Seguin-Benn clicking on, off the ice

DALLAS -- It was a small gesture, really, the kind of thing you might not have noticed had you not been standing three feet away when it happened.

Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn and winger Tyler Seguin are sitting next to each other at a charity event at a Dallas golf and entertainment center. The two are taking a break while teammate Kevin Connauton is taking some swings, both checking messages on their phones, when Seguin looks up and casually plucks a piece of lint off the back of Benn's shirt.

It's the kind of moment that passes between friends everywhere, every day. It is the kind of moment that suggests a high degree of comfort and, yes, maybe even affection, and it is the kind of moment that explains at least in part the kind of dynamic that exists and continues to grow between two of the most dynamic players in the NHL.

Who knows how this turns out if the Boston Bruins don't decide they have had enough of Seguin and his reported off-ice activities and send the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2010 to Dallas as part of a blockbuster deal after the 2013 playoffs?

But that's not how it played out. For Benn, Seguin and, indeed, the entire Dallas Stars franchise, things will never be the same, the trade creating something that is, like some sort of long forgotten chemistry lesson, greater than the sum of the two parts and, at the risk of entering into flat-out hyperbole, creating something that often approaches the magical.

You can argue chicken/egg, nature/nurture, but Benn and Seguin have meshed in a way that few could have expected, both in terms of their relationship off the ice and their simpatico on it.

Does one part of the equation -- the friendship -- lead naturally to the other, the on-ice success?

Benn is asked if he worried that he wouldn't like Seguin. Did he worry Seguin would be a jerk?

The Stars captain looks perplexed, as though it never really occurred to him.

"I've never thought of that, you know," Benn said during an interview at the golf event. "I guess it could have gone that way, you never know. But he's got a great personality, he's a great kid, and we really have become really good friends, and I think our friendship is still growing.

"It's been really great so far, and we're just hoping to build on it.

"I think me and Tyler every day push each other to be better than each other in a competitive and friendly way, and it really gets the best out of both of us."

After being traded in July 2013, Seguin moved into the same building where Benn and his brother and fellow Star Jordie Benn shared a unit, the three carpooling to and from the rink. When Seguin bought a house this past offseason, about a month later Benn bought one about three blocks away.

In spite of the fact that the two live near each other, Benn is contemplating buying a bike to make the travel time shorter between the two homes, something Seguin delights in sharing and ribbing Benn about.

"Jamie wants to buy a bike," Seguin said with a grin. "He doesn't feel like wasting energy and walking to my house, even though he can. So he still hasn't gotten around to buying a bike because he's that lazy.

"Luckily it's not his on-ice trait."

Too close to drive, Benn explains with a shrug that might be a little sheepish. He doesn't like the walk.

Seguin's house is, apparently, the focal point of team activities.

If there's a gathering place before going out, it's at Seguin's place. If there's a get-together to watch football, it's at Seguin's house.

And that explains in part the dynamic that exists between the two.

We ask Benn who gets recognized most between the two when they go out.

He doesn't hesitate.


Then, "What did he say? Me? It's him for sure. He likes to be, I guess, the fashionable guy," Benn insisted. "He's got some good style. I think he likes when people see him and notice him."

And no, he doesn't take tips from Seguin.

"I like my fashion, actually," Benn said. "I don't take tips from him. I've got my own way."

But, and this is important, they never dress the same. Ever.

With Seguin's large personality -- wickedly sharp with a quick, dry sense of humor -- Benn has enjoyed a kind of renaissance of his own, not just as a player but as one finding his voice, his personality.

"It's amazing. You talk about a transformation not only within in the organization but within Jamie Benn," said former NHL player Brent Severyn, who played in Dallas during the Stars' heyday in the late 1990s. "When he first came in here, it was hard for him to even string sentences together. Very shy. Very quiet.

"You could see it underneath all that this burning desire to play at that skill level, and you could feel that this kid had something."

Seguin acknowledged that they occupy different ends of the personality spectrum, although that gap is narrowing.

"It's gotten different over time," Seguin said. "He was very much more quiet when I first arrived here, I feel like, than where we are now. He's opened up a bit more. I have a very outgoing personality. He brings things out in me, like just his work ethic and being around a person like that, and I kind of bring out the social side of him, I guess you could say.

"He even jokes and smiles on camera now, so that's good.

"Our lifestyles are really similar. We're two young, single guys. We both ... want success. I know what it's like to win a Stanley Cup, and he listens to me telling stories. Now we've gone to the playoffs and obviously he's won a gold medal on the Olympic stage, so he knows what that's like."

The results have been stunning.

Since the start of last season (through Wednesday), Seguin was tied for third among the 11 players who have collected at least 90 points, with 99. Benn was tied for seventh on that list, with 90.

Their combined 189 points, including 83 goals, make them one of four sets of teammates to top the 180-point mark. Only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks had more than the Dallas duo's point total.

"We put the 'C' on Jamie and his leadership has really grown," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "His personality has come out. He's become vocal when he needs to be.

"But those two guys like playing with each other. I think they like hanging with each other more than anything. That's pretty special. You've got two guys that are looking after each other on the ice, off the ice; that was something we couldn't anticipate. You hoped for it. That type of chemistry ... you can't teach that."

The coach knows first-hand about the connection.

"They actually caught me in some type of moment here during camp, and they had the biggest laugh," Ruff told ESPN.com. "The look on their face. Only those two guys could pull it off."

During training camp, a massage school had its students working on the players. At one point Ruff, who suffers from back issues, found he had the masseurs to himself.

"So I thought I'd let them work on my back," Ruff said. "And I said, 'Nobody's working on me if the players are around.' Well, so all of a sudden there's like five masseuses working on me. I'm going, man, this is incredible.

"Then there's this picture being taken and it goes around to management. 'Oh, we found the coach. We know where he's at.'"

How did he know that it was Benn and Seguin?

"They were in the picture like this," he said, miming the well-known selfie pose. "And in the background you could see me on the table and they had the two goofiest looks on their face."

As one might imagine, it was a collaborative effort as Seguin spotted the opportunity and then enlisted Benn, who did the actual photography before sending it around.

Now, the only way you can get away with that stuff is with a lot of courage and if you're doing the work on the ice to support such cheekiness.

These two have the rare ability to not just talk the talk of winning but also to back it up on the ice, veteran Dallas forward Shawn Horcoff said.

They dream and think big.

"They want to take the league over," Horcoff said. "They want to win."

Teammate Vernon Fiddler agrees they are privy to something special, watching the two blossom on the ice while it's obvious they enjoy each other's company so much off the ice.

"It's definitely a unique situation," Fiddler said. "I think they kind of bring the best out of each other. I think it's great energy for our room."

Benn acknowledged that, before the trade, he looked around the NHL and saw the kind of dynamic that existed in Anaheim with Perry and Getzlaf and Chicago with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and thought, 'Hey, that would be nice,' felt maybe with a pang of jealousy.

Not anymore.

And here's the interesting thing, a kind of harbinger for what would come.

The moment the trade happened, independent of each other, Benn and Seguin began watching tapes of the other, wondering about tendencies and how they might fit together even if, on the surface, they might have looked to have been separate hockey entities.

Fair to say Benn was the more known quantity in Dallas before the trade, but it's also fair to suggest that his game is at a place now that has him considered among the most complete packages in the NHL. When ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance asked top players which peers they would choose to build a team around, Penguins captain Crosby immediately named Benn.

Brother Jordie acknowledged it's been almost magical watching his brother evolve from being the 129th overall pick in the 2007 draft to one of the game's top players.

"It's been kind of crazy to go along with him for the ride," said the older sibling, a defenseman. "To become one of the best players in the world is obviously an unbelievable accomplishment for him. I always knew he had a chance to make it. He's worked so hard for what he's got. It's just kind of a crazy thing to see how good he is."

As a captain, "it took him a little while to find his way and how he wanted to do things," said Horcoff, once a captain with the Edmonton Oilers.

But there is no doubt whose team this is now.

"He's the best captain I've ever been around," Horcoff said.

It's the whole package, Horcoff explained.

Fight? Sure (but not too often). Kill penalties. Lead the power play. Score important goals five-on-five.

Seguin's place in the equation was perhaps a little more unknown, given that the Bruins were willing to move such a talented player at such a young age.

If he had become embittered by the process or withdrawn instead of somehow embracing the challenge, then maybe the storyline is a little different, a little darker.

"I think, first for me, he's got a great personality," Ruff said. "I think the second-most important thing for him, me being his coach, is he's able to hold himself accountable. Knows when he plays bad. Knows when he's done some things that he knows that I don't like that I'm trying to work with him on. He might even say when I've met with him, 'Oh, there's going to be a couple more of those yet.' Which he knows. I've said to him, 'I think you can be a better player than you are if I can get you to do these couple of things.' And he does. He puts his mind to it."

As for the move to Dallas, it's pretty simple to the coach.

Jamie Benn

Jamie Benn

#14 LW
Dallas Stars

2014-15 STATS

  • GM12
  • G5

  • A6

  • PTS11

  • +/--2

  • PIM17

Tyler Seguin

Tyler Seguin

#91 C
Dallas Stars

2014-15 STATS

  • GM12
  • G7

  • A8

  • PTS15

  • +/--1

  • PIM6

"I think what helped him embrace it is that it worked," Ruff said. "You know he found Jamie Benn. That's important. That can go the other way too if it doesn't work. But it worked. He was bound and determined to become a better player. He became a Dallas Star and took a lot of pride in it."

Seguin's teammates have seen that too, and if there was a perception that Seguin's easygoing nature somehow translated to the ice, that perception has been shattered.

"His will to win every night is just as bad as Benny's," Fiddler said. "You always hear those stories that he's not a team guy, about his off-ice antics. I've never seen a rink rat like him before. He's always mentally prepared."

As for Seguin's shot, well, let's just say that it's a gift Fiddler wishes he could bestow.

"If I could give my son one thing in the world, that's what I would give him," Fiddler said with a laugh.

Seguin figures there are a couple of factors that have made the transition work as well as it has.

"When I grew up, I had one of those hockey dads that was really strict on me, really hard on me," Seguin said. "At the time, I couldn't stand it. Now that I look back, it definitely made me a thicker-skinned type of person. And I thank him all the time for what he put me through and getting me to where I am.

"I think that could be part of the reason. Another part of the reason was that I was just so motivated to prove people wrong on the ice, more than my words."

They're not perfect, of course, neither Benn nor Seguin nor the Stars.

The team is on a five-game winless slide, and Ruff was bemoaning the "pond hockey" mentality with which it was playing.

But this is big-picture stuff. Already, fans have started to return to the American Airlines Center in Dallas in numbers not seen in many years.

And this isn't about whether the Stars win a Stanley Cup this spring. It's about building on last season's playoff appearance and exciting first-round series loss to the Anaheim Ducks, and it's about rebuilding something that was approaching a dynasty in Dallas in the mid- to late 1990s.

In some ways, it's impossible to quantify the impact the Seguin-Benn dynamic has on the team's goals, both in collecting points and in returning to a position of prominence in a sports landscape dominated by the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, NBA's Mavericks and MLB's Texas Rangers. Suffice it to say that it is huge.

"We were talking about [Mike Modano]," Severyn said, referring to the former Stars captain who will be formally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame later this month. "This town needs something like that. They need those marquee guys that are not only good on the ice but good within the community and able to compete if you want with the Cowboys and football, which is necessary because here hockey is really so low on the totem pole in the community that you have to fight for the dollars to bring them in.

"There is a very loyal base here, but you're trying to bring the other fans in, and when you have those marquee guys, they bring them into the building, they watch it on T.V. more, plus your team obviously benefits from it in getting the points and getting into the playoffs.

"They are working together, and they're a good voice within that team. ... They're the guys that lead offensively, so that is why we call them the dynamic duo. That's why we call them Batman and Robin. They're the guys that are leading this thing."

Owner Tom Gaglardi makes no bones about the fact that these players have the potential to have a significant impact on the franchise for years to come, and that extends beyond points in the standings.

"I think what's exciting is that we're an exciting team to watch. I think people want to watch us," Gaglardi told ESPN.com. "People gravitate to the two of them. They want to be around them. It's their team. It's young. It's real, and it's something the fan base can identify with."

And he loves that they are good friends who enjoy a good time away from the rink.

"I don't know if you're going to win a Stanley Cup with guys that are in their [hotel] rooms at 6 p.m. every night," Gaglardi said. "You've got to have life."

With Seguin and Benn, it's hard to imagine that will ever be an issue.