Stars’ Seguin has high expectations in Big D, will miss ‘hockey nerd’ Spezza

TORONTO — Tyler Seguin got comfortable having Jason Spezza as his sounding board.

Teammates the last five seasons with the Dallas Stars, the centres with an age gap of more than 8 1/2 years would often chat about life in the NHL. The senior partner in the relationship, Spezza was there to listen, share his wealth of knowledge and offer advice.

“He’s the first guy I text or call when it comes to hockey,” Seguin said.

Those conversations, however, are going to be less frequent following the 36-year-old Spezza’s decision to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the league minimum in 2019-20, fulfilling a childhood dream of playing in his hometown.

“Character, leadership. A hockey nerd, if you want to call (him that),” Seguin said Tuesday at the annual summer BioSteel camp of what Spezza’s new team is getting. “He’s great in the locker room. I’m going to miss him.”

Spezza has said he’s willing to embrace whatever role the Leafs envision, which will likely be entail bottom-6 minutes, power-play time, and shouldering some of the leadership burden on a team with plenty of young firepower.

“I don’t think he needs any more money … he’s made enough,” Seguin, 27, joked of Spezza signing for US$700,000 after earning more than $88 million in his career. “He’s a guy that just loves the game, loves making players better.

“He’s going to be great for the Leafs.”

And while Seguin was sad to see Spezza head north, he’s eager to see what the future holds in Dallas.

Coming off a double overtime Game 7 loss in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues, the Stars made a splash in free agency by adding 35-year-old centre Joe Pavelski after he wasn’t re-signed by the San Jose Sharks, and 34-year-old winger Corey Perry, who was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks.

“Perry’s going to come in with a chip on his shoulder,” said Seguin, the second pick in the 2010 draft by the Boston Bruins set to begin his seventh season in Texas. “The biggest thing with (Pavelski) with San Jose when he got hurt (in the playoffs) was seeing how that team gathered around him and went to work. He’s something special.”

In a league that continues to get younger, Seguin said the importance of veterans still able to contribute can’t be discounted.

“There’s just so much excitement with the new players and the kids in the league that you stop talking about the (older) guys,” he said. “Those are the guys that gel a team together.”

At the other end of the age spectrum, Seguin is excited to see what comes next for 20-year-old defenceman Miro Heiskanen, who put up 12 goals and 33 points as a rookie, finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting, and started to really turn heads in the post-season.

“I wanted to hide him for a little bit, but he broke out so early,” Seguin said. “His ceiling is, ‘Who knows?”’

Asked what his expectations are for the Stars in 2019-20 following a playoff run that saw Dallas let the eventual champs off the ropes at home in Game 6 before losing on the road in Game 7, Seguin was equally bold.

“High,” he said. “We established our identity last year and we want to keep building on it.”

That includes playing sound without the puck under head coach Jim Montgomery, who’s entering his second season. The Stars got off to a so-so start in Montgomery’s rookie campaign as an NHL bench boss, but eventually pulled things together and had the league’s sixth-best record after the middle of January.

“His big thing is the process,” said Seguin, who registered 33 goals and 80 points in 2018-19. “There’s things we want to hit every game. Sometimes you’re going to win games by not doing it, getting lucky. And some games you’re going to lose doing it the proper way.

“When we’re consistent with the process, we know good things are going to happen.”

Seguin voiced his concerns over where negotiations on a contract extension with Dallas stood 12 months ago at the BioSteel camp — a high-performance event featuring a number of NHLers — only to put pen to paper two weeks later on an eight-year deal that carries an average annual value of $9.85 million and kicks in this season.

Did those comments to the media get management’s attention?

“I don’t think so,” Seguin said, before adding with a grin: “I had some people who weren’t too thrilled we were talking about it, but it was the first time I’d spoken in front of cameras all summer.”

Once again in front of the cameras for the first time in a long time Tuesday, the Brampton, Ont., native was also asked if he’d ever consider Spezza’s route when his career has a couple holes left on the back nine and take a shot at playing for the team he cheered for as a kid.

Keenly aware anything Leafs-related can quickly mushroom into a much bigger story, Seguin didn’t take the bait.

“I see myself as a Dallas Star my whole life,” he said. “Hopefully it works out.”

But maybe one day he’ll call up his old friend and ask what the experience was like.

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