This week's hockey highlights: First period: Bruins teenager Tyler Seguin(notes) finds his comfort zone in Boston…Second period: Carolina GM Jim Rutherford makes a rare appearance in the Hurricanes’ dressing room…Third period: Don’t expect many big names to move at the NHL trade deadline…Overtime: A smiling Henrik Zetterberg(notes) says players use “Monopoly money” for side bets…Shootout: And, Jordan Staal(notes) returns to the Penguins lineup just as Sidney Crosby(notes) goes down and Evgeni Malkin(notes) starts to slump.
Tyler Seguin has found a place of his own in downtown Boston, a sweet new apartment that’s just a two-minute walk from the TD Garden. He can stroll to games if he wants to, and he has tried it – once. Bruins fans couldn’t help but recognize him.
“Right away,” Seguin said, smiling. “I mean, I’m walking around in a suit, right?” Rookie mistake. Now Seguin hops in his sweet new ride, a black Range Rover, and drives to the rink, even though the stereo system doesn’t have enough time to pump him up.
“I listen to about half a song,” Seguin said.
Look, Seguin is still only 18 years old – with a birthday coming up on Jan. 31 – and he has a lot to learn. But despite the suit-on-the-street incident, he has been able to make the short trip straight from junior to the NHL in relative anonymity.
Not long ago, the hockey world was abuzz with the Taylor vs. Tyler debate. Taylor Hall(notes) went to a Canadian city as the much-scrutinized savior of the league’s last-place team when the Edmonton Oilers took him with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Seguin went to the Bruins as the second overall pick. He went to an Original Six city, but as just a new piece on a playoff team. The Bruins had received the lottery pick as part of the Phil Kessel(notes) trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Seguin (seven goals, 16 points) has produced less than Hall (12 goals, 23 points), but he has had less ice time and less pressure. He has also had more veteran guidance and is experiencing a playoff race.
“You can grow at your pace and not have the world expected of you,” said Mark Recchi(notes), 42, who has often been one of Seguin’s linemates. “I think it’s a lot better that way. I think it’s easier, obviously.”
Seguin has been dealing with the awe and adjustments that every rookie faces.
Take playing against superstars such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin(notes). “The first time in warmups, I’ll look over and be like, ‘Holy crap. This guy’s out there,’ ” Seguin said. “But then after that, you kind of just forget about it. They’re just another player, and you are, too. You’ve got to make a name for yourself.”
Take the lack of time and space in the NHL that junior players hear about, but have to see for themselves. “There is so much more you can do in that second or half-second in junior, where here you can’t,” Seguin said. “It’s the difference between stopping a puck and shooting it or taking a one-timer, or battling for a puck in the corner instead of just getting it.”
Battling has been the biggest thing Seguin has had to learn to do. When he played in the Ontario Hockey League, the Plymouth Whalers would put a big guy on his line to do the dirty work for him. He could afford to be a little lazy defensively. Not anymore.
Recchi said Seguin has been engaging on a more consistent basis in recent weeks. “It’s obviously a big step, and I think he’s really learned to get involved and knows that he’s going to have to play that way if he’s going to be successful,” Recchi said. “He’s become successful because of it.”
Coach Claude Julien said now that Seguin is feeling more comfortable, the Bruins are “starting to see more of his skill come out.” Seguin has two goals and five points in six games in 2011, including the first two multi-point games of his NHL career.
And this time, after Team Canada cut him last year, he was happy to watch the World Junior Championship as a fan.
“Everyone’s trying to make the NHL,” Seguin said. “I’m here at 18, so it’s obviously an accomplishment I’m happy about. I just want to help my team and keep going as a player.”
Jim Rutherford had seen enough. He had busted into a dressing room maybe once in his many years as an NHL general manager, but now his Carolina Hurricanes were knotted in a 3-3 tie through two periods at Toronto. Three times, they had scored and let the Leafs respond.
“We were just playing well enough to get by, and we weren’t playing with the kind of determination you need to win,” Rutherford said. “We were getting into a key stretch of games. We were in a game that we were … We just … We were playing like we were hoping we could tie the game, which you can’t in this league.
“And my patience had run out.”
So Rutherford busted into the dressing room for maybe the second time as a GM and let the players have it. The ’Canes won 4-3 and they’ve earned at least a point in every game since. Their 6-0-2 streak has put them right back in the playoff race. They are now just three points behind the seventh-place Montreal Canadiens and eighth-place Atlanta Thrashers.
Rutherford insists his speech, first reported by the New York Post, wasn’t the spark. When he had breakfast the morning after the Toronto game with captain Eric Staal(notes) and winger Chad LaRose(notes), he discovered he had only echoed comments Staal had made in the room moments before. “It came from the captain first, and it was confirmed by the manager,” Rutherford said.
Regardless, the ’Canes have come together. Staal and goaltender Cam Ward(notes) have been leaders, as usual. Jeff Skinner(notes), the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, has been steady at age 18, leading all rookie scorers with 33 points. Tuomo Ruutu(notes) has 14 points in his past nine games. The defense has improved.
Now Rutherford looks at his team much differently than he did that night in Toronto.
“We’ve had a very determined and strong work ethic throughout our team,” Rutherford said. “Really, when you have the run that we’re on, it takes more than a couple players. It takes a team effort. And that’s what we’ve had.”
If you’re looking for a lot of blockbusters at the Feb. 28 trade deadline, you might be disappointed.
“I think there’s always going to be action,” one general manager said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be as sexy.”
Some deals are already done. The New York Islanders have unloaded defenseman James Wisniewski(notes) and goaltender Dwayne Roloson(notes). The New Jersey Devils have parted with captain Jamie Langenbrunner(notes). The Phoenix Coyotes sent winger Wojtek Wolski(notes) to the New York Rangers for defenseman Michal Rozsival(notes).
Some big names apparently won’t be available, either. The Devils could continue dismantling by moving, say, Jason Arnott(notes). But Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster has said he won’t deal captain Jarome Iginla(notes), even though his team is in danger of falling completely out of contention. Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk probably won’t move Brad Richards(notes), even though he might not be able to sign the pending unrestricted free agent.
So many teams are in the playoff race, there are far more clubs looking to add than subtract, and options were already limited. Teams are tight against their budgets and cap space, and they are more reluctant than ever to give away picks and prospects.
“I think there are going to be moves,” the GM said. “There are always going to be moves. But it’s getting tougher and tougher for the big moves for a whole variety of reasons.”
Rutherford’s phone, for one, has been quiet when it comes to trade talks.
“I know that in the last few weeks I haven’t had much conversation with anybody,” Rutherford said. “Our team’s on a good run now.”
The NHL is fining Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson for paying $600 to Carl Gunnarsson(notes), who scored the winning goal in Wilson’s 600th NHL victory on Tuesday night. The league’s gotta do what the league’s gotta do. Rules are rules. You have to keep up appearances and make sure nothing gets out of hand.
But everyone knows coaches and players put money “on the board” from time to time, adding a little incentive on certain occasions. They just do it quietly. And usually it’s all in good fun.
“Absolutely it is,” Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “You want to have that guy pay. You don’t want to lose that game. You want to win it.”
Why would millionaires care if a few hundred dollars are on the line?
“Well, it’s a few hundred dollars here and there,” Zetterberg said. “In the end, it makes up to a nice little team fund. It’s a fun thing. I think all the teams have it. We enjoy it.”
Don’t they worry about breaking the rules?
“Oh, yeah,” Zetterberg said, smiling. “But we’re just putting Monopoly money up there.”
• The Los Angeles Kings have lost six of seven. The San Jose Sharks have lost five straight. Both have 47 points and are out of the playoff picture in the West. There is a lot of time left, but considering how tight the standings are, they can’t afford to screw around. A good team or two is going to get left out in the end. “Every day I get this big pack of paper, and it tells you whether you’re in the playoffs or not in the playoffs,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “So if we’re comfortably saving our commitment level and our tenacity and our energy for the playoffs, it may well be wasted unless we get playing the way we’re supposed to play.”
• The Ottawa Senators obviously need a shakeup, but when is it going to come? They had a prime opportunity to make a coaching change when they had a five-day break Jan. 2-6, but they didn’t do it. After a 6-0 loss Tuesday night to the Bruins, coach Cory Clouston called them “fragile.” General manager Bryan Murray has been trying to make a trade for weeks with no success.
• Four teams have a defenseman as their leading scorer: the Atlanta Thrashers (Dustin Byfuglien(notes)), Edmonton Oilers (Ryan Whitney(notes), tied with forward Dustin Penner(notes)), Nashville Predators (Shea Weber(notes)) and Phoenix Coyotes (Keith Yandle(notes)). The Thrashers’ top two scorers are defensemen, in fact, as Tobias Enstrom(notes) ranks second behind Byfuglien.
• Not to pile on Evgeni Malkin, whose struggles I chronicled earlier this week. But the Pittsburgh Penguins scored five goals Wednesday night at Montreal while Sidney Crosby remained out with a concussion, and Malkin still did not record a point – despite a team-high seven shots on goal. He has two goals and an assist in his past nine games. “I don’t think he’s on top of his game like he used to be, but he’s going to find his game,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang(notes) said. “It’s going to go in at one point. He’s a great player, one of the best players in the league.”
• Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal had a goal and two assists against the Canadiens, his first points since he scored May 12 against the Habs in the playoffs. He missed the first 39 games this season because of injuries. All of Wednesday night’s points came on the power play, but the Pens had a happy reunion earlier this week when coach Dan Bylsma put Staal between old linemates Matt Cooke(notes) and Tyler Kennedy(notes). “I think they all had a group hug,” Bylsma said. “I think they all feel like they know what they’re going to get when they go out there.”