For those of us not born with all-world athletic ability, the prime of our life spans from our late twenties to our mid-to-late forties. Those are the years where we look our best, our brain best functions, we raise our families, and earn the majority of our wealth. These are often considered the “best years of our lives,” and we will all experience the decline that comes with age and the stresses of everyday life. All of us, with the exception of say, a professional hockey player.
Yes, while the rest of us are using our decade between the ages of eighteen to twenty-eight to go to college, learn how to be an adult, and establish ourselves in our chosen career field, professional athletes are entering the peak of their career. These are the crucial years where an athlete is physically capable of taking complete advantage of the gifts given to them, where they appear superhuman, and enter the realm of super-stardom. The Dallas Stars have two such players on their roster, and the franchise seems to be wasting it.
Tyler Seguin, 26 years old, and Jamie Benn, 28 years old are two of the NHL’s elite players who have earned the tag of “superstar”. Luckily for the Dallas Stars, and to the dismay of the league, these two are often on the same line and often terrorize opposing defense and goaltenders. The Stars have a history of offensive superstars gracing their rosters: Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, Brad Richards, etc. But the Stars haven’t had two players in their early prime years at the same time, like they do with Seguin and Benn.
First, let’s look at them individually.
Benn has been captain of the Stars since 2013, and has been nothing short of incredible for the team since he made his debut in 2009. His combination of power, speed, and skill makes him a throwback of sorts. His leadership has also been indispensable in an era of transition for the franchise. He brings a quiet, cool, and confident leadership that the team has followed without question. Benn has shown the ability, time and again, to take over a game by any means necessary with a big hit, goal, or fight to jumpstart the team’s engine.
Beyond the impressive intangibles that Benn possesses are the impressive statistics and accolades that have been showered on him. His all-time stats (so far) are 649 games played, 245 goals, 340 assists, and 585 points. His goal total ranks second behind Modano for most all-time in franchise history, and his point total ranks fifth. In the five seasons since being named captain, Benn has racked up 396 games played, 163 goals, 229 assists, and 392 points. In the years that could be considered his prime, Benn is averaging almost a point per game, and has been remarkably consistent in his efforts.
Benn has been impressive on the world stage as well. He scored the only goal against the United States at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and won a gold medal with Canada. His Art Ross Trophy win in 2015 was the highlight of an otherwise forgettable campaign for the team that season. He’s also been named a cornerstone player by many in the mainstream hockey media for his on-ice work ethic, international accolades, and off-ice work with the community. On top of all of this, in 19 career playoff games, Benn has also recorded 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists). All this is to say that Benn, through his first eight seasons, is outperforming legendary players such as Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull, and current teammate Jason Spezza in terms of similarity score. Benn has truly and unquestionably been the heart and soul of the franchise in recent years.
The story of Tyler Seguin is well known in the hockey world, and the fact that Boston essentially gave him away is still dumbfounding to many fans. Seguin possesses a rare gift for making plays at blazing speeds, and his offensive arsenal has always been fatal with the blistering shot at his disposal. Seguin has also developed into an all-around player for the Stars this season in ways that were once thought out of reach for this young superstar. Seguin, in his time in Dallas, has consistently been over fifty percent with his face-off percentage, and has become a key fixture on the Stars penalty kill unit since 2017. It appears that Seguin is truly maturing with each passing year in victory green.
Even with these attributes and maturation within his game, Seguin has always been an offensive force with the Stars. Since his arrival in Dallas in 2013, Seguin has been a shot in the arm for the franchise. In 379 games played, Seguin has an astounding 172 goals, 204 assists, and 376 points. Like his counterpart in Benn, Seguin has been averaging nearly a point a game for the Stars in the last five years. Seguin is also the team’s marquee threat on the power play, and has recorded 56 goals and 75 assists on the man advantage.
Seguin has also become a leader on the team in recent seasons in Dallas. Over the years, it was common to see Seguin wearing an “A” on his chest due to the absence of the regular alternate captain. However, this season the franchise made Seguin a fixture of the Stars leadership team by giving him the letter full-time during home games. While some might believe this to be the natural next step for Seguin in his time with Dallas, that underscores the importance of what this does for his development as a player and a leader. In his years with Boston, Seguin was criticized for not being the right type of player to win with, and that he had the talent, but didn’t have what it takes to win. The awarding of the alternate captain’s letter now dispels all of those notions. Seguin and his emotional attachment to the success of the team is evident in postgame interviews and in losses, especially as of late. He has become a heartfelt and exemplary leader for the Stars; a maturation that only comes with time.
With two players of this caliber, and we don’t need the combined numbers to prove it, the Stars are literally wasting the best years of their top two players. In the years since the 2013-2014 season (in which the duo of Seguin and Benn willed the Stars into the postseason for the first time since 2008), the team has fallen flat around them. After the success of returning to the playoffs in 2014, the Stars were due for a meteoric take-off, but it never fully realized.
The Stars wasted the 2014-2015 season, in which they missed the offseason for the second year in a row. The addition of Jason Spezza was supposed to place behind Seguin a veteran number-two center who could anchor the second line. Combined with Seguin and Spezza would be Cody Eakin on the third line, which would give the Stars on paper a center depth to match up with the league’s best.
Then there was Jamie Benn. In 2014, Benn had won a gold medal, had a strong showing in the playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks, and was the unquestioned leader of the Dallas Stars. In 2015, he took his game to a whole new level. Benn, on two bad hips, willed himself to the NHL’s scoring title - the Art Ross Trophy. The first Dallas Star to win the Art Ross Trophy was a truly historic mark for the Dallas captain. However, the Stars rewarded this historic effort by missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
The 2015-2016 season saw the trio of Seguin, Benn, and Spezza drag the team to a Western Conference-best fifty wins for the first time since 2006, and a trip to the playoffs as the number one seed. Looking back, the Stars won in spite of themselves, as the team had to score a multitude of goals to overcome their goaltending and defensive woes during the season. Benn was again fantastic, but Seguin had the end of the season and the playoffs robbed from him due to a gruesome cut on his Achilles tendon. Without the injury to Seguin, current Stars (former St. Louis Blues) coach Ken Hitchcock has stated that the Stars would have beat the Blues in the second round to advance to the Western Conference Final.
The 2015-2016 season was supposed to be the launchpad for change. During the offseason, GM Jim Nill and the Stars hockey operation department looked at the roster for goaltending and defense, and improved on those two areas. The Stars were one win away from a potential trip to the Stanley Cup final. However, the franchise did next to nothing, and the Stars’ unfettered, high-risk play caught up with them to the tune of the second-worst record in the West in 2016-2017.
Many would see that as a complete failure from a team that should be better utilizing their top two forwards.
Nill brought in Hithcock, Ben Bishop, and Alexander Radulov in the offseason last year, but the pieces around the duo of Seguin and Benn appear not up to the task of competing for a Stanley Cup in year five of a “new Star rising.” In fact, the Stars appear now as one-dimensional as they’ve ever been. No longer the high-flying attack team that could beat their opponents with every line. To win, Seguin, Benn, and Radulov are being asked to carry the majority of the load, and when Bishop went down, the wheels seemed to fall off in the last month. The franchise seem to once more find themselves on the cusp of utter and complete failure.
I have no doubt that the Stars will figure out their depth situation in the offseason and add to the current roster. After all, they have the fundamental pieces to compete for a championship thanks to the like of Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. However, if they don’t make changes to the roster, and they instead only go through minor tinkering, it will be a shock to their fans and a let-down to their two best players. The Stars simply cannot afford to not capitalize on the primes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and have no Stanley Cup to show for it at the end of the Benn-Seguin era.
The time is still there for the Stars to climb back into playoff contention this year and, provided they work on roster depth in the offseason, to be a serious contender next year. The Stars must do something to make the team a consistent Stanley Cup contender. Anything less with Seguin and Benn on the roster is a future not worth analyzing.