This week, brands across the SB Nation network are asking the “What if?” questions about their teams. The obvious choice for the Dallas Stars would be, of course, to ask what might have happened if Brett Hull’s infamous goal did not count back in 1999. Luckily, we don’t really need to re-live that, as we shine the Stanley Cup replica sitting on our desk. We’ll leave that one for our Buffalo Sabres brethren.
Instead, I decided to look at something a little more recent. It was a move that altered the projection of the franchise with general manager Jim Nill at the helm: the Tyler Seguin trade.
Back in 2013, the Stars had just hired general manager Jim Nill. After owner Tom Gaglardi bought the team in November of 2011, this was the first major management decision he had made. Nill didn’t take long to make a splash with his new franchise, trading for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith, and Matt Fraser.
Not only was it one of the biggest trades in recent NHL history, involving seven players without any picks (usually there’s at least one of those in bigger trades and not so many players on the move), it was big because of the main piece involved: Tyler Seguin.
At the time of the trade, Dallas was lacking a true number one center. Two years earlier, Brad Richards had been the team’s first line pivot, choosing to depart via free agency to sign with the New York Rangers. Derek Roy would take over as de facto number one center in the ensuing seasons. After it looked likely he would not re-sign with the Stars in the summer of 2013, and with the team heading for another consecutive season of missing the playoffs, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Hence the desperate need to fill a key part of the roster by Dallas.
As for the Boston Bruins, they were facing some cap and roster decisions at the time. They had just signed the 21-year-old Seguin to a six year, $5.75 million extension, a considerable increase over his entry level contract salary. Seguin’s fit in Boston seemed to be more about the culture and the style of play the Bruins have more than his talent. “I just think there’s too many red flags on him,” director of player personnel Scott Bradley said in an episode of Behind the B, a Bruins behind-the-scenes style show. (So, grain of salt and all that...the comments could have been edited given the sensitivity to the topic and discussions the team was having at the time.) “I don’t like the way his game’s going. He hasn’t proven that he’s tough enough or he plays our style of game....I don’t know if a leopard ever changes his spots, but he’s going to have to.”
Combine that with rumored off-ice behaviors the team reportedly didn’t care for, and it created the perfect storm for the Stars to acquire exactly what they were in need of. But what if Boston had a little more patience to keep the young offensive star and Seguin never came to Dallas?
For one, the Stars didn’t really have a center in their system to step into a number one line. Those types of players, at that age, under team control on a reasonable salary cap hit, and with as much experience as Seguin had in just three years in the league already thanks to Boston’s deep playoff runs and Stanley Cup win, just don’t become available often. That means they’d have continued to be looking for that on the market.
Without Seguin, would the Stars have finally broken the playoff appearance drought the same year that he played his first games in Dallas? Most likely not. The Stars would have continued to meander in the no-man’s land of mediocre draft picks for a while until another player became available in a trade or as a free agent. Given the drafting and development track record of the team in those years since, waiting for someone to come through the system to take that spot....well, they just might still be waiting today.
Without Seguin, Jamie Benn likely doesn’t unlock his full potential in his prime years. The team likely wouldn’t have won the regular season Western Conference title two seasons later. Dallas wouldn’t have be the appealing free agent destination it has become as a result of Seguin and Benn’s time in Victory Green, leading to guys like Ben Bishop, Joe Pavelski, Jason Spezza, etc. waiving no-trade clauses or signing contracts in free agency.
That’s not to say that Dallas wouldn’t have figured something out eventually. But the time frame of being able to do that was vastly accelerated with Seguin’s addition. He became the puzzle piece that fit the hole necessary to shift around players into their more natural positions and roles. John Klingberg and Jamie Benn’s prime years may have been spent without any playoff experience without Seguin’s presence in the lineup.
Instead, Seguin, along with Benn and Klingberg, have provided the cornerstones from which the entirety of the roster has been built and supplemented. A team that appears built to make some noise in a deep playoff run — if the NHL season ever reconvenes after this pandemic pause. Seguin is a Dallas Star for years to come, choosing to make this his home after being forced here in the trade six years ago. Thank goodness we don’t live in that alternate universe where he is a Toronto Maple Leaf or something.
He looks better in green.