You will find no #fancystats in the article below. Nor will you find sufficient sample size to well and truly make any sort of definitive judgment. This is a thought piece, a notion. It's something I've pondered, at points, throughout this season, in particular in the dark days since Tyler Seguin went down with a knee injury. That's right, it's a Seguin article, it's also a Jamie Benn article. It's an article about Dallas' dynamic duo and how maybe, just maybe, the Stars shouldn't be in such a rush to reunite the pair when Seguin returns.
That is not to say Seguin's return is unimportant. It's critical. Tyler Seguin is a transformative offensive force, a chalk-board guy, meaning every night the other coach says "whatever you do, don't let 91 beat us." Then, 91 goes out and beats 'em anyways. We all know the stats, but they're fun: 55 Games Played, 29 Goals, 30 Assists, 59 points. At the time, good for a share of first in the entire NHL. Even now, six games past the injury, Seguin is still seventh in goals and tenth in points.
Seguin's arrival, furthermore, resolved a positional issue for the Dallas Stars. In the wake of Brad Richard's departure for the New York Rangers after the 2010/2011 season, the Stars found themselves with a dearth of top-line centers. Mike Ribiero was a fine player, but beneath him on the depth chart was a churning mass of Ott/Wandell/Dowell/Petersen/Vincour. To solve the immediate problem, the Stars shifted Benn, then a promising young winger, into the middle.
The move wasn't a bad one. Benn was then, as he is now, a physically imposing specimen, and very much capable of the rigors of center in the NHL's big boy conference. That season, he finished tied for second on the team in goals (26) and tied for second in overall points (63). The Stars, unfortunately, weren't as good elsewhere in the lineup. They finished 4th in the Pacific Division and missed the playoffs. Under the hood, they also struggled offensively, finishing 21st that year in league scoring.
During the lockout shortened season to follow, the Stars attempted to bolster their depth in the middle (Derek Roy suggests an emphasis on try), but wound up missing the playoffs once again. By then it had become common to hear center referenced as an area of need. This need was especially acute given Dallas' history of fine play down the middle. Just look at the list: Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pierre Turgeon, Jason Arnott, Mike Ribiero, Brad Richards, Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, and those are off the top of my head.
Two seasons in, Tyler Seguin is a very natural addition to that list. He immediately led the Stars in scoring. His presence also allowed Benn to shift back to left wing, his natural position. If we judge things by end-of-season result, the move was a resounding success. Dallas made the playoffs in large part because their dynamic duo placed fourth (Seguin) and tied for eighth in league scoring.
Here's the thing, for the 2013/2014 Dallas Stars to succeed, both Seguin and Benn kind of had to be spectacular. Don't get me wrong, 11th in the league is a very good offense, but the reality of that ranking was that it required an overwhelming emphasis be placed on the duo. Benn (19:09) and Seguin (19:21) averaged nearly two full minutes more each night than Cody Eakin (17:20). Dallas also led the league in the gap between their 2nd and 3rd place scorers (37 points between Benn and Alex Goligoski).
As bad as things have been since Seguin's February 13th injury, imagine how much worse they'd have been last year. That fear, alongside common sense, and franchise history, is a huge part of why Dallas pursued Jason Spezza.
To thrive in the NHL is to possess options. Chicago isn’t great because Patrick Kane always plays with Jonathan Toews, the Hawks are great because Kane can play with Toews, or he can play elsewhere in the lineup. Mike Babcock’s use of Henrik Zetterberg & Pavel Datsyuk follows the same model. At times, elite players are paired to exploit matchup advantages. Other times, they’re separated for the same reason. Wouldn’t it be nice, just once, for Shea Weber to have to play against either Seguin or Benn, rather than both?
All of this brings me, in a very roundabout way, to my initial point: why is it taken as a certainty that Benn and Seguin will immediately be reunited upon Seguin's return? Please keep in mind I’m not saying the pair is a bad idea. There is an undeniable track record of success behind the Benn/Seguin tandem. I’m just saying that Jamie Benn was successful prior to Seguin’s arrival, and has continued to succeed with Seguin out of the lineup. Why not turn that into an advantage?
Prior to Seguin’s injury, Jamie Benn was having a very good season (55 GP / 19 G / 31 A / 50 Pts). You’d take those numbers. However, in the seven games since Seguin went down, Benn has found a different level (5 G / 6 A / 11 Pts). If we project, that’s a 1.57 point-per-game pace versus a .91 point-per-game pace. Again, I cannot stress enough that I’m not saying Benn is better without Seguin. What I’m saying is that he’s an elite player. Full stop. As is Seguin. Why couldn’t the pair be elite separately?
Time and time again this season, we have seen the Stars impose their will on the other team and win, or we have seen them fail to do so and lose. The feel is that they either cause a matchup problem or they do not, and very little happens in-game to alter that situation. To truly ascend into the ranks of NHL contenders, Dallas needs to become a variable threat. Opposing coaches need to be terrified of Benn and Seguin coming over the boards together, but also concerned about the damage the Stars can do when they don’t.
It’s entirely possible the addition of Valeri Nichushkin becomes that evolutionary step, or the ascension of Brett Ritchie or some other Stars prospect. It’s also possible Dallas uses some of their upcoming cap windfall to pursue additional scoring in the free agent market. At this point, all options should be considered, including a world in which Seguin and Benn don’t necessarily play on the same line. Think of it this way: 19 minutes each night together, or 38 minutes each night apart. If you can make the latter work, isn’t that better?