In the wake of Tyler Seguin getting traded to the Dallas Stars, the stories quickly started to come out. “Off-ice issues” was the theme, and all the loyal Boston scribes traded out adjectives like “promising” and “talented” for “immature” and “irresponsible.” We heard stories about him showing up to morning skate in Toronto during playoffs for three straight days wearing the same clothes, we heard someone was hired to make sure he stayed in his room on the road, and we heard general jokes about him running amok in the great state of Massachusetts.
Whether those stories are true or not, I have no idea. I’m definitely on the side that’s been having fun adding sarcastic quips to the pile like “Wait, that rich, single, good-looking 21 year-old professional athlete has been going out past what some of us consider bedtime? Bring me my fainting couch,” but at the same time, I realize you can only give a party player so much rope before he hangs himself with it.
So let’s leave the Seguin example in the dust because who the hell knows what he’s been up to and why the Bruins decided to give up on him, and talk about the player who parties too much and how his “off-ice issues” affect the group. We’ll loop back to Seguin at the end.
In my experience, the player who goes out too much isn’t necessarily some disliked “bro,” and he isn’t necessarily missing practices because he’s unconscious somewhere, he’s just never quite what he can be, and it’s infuriating.
I played with a player who had an NHL-bright future, but his late-night habits slowly burned through his chances. But, teams are always willing to take a chance on talent, and he was a defenseman whose numbers in the QMJHL looked an awful lot like Kris Letang’s. By the time we were teammates, he was on his last chance.
And shit, was he good at times. He could quarterback the powerplay, make laser seeing-eye breakout passes, and do Tomas Jurco-like things with the puck. But somedays…somedays he just wasn’t himself.
He’d show up haggard for morning skate, then get walked around that night. He’d still make a couple great plays on the powerplay, get a couple points, and help us out, but man, it was so frustrating knowing that if he’d just take care of himself, we could eliminate some of the bad and have more of the good. So, the coach would talk to him, we’d all know it, he’d laugh it off and tell his story about why he was in such rough shape, the guys would laugh, and on we’d go.
But eventually, guys would laugh less. Say what you want about plus/minus as a stat, but no player wants a terrible one. The middle range may not say much about a guy, but if you’re on for a ton of goals for or against, eventually the trend points to you. So he’s costing you the odd minus, and not making plays you know he can make when you’re open and have a chance, and you start to get frustrated.
So coach talks to him again, but by now he’s stopped telling his stories because guys are sick of getting personally burned by his irresponsibility, and a divide forms. You can show up hungover with a good story, get laughs in the room, and have guys work hard to help you out if it doesn’t happen often. But once the team feels like they’re carrying your entire load, you’re bound to get the figurative Full Metal Jacket soap-in-pillowcases treatment.
From a fan’s perspective, you have this uber-talented player who sometimes makes glaring errors, but because he can make the odd head-snapping play – a toe-drag around a guy while he’s last man back that leads directly to a goal – I’m sure they just figured, hey, with all that good, we’ll take that bad.
But again: as a player you do start to feel like you’re getting personally f***ed over by the party guy’s inability to just get some rest and show up like you know he personally can.
If Tyler Seguin was late-night-mode in Boston during the team’s Cup push, you can understand why the organization would be frustrated enough to say “You screwed us over. We don’t know what your ceiling is, and while we suspect it’s extremely high, we don’t trust that you can get it straightened out to find out here. So here’s a one-way ticket outta town.” When your team loses in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and your team’s most offensively talented guy can’t help give you a push because he’s going out when you have guys like Patrice Bergeron playing through what appears to be a Hummer-on-pedestrian accident…you’re going to reach the point where you’ve had enough.
At the NHL level, you see far, far less of this. Where I dwelled for a few seasons, the minors, it’s everywhere. You have older guys who have made the turn from prospect to project who just want to play hockey and have fun. You have just out of junior kids who are experiencing true freedom (and money!) for the first time. You have guys just out of college, you have dozens of new cities to visit, you have…you have a cocktail that’s ripe for players having too many cocktails, is what you have.
One thing that separates some NHLers from lifers in the minors is their commitment to fitness and taking care of themselves. Some guys are simply more disciplined.
So when you see those disciplined guys on your roster, and you contrast them with the guy who keeps going out and burning through chance after chance, it’s only going to be so long until the coach or GM says that’s enough. You’re out, and someone who we can rely on is in.
Talent buys you an awfully long leash, but as I said earlier, even those with the most of it can find themselves getting tangled in it, and hanging themselves from that very same rope.