face-offs.

The Bruins saw all they needed to see when Seguin soiled himself in his first two shifts at the Bell Centre while getting a chance to play center last season while Patrice Bergeron was down with a concussion.

Seguin is a flashy offensive producer with skating speed the Bruins are sorely lacking right now, but he was also the player Bruins management was the least loathe to lose when difficult offseason decisions needed to be made.

“We fully expected that Seguin would be a really good player in Dallas, and that’s what he’s doing right now,” said Peter Chiarelli, who clearly knew he’d be taking some heat this summer with Stanley Cup mainstays like Seguin, Rich Peverley, Nathan Horton and Andrew Ference all leaving the Bruins last offseason.

“Given the salary cap and the desire to keep other core players, there were moves we absolutely had to make this summer. You have to look at what we got back in return. Loui Eriksson is going to be a really good fit for us here, and Reilly Smith showed he’s got a high ceiling during training camp.

“It might be a couple of years for Joe Morrow to develop, but we believe he’s going to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Matt Fraser gave us some organizational depth along the wing.”

One thing the Bruins didn’t get: Alex Chiasson, the former BU hockey product they were pushing to receive from Dallas during trade talks before settling on Fraser.

The bottom line: As good as Seguin has been in Dallas, the belief is that certain things would always hold him back in Boston. He wasn’t diligent enough to win board battles as a winger, an area that’s hugely important to any Julien-coached team, and Seguin's hockey IQ wasn’t high enough to function as a multi-tasking center at both ends of the ice.

Julien answered a general question in recent days about junior players learning NHL battle levels, and it sounded like some of the Seguin experience was sprinkled into the B’s coach’s answer.

“It’s very common because, first of all, they’re dealing with stronger individuals. You hear a million times that they’re not dealing with men at this level rather than with 16-year-olds at the junior level,” said Julien. “Another problem is that they’re such good players, they can get away with things at their [junior] level that they won’t get away with here.

“Sometimes it can be a benefit for those guys confidence-wise, but then it can be a challenge to make the [NHL] jump when their skill and talent alone won’t get them through.

“Then you have to teach. But we’re okay with that, and we expect it though as long as they’re not stubborn, and open-minded enough to understand they’ve got things they need to improve on. Most guys are like that. But you do get the odd player that thinks they’re good enough to play the way they have their whole life. That’s when it becomes a challenge.”

Clearly there were enough reasons on the ice to deal Seguin, but they went far beyond his stat sheet.

The Bruins brushed off an incident years ago when Seguin came to the team nervous about a female threatening to release embarrassing pictures of the B’s winger if she wasn’t paid a hefty sum of money. Too much money and too much fame in a teenager’s life can result in those kinds of situations.

But those kinds of blips popped up all over Boston’s radar screen in Seguin’s final season with the team, a timeline of Seguin debacles that occurred after he signed a guaranteed six-year contract with the Bruins which would pay him $5.75 million per season.

He wasn’t yet making that big money in his final entry-level year with the Bruins, but his off-ice lifestyle took a turn for the worse once he knew his money was guaranteed.
His first couple of seasons in Boston, Seguin hung around with his Bruins teammates, most famously Brad Marchand, or a group of friends on the BU hockey team, including  Chiasson and Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle.

That changed toward the end of Seguin’s sophomore season, and by last season, a group of Seguin’s buddies moved down from Toronto and made themselves a fixture in the young Bruins superstar’s life.

Seguin’s Bruins teammates tried to steer the young forward away from his new entourage, whose members didn’t have the same responsibilities as an NHL player, and were doing a little more than just going out for a couple of beers on Friday nights.

But Seguin wouldn’t listen to the team, or his teammates who had walked down similar roads in their early twenties.

“We all tried to talk to him about it,” said one current Bruins player. “He thought these guys were his support system, but in reality they were bringing him down. You’ve really got to be smart about which are your real friends once you start making a little bit of money.”

The final straw was the Bruins’ suspicion Seguin was staying out late in his native Toronto during the first round of the playoffs. A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed the Bruins did indeed need a guard outside his hotel room to make certain he was obeying the team’s playoff curfew, a report that first appeared in the Boston Herald and was denied by Seguin’s mother.

Say what you will about Chicago star Pat Kane’s hijinks with the Blackhawks, but there were never any stories of misbehavior during Chicago’s playoff runs. Once a player is off the reservation during a postseason run for a Stanley Cup-caliber team, it’s a pretty short trip to being shipped out of town.

Seguin turned it around by the time the team faced Chicago in the Cup Finals, but it was way too late by then.   

All of that stuff led to Seguin’s head-scratching comments in his first Dallas press conference lamenting that he was “the only single guy" on the Bruins, and his parents' very clumsy attempts to circle the wagons for a 21-year-old adult. It seems as if the wakeup call of getting traded from Boston has reconnected Seguin with his bearings on and off the ice. It was perhaps the kind of life-altering event that was going to shake him out of the world he’d created for himself.

“We worked with him a bit this summer, and he’s been nothing but good for us,” said Mark Recchi, Seguin’s former B’s teammates and a Special Assistant to the GM for the Dallas Stars. “He’s been joined at the hip with Jamie Benn since the season started, and obviously he’s been producing quite a bit for us on the ice. Jamie is a young, single guy that Segs can go out to dinner with on off nights, but he’s also a guy that’s really got a good head on his shoulders when it comes to being a good pro.”

That was the lament in Boston: Seguin wasn’t professional enough in a league that demands it, especially in a social media age where there aren’t that many secrets anymore.

The Bruins attempted to use ordinary hockey discipline when they suspended Seguin on the road in Winnipeg for missing a morning team meeting. That issue was compounded when his teammates were forced to cover up for Seguin when the youngster concocted a lame, nonsensical fib about the time-zone change on his cellphone causing him to oversleep.

The Bruins clearly felt like things were manageable at that point in the middle of Seguin’s second season while he was en route to becoming an All-Star. But that upward trajectory didn’t last into his final year in Boston.

Seguin's regression on and off the ice in his third and final season with the Black and Gold, as much as anything else, is what led Boston to make the difficult decision to let him move on.

The Bruins have a homecoming showdown with Seguin and his Stars on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Good luck to Buffalo Sabres cheap shot maestro Patrick Kaleta, who was waived this week by the Sabres with the intent of sending him to AHL Rochester in an effort to reform and reprogram the troublemaker. Kaleta was most recently slapped with a 10-game suspension for a head shot on Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, and it’s believed Buffalo ownership was under some pressure to take a stand after watching Kaleta and John Scott behave badly.

Darcy Regier opted to give Kaleta the heave-ho to the AHL with the hopes he can turn into a useful player in the way that Matt Cooke has in the last few seasons.

“This was a move we thought was necessary to help Pat change his game and preserve his career in this league,” Regier said in a statement. “We believe in Pat as a person and we hope he will continue his career in our organization and, if the circumstances are right, with the Buffalo Sabres.”

The one problem with all this: Kaleta isn’t nearly as effective in non-hatchet man situations as Cooke, an energy player. More power to him if he can follow the Cooke model to solid NHL citizenship, but I’m just not seeing it.
Speaking of Kane, one thing that really stands about the Chicago sniper this season is the minus-9 attached to his stat ledger. He and Duncan Keith are the only two Chicago regulars in the negative for the Blackhawks, which is a little mystifying to Kane after working to improve his defense over the last few seasons in efforts of becoming a complete player.

“Sometimes you catch some tough breaks,” Kane said. “Other times, there are plays that I can probably make to try and help keep the puck out of our net. It’s a number that obviously doesn’t look good. It’s not something that’s going to change overnight. It will be a long road back to try and get into the plus column but I’m confident I can do it.”

Consecutive minus-3 games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild certainly did a number on a stat about which hockey people now debate the merits in an age of advanced statistics.

“I feel like I’m getting better at (defense),” Kane said. “It’s never fun being minus-3 in games -- especially back-to-back games -- and see that number get even higher. It’s something you have to deal with. I put myself in that situation so I’ll try and get out of it.”

* Speaking of Chicago, it’s surprising anybody would ever think Jonathan Toews has it in mind to leave the Blackhawks for his hometown Winnipeg Jets once he becomes a free agent after the 2014-15 season. He put those notions to bed during a visit to hometown Winnipeg last week:

“People want to talk to you about it all the time, especially when you’re back there and it does run through your mind a little bit, but I always kind of squash that question as quick as you can ask me. I love Chicago. Chicago is my home. These fans here have given me everything I could ask for as a player in six great years let alone an entire career. When you think about that you definitely owe something back to those people.”
* Mike Smith became the seventh different NHL goaltender to score a goal in his career when he bagged an empty netter against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 19. He credited his time manning the Dallas Stars’ pipes with former B’s netminder Marty Turco for the confidence to make the play. Smith said that Turco actually pulled him aside during a game when he turned away a chance to make a play while handling the puck outside the crease.

“I think that was the big point that Marty made was you can’t go out with fear,” Smith said. “It’s something that you have to have, that swagger and confidence, that when you go out to play you’re going to make the right play.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but you have to go out with the mindset that you’re going to make the right play.”

Smith should have plenty of swagger now as it’s only the 11th time in NHL history that a goaltender was been credited with a lamp-lighter, and it’s only added to his resume for a spot on Team Canada among notables like Carey Price and Roberto Luongo.
* Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.