Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were regularly among the NHL’s top scorers when they first started playing together in Dallas a decade ago.
Now 30-something forwards, captain Benn and six-time All-Star Seguin are far removed from skating together on the top line, or even leading the Stars in scoring while having the two biggest contracts on the roster. Their roles have changed and they have played a little less this season on different lines, but that plan has certainly worked out well for the players — and the team that is in the Western Conference final.
“You’ve seen the effect of it with the season we’ve had, directly on our standings, directly on our scoring, directly on the consistency of their seasons,” first-year Stars coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday. “We’re not a passive stand-around team, so you’re expending a lot of energy to play the way we want to play. And I think that’s benefited our team game too, because they have that energy to do that.”
Benn again played all 82 regular-season games, with 33 goals and 78 points for his best totals since 2017-18, even with an average ice time of 15:47 that was his lowest since his 2009-10 rookie season. He had 18 goals and 28 assists playing the same number a games and nearly a minute more per game last season.
“We sat down at the start of the year when he got hired, and I got to talk about individual players, myself and then obviously our group as a whole,” Benn said. “You know what he wanted to bring here and change a little bit, and he’s done a great job so far.”
Seguin played more than a minute less a game than last season, also his fewest since being a rookie, and had 50 points (21 goals) in 76 games. He is the only player on the Stars’ roster to win a Stanley Cup, but that was as a 19-year-old with Boston in 2011, only a year after he was the second overall draft pick. The Bruins traded him to Dallas on July 4, 2013.
Game 1 of the West final against the Golden Knights is Friday night in Las Vegas. It is the second time in four seasons for these teams to meet in a conference final, though DeBoer was on the other bench in 2020 when the Stars won in five games in the NHL’s bubble in Canada. Tampa Bay then took the Stanley Cup in six games.
Seguin was playing with a torn labrum in his hip when the Stars made that Stanley Cup Final, their first in 20 years. After hip surgery and an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, there was a grueling rehab that kept him out for all but three games at the end of the 2020-21 season and made him change how he played.
But when Joe Pavelski went into concussion protocol and missed five games in the first round last month, it was Seguin who moved up to the top line with Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz — a pair of high-scoring young stars like Seguin and Benn in the past. Seguin had four power-play goals against Minnesota and initially stayed on the top line after Pavelski returned for the second round against Seattle that the Stars won in seven games.
“You get slotted where you’re slotted and you just want to contribute as much as you can, whether it’s first PP (power play), no PP, first line, fourth line,” Seguin said. “When you have a team like this, it’s exciting. It’s always a lot easier because you’re so deep and you can kind of play anywhere. I’ve been trying to have as much fun with it as I can.”
DeBoer said he never looked at salary, ego or what they did in the past, and instead coached every player like he’d want to be coached. Dallas is the fourth different team he’s taken to a conference final.
“The teams you have a chance to win with, those guys accept that coaching, they want that coaching, they’re willing to to buy into to that,” DeBoer said. “In the places I’ve been where where those key guys have pushed back, you know you’re usually not winning.”
Seguin has four seasons left on a $78.8 million, eight-year contract. Benn’s $76 million, eight-year deal goes two more seasons, and he wants to take full advantage of an opportunity to finally win a Stanley Cup.
“Every player goes through this, you come in the league, you’re a young guy, you want to prove yourself,” general manager Jim Nill said. “In the end, you get to a point in your career, you want to win the Stanley Cup or you want to win consistently, and I think that’s where they’re at now in their careers.”
—Stephen Hawkins, The Associated Press