Murphy’s Hockey Law: NHL teams still learning to protect young stars
The Boston Bruins are one of many NHL teams currently still trying to find the best way to insulate their young players. With 18 year-old rookies making teams out of training camp more than ever and signing entry level contracts that pay them more cash than any 18 year-old knows how to spend, there is a real and present danger that these youngsters can get caught up in the glamour of being a suddenly wealthy superstar. The off-ice temptations are there and can quickly send not just the player but also the person in the wrong direction.
“It’s about making smart choices,” Bruins President Cam Neely told Murphy’s Hockey Law earlier this season. “Everybody’s made choices in their life when they were young that they’d probably like to take back. It happens. But it’s making sure you don’t make that choice over and over again. It’s more of an education and us saying ‘Hey listen, I get it; we get it; and we understand it, but just be smarter.”
As if the Tyler Seguin trade wasn’t already a thorn in the Bruins’ collective side, the Stars forward and former Bruin returned to TD Garden last week and led the Dallas Stars to a 5-3 win with his sixth hat trick since being traded from Boston to Dallas on July 4, 2013. That performance catapulted Seguin into the league lead for points and re-opened the wounds for a Bruins fan-base that has grown all too accustomed to seeing young budding stars dealt away before their prime or right as it was beginning.
For the rest of the week, the team took a PR beating, and the local airwaves were once again filled with fans and media alike wondering why the Bruins couldn’t find a way to correct or work harder with the then 21-year old Seguin on his certain issues on and off the ice? There were plenty of off-ice rumors surrounding Seguin during the Bruins’ 2013 run to the Stanley Cup Final and even more so following the trade. But until last Thursday, the Bruins as an organization had shied away from any blame in what led to them having to trade away Seguin on that fateful fourth of July. On the November 6 edition of ‘The Felger & Mazz Show’ though, Neely finally acknowledged that the organization as a whole failed in some respects from protecting their former young star.
“I think looking back, we probably could have done some things differently with Tyler,” Neely said. “You’ve got a young kid coming in; maybe we could have handled his living arrangements a little different and stuff like that, that we’ve talked about over the years. It’s something we certainly are addressing currently, and in the future we will continue to address.
“It’s more about really, we talk about drafting and developing. And the development piece really is a big part of it. You have to really work with these players and develop them in the professionals, and that’s an area where we we’ve really improved in the last year or so.”
According to multiple Bruins sources, the Bruins did discuss with Seguin and his representatives about Seguin moving in with a veteran player for his rookie season in 2010-11 but for a variety of reasons the move never came to fruition.
“I know we tried to make that work,” one Bruins source told Murphy’s Hockey Law Tuesday. “For whatever reasons — I’m not sure — it just never happened.”
One of those veterans that was being considered was three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi. Reached by phone Tuesday, Recchi wouldn’t get into details of why Seguin didn’t become his or another veteran’s roommate but he was sure to credit his former teammate for turning things around on and off the ice with Dallas.
“You look at him now, leading scorer and still only 23 and he’s already dominating on the ice,” Recchi said. “Then from all accounts he seems to have found his way off the ice and manages his time well with training and being a professional.”
But why couldn’t that have happened in Boston? Why did Seguin have to find himself as a player and person in Dallas and constantly make the Bruins and their fans ask what if?
“You certainly bring up a valid point. Again, you have to understand what you get and what you draft,” Neely told Felger and Mazz. “You have to know the player that you’re drafting, and you have to work with these players. There’s certain elements of a skill-set that you like to have on your team, and you have to see if you can work with the player.
Not everybody’s going to be — we talked about what different skill-sets help build a championship team — you don’t need 20 guys that are going to run people through the boards. You need a proper balance with that. And if you have a guy with a skill-set that is offensive and skates well, then you have to work with him on other parts of the game to compete. When I talk about competing, it’s not necessarily being a big, tough player. It’s competing for loose pucks, it’s battling for loose pucks, it’s maybe taking a hit to make a play. Those are the types of things that we talk about as far as what a competitor is.”
That’s all good and true on the ice but the feel around the NHL is that when starting that off-ice development, it never hurts to set the player up with a billet family or veteran teammate. A perfect example of that is Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. When Bergeron made the Bruins roster out of training camp as an 18 year-old rookie in 2003-04, the Bruins had him live with Martin Lapointe, a respected leader in the dressing room and a fellow Quebec native. Now Bergeron wasn’t exactly out and about in the Boston social scene like Seguin was when he was a Bruin and likely Bergeron wouldn’t have been if he lived on his own. But the three-time Selke Trophy winner has always credited Lapointe and his team for him living with the Lapointe family as helping him shape the player and person he is today.
In a story I did for ESPN.com during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Bergeron spoke of this.
“Marty meant so much to me and he still does,” Bergeron said in May 2011. “Everything he did for me that first year was amazing, and if you look at it looking back, it’s unbelievable how he took me under his wing right away out of training camp, brought me with his family and kids and to any type of events and always including me as part of the family. I am very thankful and he is part of the reason I am who I am now. I learned a lot and matured a lot that year. Taking part in charity and community work was something special to him and I learned from that also. Marty was the key guy there for me that first year.”
There is no doubt Seguin had a solid veteran blanket around him at the rink with the likes of Recchi, Bergeron, Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference, etc. but those players had their own lives away from the rink and couldn’t always be there to look out for their younger teammates. Many NHL teams do have a security team that keeps tabs on players and does their best to keep them out of trouble. Also, the onus is on the players, their agents and their families as well to keep the player on track. But that doesn’t always happen.
The recent rape allegations that were made against Blackhawks all-star Patrick Kane once again brought awareness to how teams can do a better job at preventing players from finding themselves in compromising situations. As Neely pointed out, the league, the teams and the NHLPA are always looking for solutions.
“It’s not just individual teams, the league talks about it as a whole; the PA talks about it and it’s something we’re certainly aware of,” Neely said recently. “Our players know our expectations not just on the ice but off the ice. It’s important to educate them as best as possible and let them know that there’s people they can call and it’s not necessarily going to bubble up to [Bruins GM] Don Sweeney or myself that they need help in certain areas. We are aware of that and we want to make sure our players know there’s help for them if needed. But again, it’s not just a team thing, it’s a PA and league thing too.”
As Neely acknowledged, the Bruins could’ve done a better job of helping Seguin understand all of that and maybe Seguin would be leading the NHL in scoring and challenging for the Hart Trophy as a Bruin and not a Star. No one except Seguin, those close to him and the Bruins will ever know the real reasons for the trade, but one thing — as it does for other teams as well — seems to be clear, their young players must be protected and at times protected from themselves.
Julien’s Message Still Getting Through
Two weeks ago in this column, the ability of Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien to adapt and silence his critics was praised as Julien had helped lead his team out of a dismal 0-3-0 start. Well after going 6-0-1 after those initial three losses, the Bruins lost another three straight before beating the Islanders this past Sunday. Two of those losses — to Washington and Montreal — were in large part due to untimely penalties and lack of discipline. As he did following the first three losses, Julien didn’t hold back from calling his players out to the media.
“Discipline, obviously. That’s two nights in a row where we’ve blown games because of lack of discipline,” the Bruins bench boss told NESN following his team’s 4-2 loss at Montreal Saturday in which David Krejci lost his cool and took a late cross-checking penalty leading to the Canadiens’ game-winning power-play goal. ” The ill-advised penalties last game that put us down 3-1 & tonight, tie game and take a penalty with a minute left. It’s disappointing because it’s coming from our leaders and our leaders have to lead the way and I don’t think they’re leading the way properly right now.”
So what happened the next night in Brooklyn? Patrice Bergeron got the game-winner in the second period, and the veteran core played much better in a 2-1 win that saw Julien once again make some successful lineup changes. For anyone who thinks that the veteran coach’s message has been falling on deaf ears, think again. Veterans and young players are all responding to the 2009 Jack Adams Award winner, and if this season does go south, it won’t be because of Julien.
Chris Kelly’s Value Shouldn’t Be Measured By His Contract
Since signing a four-year extension worth $12 million back in 2012, Bruins forward Chris Kelly has been unfairly chastised because of his $3 million cap hit. At the time of the signing, that is what the market dictated for a player of Kelly’s ilk. But his value runs deeper than most know and with Kelly out for the season (broken femur) and likely done in Boston (he is an unrestricted free agent next July 1) those fans and media who couldn’t wait to ship Kelly out of town are finding out just how valuable the veteran center is.
“You hope we can somehow compensate for his loss, but I think people are going to realize how important he is to our hockey club, not just on the ice but also in the dressing room and around the team,” Julien said after Kelly suffered the gruesome injury November 2. “He’s a guy that is extremely respected by his teammates, and on the ice he’s given us everything we’ve asked for.
“He’s been moved around in all different positions, never says a word, but just thrives on the opportunity to play in those spots that we’ve put him. He was a very versatile player that we really counted on. No doubt he’ll be missed.”
Media and fans need to stop getting so fixated on contracts and players not living up to them. If you were Chris Kelly and were offered that money, would you have refused because you knew you couldn’t chip in 20 goals a season like you did in 2011-12? Yeah, didn’t thinks so!
Best wishes on a speedy recovery to Kelly and here’s hoping he is still playing in the NHL next season.
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In continuing to honor our veterans, those serving for and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, we give you these two tunes this week. Thank you to those brave men and women and thank you to my late Dad a Marine 1st lieutenant in Vietnam! Semper Fi!