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Nill putting early imprint on Stars

7/4/2013
Tyler Seguin gives the Stars a top talent at the center position. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Jim Nill first met with the media in Dallas after being hired as the general manager of the Stars, he spoke about change. He planned on changing the culture in Dallas to make the Stars a team that hovered around the playoff cutoff, hoping to sneak in. He wanted to build a consistent winner.

"We're going to restore this franchise back to what it was," he said. "And in order to to do that, you need high-end talent. You need strength down the middle."

Before Nill arrived, the Stars were a solid, if unspectacular, team. He's aggressively set out to change that. In just a few short months, there hasn't been a general manager more aggressive in improving his roster.

And on Thursday, he made his boldest move yet, acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins.

First, there's no doubt that Loui Eriksson is a fantastic player. Talk to anyone in Dallas, and the first thing they say about him is that he should be more universally appreciated than he is. Plug him into your lineup, and you'll get around 30 goals and 70 points in a typical year. Scouts love him and so do those who track advanced stats. His Relative Corsi during the shortened season was 7.5, which means pucks tend to go in the right direction for the team he's skating for. He's a perfect fit for the Bruins, a team deep down the middle and thin at wing.

The Stars don't have that luxury at center. Nill comes from an organization in Detroit that understood that it begins with defense and strength down the middle. You start with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, then go from there. Dallas tried making Jamie Benn that franchise center, but he's a player best suited to the wing. With a good center, there's no reason he can't become a 40-goal scorer -- it's just that the Stars didn't have that good center.

In Thursday's deal with the Bruins, Nill acquired a player capable of becoming a top-line center in Dallas for the next decade.

Seguin doesn't fit that role just yet, and the way Claude Julien handled him during the playoffs makes you wonder if the Bruins thought he'd ever become one. But you don't rush to judgment on a 21-year-old with that much talent and one that was the No. 2 overall pick in 2010. He nearly had a 30-goal season as a 20-year-old in 2011-12 and had 32 points in 48 games this past season. Yes, his playoff production wasn't great, but he was part of a third line with Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille that gave the Blackhawks fits at times in the finals. He also earned praise from teammates for improving the defensive side of his game, an area that can continue to improve.

The knock on Seguin is his immaturity. You know, like most 21-year-olds.

When I chatted with Nill at the outset of his coaching search, he made one thing very clear. He wanted a coach who could teach his young players how to be professionals.

"I do have an ideal coach," he said at the time. "It's more about a lifestyle. Being a pro hockey player every day."


That's what makes the hiring of Ruff so perfect for the Stars. The knock on Ruff, after he was fired in Buffalo, was that he wasn't the best tactical coach in the league. And that may turn out to be true, but when it comes to creating a environment in which players can grow into true pros, there wasn't a better candidate.

It makes even more sense with this trade.

The Stars employ Mark Recchi, who knows Seguin well from their playing days together in Boston. He was, no doubt, consulted on this deal. He knows the potential risk of adding someone who may still have some growing up to do. He also knows the potential reward.

As Chris Peters pointed out on Twitter, what if the Blackhawks had bailed on Patrick Kane after the few high-profile off-ice incidents he made around Seguin's age? They probably don't win another Stanley Cup.

Kane has matured, and it's likely Seguin will, too. This trade makes sense for the Bruins because they're at a point now where they don't want or need to wait. That group is ready to win another Stanley Cup. They've got two professional centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. They now have a professional winger in Eriksson, not to mention more cap space. This move keeps them among the East's elite.

Nill is still building in Dallas. He now has two high-end young forwards in Seguin and Benn. He overpaid for a veteran defenseman in Sergei Gonchar, but it may not look so bad when free agency opens tomorrow and teams realize just how thin the pool of available defensemen has become.

In this league of parity, it's not hard to autopilot your way into the middle. It takes risk to break through to the top. Nill took that risk with Gonchar. He took that risk with drafting talented winger Valeri Nichushkin, a top-three talent who slid to No. 10 because of fears that he may end up in the KHL.

And there's risk in trading a known quantity in Eriksson for Seguin, who may never grow up. But Nill is changing the culture in Dallas alright, and it looks like average is on the way out.