Though the Boston Bruins ultimately finished second to the Edmonton Oilers in last spring’s NHL Draft lottery, many pundits believed that they actually finished first when they landed talented center Tyler Seguin. For while Taylor Hall was the most NHL-ready prospect available in the Draft, it appeared that Seguin might have the brightest future in terms of long-term potential.
Indeed, expectations were tempered heading into rookie camp, but when Seguin excelled – and then again in training camp – it started to look like the talented rookie might just earn a permanent spot on the roster. And when Marc Savard was placed on injured reserve due to post-concussion syndrome, it opened the door for Seguin to play regular shifts at the NHL level.
As a result, the Bruins kept him on the NHL roster past the nine-game “trial term” and began his arbitration clock.
At times, Seguin appeared more than ready for the challenge, but by and large he’s proven to be exactly what everyone should have expected going in: a supremely talented young hockey player with a ton to learn.
With the Bruins hoping to compete for the Cup this spring, the organization isn’t well-served by suffering through Seguin’s inevitable learning curve, a fact underscored by head coach Claude Julien’s decision to make him a healthy scratch for Wednesday night’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres. For even though it’s clear that Seguin is capable of helping the Bruins in their quest for the Cup, it’s also clear that Julien isn’t prepared to give him more ice time.
Last night, when Seguin returned to the lineup for the Bruins’ 4-3 loss to Montreal, ice time was in short supply. Seguin played a total of only 10:42, more only than fourth liners Gregory Campbell (-2, 1 shot, 2 PIM), Brad Marchand (-2, 0 shots) and enforcer Shawn Thornton (-1). Campbell’s penalty led to a Habs’ goal by Max Pacioretty scored just one second after he emerged from the penalty box.
Meanwhile, Seguin notched and assist, fired two shots on goal, and finished the contest at a +1. He didn’t see the ice during the power play, while seven Bruins forwards received over three minutes’ power play time. Only Milan Lucic managed to score with the man advantage, the Bruins’ lack of success a key reason for their loss.
“Either way, I am going to win and I am going to lose,’’ Julien told the Boston Globe. “If we do things right, we could be battling for a top spot in the division.’’ And when asked about the impact of scratching Seguin, he said “It’s an 82-game season. I don’t think it will kill him.’’
Unfortunately, Julien is being placed in a situation in which it’s impossible to win. His task is to lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, and every decision he makes should be in service of that goal. If he believes that scratching Seguin gives the Bruins a better chance to win a given game, he will and he should. If he believes that keeping Seguin off the ice during the power play – or giving him only about 10-12 minutes’ ice time per game – is what will give the Bruins the best chance to win, that’s what he should do.
But this isn’t about the Bruins’ 2010-11 season, not at all. And the Bruins are playing with fire forcing Julien to balance the team’s needs against Seguin’s long-term developmental needs.
For while Seguin’s promise is undeniable, it’s clear that Julien doesn’t yet believe that Seguin offers more to the current Bruins than players like Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, though his talent obviously far surpasses theirs. And so, there’s no valid argument for keeping him in the NHL at this stage. It’s up to GM Peter Chiarelli to make life easier for Julien, removing concerns about Seguin’s development from his lexicon.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, and it’s painfully obvious at this stage that the Bruins would have been better off making Seguin available to Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships. There, he would have been playing 20-plus minutes per night in a highly competitive tournament against some of the best and brightest under-20 hockey players in the world, likely serving as Canada’s first-line pivot and perhaps even its team captain. There, he would have gotten the opportunity to grow and develop, and likely would have returned post-tournament much more prepared to contribute.
But with Team Canada’s lineup already announced, the only chance of Seguin joining the team would be the combination of an injury to a forward and major concessions from both the Bruins and the Team Canada’s cognoscenti. Much like putting Seguin’s arbitration clock on hold for another year, the opportunity to allow Seguin to play for Team Canada has all but passed, but there’s no reason to compound the mistake when ameliorations are at hand.
There still remains one unorthodox but potentially valuable option: sending Seguin back to the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL. While such a move wouldn’t come without controversy – after all, by starting Seguin’s arbitration clock, the Bruins would rather pay him to play for them than the Whalers – it would likely be in both the Bruins’ and Seguin’s best interests to do just that.
With a 17-11-1 record in the OHL, the Whalers are in the hunt for a playoff spot, and the addition of Seguin would no doubt significantly improve their chances. The opportunity to play a key role for an OHL team would likely serve Seguin far better than playing a bit role for the Bruins, allowing him to develop his skills in a lower-pressure environment while enabling the Bruins to focus on the task at hand: reaching and excelling in the playoffs.
And when the OHL season and Memorial Cup playoffs are over, Seguin will be in an excellent position to rejoin the Bruins and – at that time – represent an upgrade and boost to their lineup that will cause their playoff opponents to shudder.