As soon as the Philadelphia Flyers sent along the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators, it felt to some as if the dam had been broken. After all, it has appeared that a "gentleman's agreement" of sorts exists in the NHL, that teams are reluctant to try and take advantage of the offer sheet rules with Restricted Free Agency out of fear they'll be looked down upon by the rest of the general managers around the NHL. Despite the wealth of talent available every year, it is rare that an offer sheet situation ever exists.
Yet when the Flyers did just that, with one of the most ridiculously top-heavy contracts we've ever seen for perhaps the best defenseman of this generation, all bets were seemingly off. If this could happen for a player like Shea Weber then who is really off-limits? Immediately, Dallas Stars fans thought of Jamie Benn and how the Stars have decided to wait for the new CBA to sign a contract with their top center. Why wouldn't a team try and do the same thing with the Stars, attempting to pluck a budding superstar from a team taking a risk by waiting on a contract?
Just a week later, however, and those fears have died down considerably. The Nashville Predators matched the offer sheet from the Flyers, turning down a possible compensation of four first-round draft picks, and put to rest any thought a team like Nashville couldn't match such a lucrative contract.
Jamie Benn's name certainly came up in conversation, as the list of top RFAs on the market continued to shrink. Yet the consensus around the NHL has always been that the Dallas Stars will match any offer sheet made to Benn -- and if the Predators can match that 14-year contract, then you'd better believe the Stars will match any offer for their franchise player.
The other side of this coin is whether Benn would even accept an offer sheet and how that contract would have to be worried to entice him away from Dallas. While it could be a case of Benn and his agent forcing the hand of the Stars into signing a long-term contract that is grandfathered into the new CBA. This wouldn't be about the value of the contract but about the term; the only reason to accept an offer sheet would be because of the term of the contract.
For a player like Benn, who is just 23 years old, it stands to reason that in five years he could be looking at a much more lucrative payday -- if he reaches the potential we all expect in that time. Why would Benn want to limit his options with a 10-year contract, especially if the Dallas Stars would likely match anyway?
Instead, the Dallas Stars and Jamie Benn will continue along the same line they've been following since the season ended. The team wants to wait for the new CBA to be finalized so they can move forward with building a team without being hamstrung by contracts that have been 'grandfathered' in. The Dallas Stars are building a team of young and promising players and while they seem to have all the flexibility in the world now, Joe Nieuwendyk wants to be careful not to handcuff himself for three or four years down the road when a number of these young players will need new contracts.
The biggest question here is what Jamie Benn is worth and what contract makes sense for both sides. Benn made just $821,667 last season, the final year of his entry-level contract and is looking at a significant raise with his first big contract. He's also likely going to want to be able to explore free agency (or at least have free agency on the table) for when that second and potentially more lucrative contract becomes part of that equation. It's standard around the league for players of his age and experience.
The problem is that attempting to compare Benn to similar RFAs around the NHL that have signed contracts this summer leads to extraordinarily divergent results.
Matt Duchene, a restricted free agent and the top player for the Colorado Avalanche, signed just a two-year contract with $7 million. Duchene had just 28 points in 58 games this past season but is regarded as one of the more promising young players in the NHL, and this is seen as the perfect example of a "bridge contract" -- almost a "prove it" contract of sorts for Duchene to further grow as a player and get a potentially bigger payday in just a few short years.
On the other side of the spectrum is Evander Kane, winger for the Winnipeg Jets. Kane is the other top name on the RFA list and rumor has it that he is considering a six-year, $29 million contract from the Jets that would pay the 20-year old a little less that $5 million per season. Kane has a ton of potential and is coming off his best season yet in the NHL, but he still has a lot to prove and there are some that think such a long-term contract might not be in the best interest of the team or the player at this point.
John Tavares, coming off a 81-point season with the Islanders, signed a six-year contract worth $33 million and a cap hit of $5.5 million per year. Tavares is just 21 years old but is seen as the cornerstone of that franchise, much like Benn, and this contract is the perfect bridge for the team and player that takes Tavares to his prime as a hockey player. Perhaps this contract is closest to what the Stars could be looking for with Benn, especially considering both represent the future of their respective franchises.
The three players listed above are all 21 years old or younger and will be coming out of their contracts at 26 and 27 years old -- exactly what most players are wanting. Benn is 23 years old; a six year contract would take him to 29 -- generally past the age most players are wanting to see their next big contract. For us to get a more realistic sense of what contract would be best for Benn and the Stars, we should look at Ryan Getzlaf and the Anaheim Ducks.
Getzlaf was 23 years old when he signed a 5-year, $26.625 million contract with the Ducks. At the time, Getzlaf had three full seasons in the NHL under his belt and was coming off his best season yet, with 82 points in 77 games. While the contract was signed back in 2008 and 'inflation' should be considered with these numbers, it's generally considered that this contract and situation are the best comparisons to what both the Stars and Benn could be looking for.
The interesting part in all of this is the decision to wait until the new CBA is approved, when contract lengths could potentially be capped at five or six years in length. There's also the possibility that the Stars could want a bridge contract similar to what they gave James Neal in 2010, except the fact that Benn deserves considerably more than the $2.8 million that Neal received with that two-year contract. Instead, it certainly seems the best course would be for the sides to agree to a five year contract -- regardless of what the CBA restrictions are -- and ensure that Benn is here for at least the better part of the next decade.
So what is Jamie Benn actually worth? It's tough to put a quantifiable number on what Benn provides for the Stars aside from pure statistics alone. Benn has 160 points in 222 NHL games and is coming off his best season yet, where he proved he's much more than just a flashy goal-scorer, taking on a major defensive role the second half of the season in order to help free up the Ribeiro line. He performed that role exceptionally well and it could be argued that Benn was the best even-strength forward in the NHL last season.
It stands to reason that the best contract for both sides would be in the neighborhood of a five-year, $28.5 million contract -- depending on just how much the CBA changes. A great value for a player like Benn, while also providing a significant pay raise for a former 5th-round pick who made the unexpected jump from the WHL to NHL superstardom in just a few short years.