Whatever was going on during Tyler Seguin’s one-goal postseason wasn’t the reason the Bruins traded him.
That postseason was a reason, sure, but it was just one of the reasons why Seguin’s days in black and gold came to an end after just three seasons.
“I’ve got to be clear on that,” Peter Chiarelli says. “It’s not the only reason why we traded him.”
In fact, the trade of Seguin became a possibility long before the Fourth of July. It was something the Bruins were allowing for the day they signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million contract extension on the eve of the lockout.
The cap situation was what required the Bruins to move Seguin, while his compete level and fit in the system were what made him expendable over other players. As such, the Bruins considered Seguin to be a player with whom they might part once the salary cap came down in the collective bargaining agreement's second year.
Less than four months after the Bruins shocked the hockey world by shipping the 2010 second overall pick to Dallas, Seguin is set to return to Boston as a member of the Stars on Monday and play his former team Tuesday.
Seguin, who has been moved to center with strong offensive results and horrifyingly poor faceoff numbers, has six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 14 games, but he looks every bit the player he was in Boston. He’s still in no hurry to engage in contact, but he’s still the fastest and most gifted player on the ice mostly every night.
As Chiarelli reflects on Seguin’s Bruins career and the decision to trade him this past summer, the one topic he won’t touch is the off-ice habits that became increasingly public over the Ontario native’s time in Boston. What came out came out, and Chiarelli has no interest in bad-mouthing a player he publicly criticized when he had to but ultimately deemed a “real good kid” the day of the trade.
Yet Chiarelli had his reasons to trade Seguin in his most notable move since sending Phil Kessel, another top-five draft pick who didn’t see a fourth season in Boston, to the Leafs in 2009. It came as a surprise when the B’s put Seguin on the table and ultimately moved their former leading scorer, but it was something Chiarelli and the B’s saw coming to an extent.
To this day, Chiarelli won’t say who he would have chosen had the Bruins held the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Here’s what he will say: that he didn’t see a big enough difference between the top-ranked (by Central Scouting) Seguin and Windsor left winger Taylor Hall to try to move up to get that pick from the Oilers.
Edmonton, on the other hand, did try to swing a trade. The Oilers wanted to deal for the second pick in order to get both Seguin and Hall, but their offer wasn’t substantial enough for the Bruins to consider parting with Toronto’s pick, which they’d gotten in the Kessel deal.
“They had made a push, and Tyler’s a talented player, so I could see why they wanted to make that push,” Chiarelli said. “I wasn’t prepared to move up to take the pick, because I felt they were both really close, though different players. I just basically waited to see which player I would get.”
Things fell the way they did and the Bruins grabbed Seguin, whom they deemed to have the biggest skill package in the draft, second overall.
'THERE HAS TO BE A MINIMUM LEVEL OF COMPETE'
For all of Seguin’s talent, he could be an infuriating player to watch during his time as a Bruin. He was the fastest player on the ice, but he routinely lost races to pucks in order to avoid contact. He had elite skill, but he didn’t want the puck on his stick. He was timid.
When the Bruins got Seguin, they envisioned moving him to the wing, as they had done with Kessel. Like Kessel, they encountered the challenge of having a highly skilled but physically unwilling player in their system.
Seguin didn’t want any part of physical contact, and that limited him. It was tough to tell whether that would ever change with Seguin, just as it was hard to tell with Kessel. As the Bruins see it, they didn't need Seguin to change his game, but rather get comfortable with things that inevitably come with the NHL.
“Usually what happens is guys get stronger, they get more mature, but they’re not going to change their style of play,” Chiarelli said. “When you ask if you can project that out of his game, you don’t project it out of his game. You just project the maturation physically that they become comfortable if they reach a level of strength and conditioning as they grow older that they can survive the physicality.”
With that being said, Seguin was a strong kid. He did the BioSteel training in the offseason and showed up to each training camp ripped. So the Bruins didn’t see Seguin’s shortcomings as a strength issue or a physicality issue, but rather a compete level issue.
“It’s a general thought that this team has been built that there has to be a minimum level of compete and willingness to compete,” Chiarelli said. “It doesn’t mean you have to crash and bang. That’s the distinction. You just have to battle. In your own way, you’ve got to battle. That’s a prerequisite here.”
THE CONTRACT AND THE CAP
The Bruins signed three players to contract extensions in the days leading up to the NHL lockout last September. Seguin, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic were set to become restricted free agents at the end of the next season (whenever it was), so Chiarelli went to work.
He gave Marchand four years and $18 million with a modified no-trade clause, while Lucic got three years and $18 million with a modified no-trade clause. Seguin, who was entering the last season of his entry-level deal, was given six years and $34.5 million. The deal had a no-trade clause that wouldn’t kick in until the fifth season.
Chiarelli admits that when giving Seguin the contract, he “absolutely” saw it as a deal that he might have to move once the salary cap inevitably came down.
“At that time, we really didn’t have an inkling of where the cap would be, but my feeling was that if we had to move players, that Tyler fit into that category,” Chiarelli said. “I could say that about five or six other players.”
When the collective bargaining agreement was finally signed in January, teams learned that the cap would go from $70.2 million last season to $64.3 million this season. At that point the Bruins knew that they were going to trade somebody before the next season, and Seguin was among the candidates. Seguin’s potential departure was an active discussion amongst the Bruins front office throughout the year.
Chiarelli has no regrets about the contract, which commands an annual cap hit of $5.75 million. In fact, he stressed that similar contracts had been signed by fellow 2010 top picks Hall (seven years, $42 million) and Jeff Skinner (six years, $34.35 million) didn’t force him to pay Seguin in the manner he did. Seguin was coming off a 29-goal sophomore season, and Chiarelli projected and paid accordingly.
“I didn’t have to give him that deal,” Chiarelli said. “I could have waited and we could have [negotiated] after the year. I didn’t have to do that. I think part of being proactive, and that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do with a lot of our signings -- not all of them, but a lot of them -- and I felt he fit into that category. Certainly, I didn’t have to do it.
“I made the decision that that was a prudent signing for a player of that caliber, and if I had to move him, I could.”
Though criticism of Seguin off the ice was warranted, Seguin went into his last season in Boston trying to fit in. His style of play and his compete level may not have spoken to that, but his dedication to the organization did.
Case in point: Prior to the lockout, Seguin told Chiarelli that he intended to spend the lockout playing in the AHL for Providence, thus remaining in both the Bruins’ system and the North American game as he continued to develop.
However, Seguin’s playoff experience prevented him from being able to do that. Players who had signed their entry level deals at the age of 18 (such as Seguin) would be exempt from waivers if they had played less than 160 NHL games.
Through two seasons, Seguin had played 155 regular-season games, but his 20 playoff games put him at 175, meaning if he tried to go to the AHL the Bruins surely would have lost him to another team on waivers.
Because of that, the Bruins locked him out and he played in Switzerland while fellow youngsters Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Hall played in the AHL.
Seguin developed bad habits playing on the bigger ice and in the softer game in Switzerland, and he returned from the lockout to be a minimal impact player early on. The man who had led the Bruins in goals the previous season ended up with just one goal in his first eight games and three in his first 17.
However, it’s worth noting that while he took the easier road than the AHL, it wasn’t by choice. For the sake of comparison, Skinner had 146 games under his belt for the Hurricanes through two seasons, was assigned to the AHL prior to the lockout and didn’t go.
Seguin wasn’t a perfect fit in Boston's system, but his intention was to do what he was told within the system every step of the way.
“Listen, with that stuff he was good,” Chiarelli said. “There was no issue there. He’s a rink rat. He loves to play.”
Seguin finished last season with 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points, with his .67 points per game a decent step back from his .83 mark of the previous season. Yet it was his postseason that really raised eyebrows.
During a playoff in which he was demoted from Patrice Bergeron’s line to the third line in favor of Jaromir Jagr, Seguin managed just one goal and seven assists over the 22 games.
“He didn’t have the greatest postseason performance,” Chiarelli said. “You could say that about a couple other players. Really, you could.”
Indeed, you could. Brad Marchand had a relatively quiet postseason and has admitted that when he saw the Bruins trade Seguin, he feared that he’d be next.
Of course, there were other things going on with Seguin during the postseason that have been well-documented. Seguin was doing his thing off the ice, but he wasn’t performing on it.
Chiarelli has long maintained that last season was a tough year for judging player performances. Seguin undoubtedly was affected by his time in Switzerland, where he had 40 points in 29 games but came back out of the NHL groove.
“I think what people don’t recognize is that it was half a year,” Chiarelli said. “I think a lot of players’ performances were impacted by what they did in the first half when they weren’t playing in the NHL. I think that’s what you have to take into account with Tyler.”
If you haven’t seen the first episode of “Behind The B,” it really is must-watch stuff. It provides a glimpse into an offseason meeting with Chiarelli and his staff in which Chiarelli says that he’s been shopping Seguin in order to either re-sign Nathan Horton or adequately replace Horton.
The candor shown summed things up well. Bruins director of player personnel Scott Bradley said there were “too many red flags” with Seguin to warrant keeping him, adding that if Seguin had even performed half as well as Patrick Kane that the B’s would have won the Cup. Cam Neely spoke of his frustration with how slowly Seguin was in adapting. Keith Gretzky said Seguin was unwilling to “pay the price” physically. Jim Benning noted that the Bruins were winning, “not babysitting.”
When the Bruins decided to trade Seguin, Chiarelli engaged in discussions with a large number of teams. Pre-draft talks involved picks in that weekend’s draft; the Bruins had a specific plan they tried to execute with a team that would have involved the B‘s getting both a pick and a player, but it didn’t happen.
The draft passed, and Chiarelli fired his shot, telling reporters that Seguin had to “become more of a professional” and added that criticism for playing on the periphery was warranted. It seemed at the time that he had fired his shot as a means of motivating Seguin, but the B’s weren’t done talking trade.
When things came together with the Stars, the Bruins were able to accomplish their financial goals by also moving the contract of Rich Peverley and getting Loui Eriksson ($4.25 million cap hit through 2015-16) back as the centerpiece. The money saved in the trade allowed the Bruins to replace Horton with Jarome Iginla.
Though seen as an afterthought behind names like Eriksson and 2011 first-round pick defenseman Joe Morrow, getting Reilly Smith in the deal allowed the B’s to get a young winger they had long had their eye on. Chiarelli said in training camp that the B’s had scouted Smith in his college days at Miami of Ohio, and that when it came time to talk Seguin with the Stars, Smith was a player they specifically wanted.
The move put an end to Seguin’s days in Boston and, just as the Kessel deal had, marked a case of the defensively responsible and physically willing Bruins moving on from a top draft pick overflowing with skill.
It’s just the way it is. Fans love a skilled player, but in a salary cap system, teams can’t afford to have big-money players be question marks. The Leafs ended up seeing Kessel become an elite scorer who is worth the $8 million he currently makes, but they had to put a lot of money and years of losing into seeing it happen.
Like they did with Kessel, the Bruins moved on. It might hurt Bruins fans to see the highlight-reel goals he’ll undoubtedly score in Dallas, but the B’s now ice a roster with players that fit their system and style.
“We play a hard style, and to fit a skilled player in sometimes is hard,” Chiarelli said. “We always try and do that, and sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t. That doesn’t mean we didn’t succeed with Tyler. He helped us win the Cup.”