The biggest mistake the 2014-15 Dallas Stars made was believing their own hype.
For the second consecutive summer, general manager Jim Nill had snagged the most dangerous centre on the trade market—Tyler Seguin in 2013, Jason Spezza in 2014—and an impressive playoff showing the previous spring positioned the Stars as a trendy darkhorse pick to contend for the Western Conference title. A survey of 12 Sportsnet NHL analysts had the Stars finishing 14th overall in the regular season. They came 19th, seven points back of the race.
“We felt we had all these top players, all this firepower that could score a ton of goals. Automatically in training camp we were scoring a ton, but we weren’t focusing on defence,” Seguin recently told Sportsnet after filming for the Goon sequel.
“That’s not the on the coaches or GMs at all. That was all on us. We felt we could outscore every team.”
Seguin set up four goals on Oct. 18 versus Philadelphia, but Dallas lost 6-5 in overtime. The centre rang up the Sharks for a hat trick on Nov. 8, but Dallas lost at home 5-3. He scored twice against the basement-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 18, but the Hurricanes won 6-4. Seguin remembers these losses to other non-playoff clubs well. Of the Stars' first 14 contests last season, they won just four. The scariest offence in the West averaged a conference-high 3.13 goals per game but was wasted.
"We were scoring a lot but not winning games because we can’t play defence,” he explains. "Last year, our start was terrible. I don’t think we had the right attitude in training camp, and I think that’s going to be a huge stressing point [this] September.
“We have as good a team on paper as anybody in the league, can play with anyone in the league, and it’s all about how it comes together."
How it comes together in Nill's office is impressive. Onlookers have dubiously crowned Dallas back-to-back champions of the NHL off-season in light of Nill's acquisitions of the bejeweled Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya from Cup-winning Chicago. And one-time Vezina finalist Antti Niemi was signed to support a declining Kari Lehtonen. The hype machine has been cranked up yet again.
“When you see your GM going out there and making those moves, making you into even more a playoff team and a contender, it makes you confident. It means your GM likes what he sees. We’re a young group, and he sees us going in the right direction quickly. He’s getting little pieces to help our team come together,” says Seguin, 23.
Though training in Toronto, Seguin flew back to Dallas for Sharp's introductory press conference earlier this month to get to know Sharp and his wife, Abby, better. Seguin already knows whether Sharp will be skating on the right flank with him and Jamie Benn or with Spezza and Ales Hemsky but doesn't want to spill the beans.
"Sharpie I’ve met at all-star games. He’s a great character guy. Obviously he’s a winner, and winning and experience go a long way," Seguin says. "Really happy to have him.”
As an NHL teenager in Boston, Seguin usually skated on the second or third line, so he'd be trying to solve Oduya—a second-pair D-man—all night.
"He never made things easy on me," Seguin recalls. "He’s not a big guy, but he’s so strong defensively, and obviously we need that."
Also on Dallas's wish list: 82 games of healthy Seguin.
When Florida's Dmitry Kulikov clipped Seguin's right knee in February, he was in the thick of the scoring race. Though Kulikov was suspended four games for the hit, Seguin missed 10 games and still scored a career-high 37 goals and 40 assists.
"I think I was one or two or three [in the scoring race] when I got hurt and having one of the best years of my career. Tough hit. Bad injury. We were on the brink of the playoffs when I got hurt, so that sucked," he says.
Seguin returned to the ice earlier than expected, helped linemate Jamie Benn win the NHL scoring title, then captured a gold medal with Canada at the IIHF World Championship—while wearing a knee brace. As of last week he had skated five times without the brace and would prefer not to go back.
"Every day it’s getting better," he says. "By training camp I’ll be 110 per cent, so I’m looking forward to that.”
One-Timers with Tyler Seguin
On Benn's late run to the Art Ross Trophy: "Seeing Jamie, how he rose up when I got hurt, he gave it his all. He knew when I was out, he had to do some extra scoring, extra offence to get us in the playoffs. I don’t think his goal was ever to win it. Then once we were out of [the post-season] and games were winding down, he’s like, 'Yeah, I might as well do it. It’s a prestigious trophy.' We’re all happy for him."
On the biggest surprise at the worlds: “Sid. He surprisingly surprised me. I didn’t really know him well, had just met him a few times. Went over there for the tournament and he turned into one of my friends, one of the guys I hung out with. It surprised me—the things you hear and how good of a laid-back guy he is. It’s still early, but I see a lot of Sid in the Connor McDavid kid—meeting Connor and seeing the type of person he is. I think he’s going to be a good player too."