It feels like many years ago, since Stars fans could laugh at benefiting from one of the most trade in bones in recent history. Although Tyler Seguin delivered the promise that the Boston Bruins, his former team, were not willing to be patient with, his body has been through the ringtone. In 2015, he received an MCL tear after being targeted with a low bridge hit by Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov. The following year, he suffered a cut in his Achilles tendon in a freak collision with Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman. So four years later, in 2020, he tore a labrum in his right hip and forced him to miss last season. In a season where Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski all had banner years, Seguin’s absence felt even more acute.
Seguin’s recent rehabilitation of injuries was necessary but miserable, and he suffered even more injuries throughout. To read him tell about experience to The Athletic’s Saad Yousef — especially the description of his stiff legs and fragile stance of missing his quad muscle — made him sound like a pair of neck bolts away from being Frankenstein’s monster. There were silver linings (he came to catch up Cobra Kai), but he had to restart his body from scratch in the middle of a pandemic. Now he is healthy and whole, which led him recently to tell the Dallas media that he “feels dangerous.” Stars fans should hope so. You could argue (and it is I) that Seguin returning to form — though he never recreates what he achieved in his prime — would have a greater impact on star fortunes than any other conceivable evolution.
Is that a bold claim? I do not think. Regardless of the lineup, each elite team or Cup winner has a powerful focal point. Whether or not we speak defensively sounding like St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews or offensively potent ones like Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, having an elite forward to attack or neutralize the ice gut is largely, to fully intend a pun, a team’s center of gravity.
Seguin gets lost in the mix because he does not fit the typical profile for a powerful turn. He is amazingly offensive without being the most creative and he is defensively responsible without being the most confident. I get the feeling that fans and management are more excited about everyone else in the middle. It’s more fun to talk about Roope Hintz’s ceiling, and it’s more enticing to see extra depth in the middle with Jamie Benn in the center of the third line. But let’s slow it down. Let’s slow it down way down.
Hintz may be ready to take over the offensive role, but he averages 11:57 with an even strength TOI per. Match since 2018. Compare that to Seguin’s 15-plus minutes per game. Fight with even strength in the same period. The skill is obviously there for Hintz, but he has not yet run through the glove. As for Benn, if he is asked to play center on the third line, one of three things will happen: either his role will be to Radek Faksas, he will return to the wing and give Faksa his check line keys back, or Benn will be offensive depth to surpass the traditional control line assignment. Nevertheless, neither Hintz, Benn nor Faksa have done what Seguin has for nearly a decade.
If my argument has any merit, it can not depend on recent bias, because we have seen Seguin’s decline in production, the decline in speed, and decreased in the overall effect. I say “total” because that’s what current models like Goals Above Replacement are trying to capture: not just the rocks that break the surface of the water (goals and assists), but the offensive waves created in the pond by a player’s 200-foot presence (ability to help generate shots every game, suppress shots, score on Power Play and draw penalties) to catch wax and slow down performance versus production.
In this context, the evidence is strong:
The top chart is a timeline of the amount of total offense we should expect Seguin to generate over a level of compensation going forward from season to season, while the bottom line chart is a timeline of the amount of total offense we should expect Seguin to generate above a level of replacement going forward from game to game. Granted, we do not need the Planck scale to tell us what we already know: Seguin can not fit into a tanooki suit further. Dallas had a three-year window where 20 goals by a player was pretty much just house money, but no more now that time and injury have ravaged his body.
At the same time, there are some very good explanations for why Seguin’s total offense has dropped. The 2016-2017 season was the year Dallas was worn out by injuries, leaving Lindy Ruff with remnants to place around her star center. Subsequent seasons were defined by the suffocating, dump-and-hunt systems of Ken Hitchcock, Jim Montgomery, and now Rick Bowness. “Offensive from good defense” has been their goal-scoring motto and never conversely created a calming sphere around his ideal effect. Seguin’s nadir, in 2019-2020, is quite clearly an example of a player dealing with an injury that reached a literal breaking point.
It is his honor that he has been able to align across different systems with different goals. Yes, his overall impact is lame, but he has also been the team’s phalanx in various ways. For example, Faksa is credited as the defensive workhorse, which is reasonable, but Seguin must also score through the dirt. In the 2018-2019 season, Faksa played only 15 several minutes total against the NHL’s elite (as defined by PuckIQ) than Seguin. The season before? Seguin played 70 more minutes against the NHL’s elite than Faksa. Sure, one plays more than the other, but Faksa is also not asked to play all three zones in the same way. I would argue that the same principles apply to Hintz and Benn, quite the opposite. Seguin plays against fierce competition while being asked to produce, but he also produces against the influx of elite players who anticipate every single step. Who else on the team can claim a similar role?
If Seguin’s role fades because Dallas has better options, even just the bones of what once made Seguin so special – his attacks on the short side at the bottom of the right dots on the powerplay, or his chugging-but-powerful step through the neutral – could be what the stars need to compete. The hope from management is that these injuries have not accumulated enough wear and tear to remove Seguin from the player he used to be. It is certainly possible. As a 29-year-old, he is old in hockey years, but hardly old enough to expect oblivion. During this pre-season, he not only appeared on the note, his legs looked lively. Should Seguin play healthy, Stars are legitimate threats.
If you forgot how good Seguin was, consider this:
At the height of Seguin’s career in 2013-2014, his impact was worth four wins over an 82-game season, according to Evolving-Hockey’s WAR model, which means Dallas would comfortably make the playoffs at a 95-point pace (95 points is typical magic number to do so) with him versus missing the playoffs at an 87-point pace without him (assuming his replacement was a level replacement). For perspective, not even Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon has broken that threshold. Interestingly, the math checks out: without Seguin, Dallas ’60 points in 56 games last season would have gotten them going with 87 points over 82 games.
Seguin may feel dangerous, however being dangerous is what Dallas needs to be able to fight. The Stars are not the only team to get a much-needed reset. When Boston traded Seguin, Scott Bradley, the Bruins’ director of gaming personnel, said, “I do not know if a leopard will ever change his spots, but he will have to.” Besides being famous last words, I always found it as an interesting analogy. Leopards are pointed predators. What Seguin’s future holds is anyone’s guess. I do not know if health alone will make a difference, but Seguin does not need to change his spots; he did not then, nor does he now. He just needs Dallas to play him with the confidence they had when they brought him to town.
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