It has become an increasingly common discussion among hockey blogs and fans about the number of restricted free agents that have remained unsigned this off season. The latest piece that sparked this thought was this article from the Hockey News. As we are all very much aware there is a certain Jamie Benn among those restricted free agents who is seen as the future face of the franchise.
Though it is not unusual for certain players to hold out in order to get more money or potentially indicate to owners that they want a chance of scenery the fact of the matter is that there are a higher number than usual this offseason.
The explanation for this increase in unsigned RFAs is obvious; no one knows what the next CBA will look like. Signing a player to a contract of either long term or for a large amount of money could cripple a team if there is a significant reduction in the salary cap. Players don't want to sign a contract, which would then be dramatically altered by a different set of rules. It's obvious that each side wants to be careful in order for the best possible outcome to emerge.
Fans might find the lack of signings of these important RFAs worrying but in reality it is to be expected. In times of uncertainty people would not risk signing a new contract or something similar if the background of the situation could radically change. The dice are rolling on what the new CBA will look like and it makes sense to wait to see what the dice show before the next move. To sign early could be a gamble, especially if the cap is lowered.
Some teams, such as the Dallas Stars, appear to be waiting for the new CBA to come into action before signing star players, like Jamie Benn, but others are not. Some teams have already started signing key RFAs to contracts despite the fact the dice is still rolling on the CBA. These signings have led to there being a raft of articles comparing the contracts of signed RFAs to their respective teams unsigned top RFAs. For example after the signing of Jeff Skinner to his 6 year $34.35 million contract articles, such as this one and this one, compared his contract to what could be expected from players such as Tyler Ennis and Jamie Benn.
The signing of these other players have put fans on edge when thinking about contract negotiations with Jamie Benn, especially considering the Philadelphia Flyers recent offer sheeting of Shea Weber. In a recent article, one featured on today's daily links, Mike Heiki compares the contract negotiations with Benn as being like the negotiations being held between the NHL and NHLPA. This is not necessarily the most positive image for hockey fans at the moment with a potential lockout looming but a reasonably accurate one.
Both sides want to get the deal best for them. Though the Stars have stated that they consider Benn to be one of the core pieces to construct a new team around they don't want to risk signing a long term contract now. Their ideal situation would be for Benn to sign a bridge contract so that his next contract would take him into UFA status and they could lock him up then long term. They did it with Eriksson and Neal and both were handsomely paid for their three year deals.
Benn wants a longer term contract than that and something similar to Jeff Skinner's contract or Paul Stanstny's contract. At least 5+ years with an average cap hit of around 6 million. Him and his agent believe that comparable players have received that much and that Benn, as face of the franchise, deserves at least something similar. It appears to be a logical argument to make that Benn should get a contract along the lines of 6 years with a cap hit of $6million.
Many Stars fans would agree and it can be seen that many do believe the Stars should sign him to the length of deal that Benn wants. He is such an important player that many fans fear that the organisation risks alienating him by waiting and being unwilling to give him the long term contract that we assume he wants. The Stars and their fans don't want a situation where Benn is unsigned and sitting on the side lines at the beginning of a season, especially with the loss of Roy to injury. A situation like that of Drew Doughty at the beginning of last season is not desirable. Benn would probably also dislike that situation, being forced to sit out and also miss being paid.
So where does this all lead? The uncertainity of the CBA and an unsigned Jamie Benn are not positive signs for a franchise that was ready to attempt to burst into the NHL post season after finally getting a new owner. In my opinion the way that Mike Heiki finishes his article is the perfect antidote for those Stars fans that are worrying about Jamie Benn, the CBA and the future of the franchise:
‘So is one side right or wrong in that negotiation? No, it's just business. How much money does a player need to play hockey? How much is an owner willing to spend to play hockey? It's really that simple if you take it down to a one-player scenario. And there is always a price where both sides can agree.
Benn and the Stars will find a way to work things out. There's too much to gain for both sides. The same goes for the NHL and the players. It will get done. But this is not about what's "fair" or what's "right." It's about what you can negotiate. That's the way it's always been.'
The CBA will get done and the unsigned RFAs will be signed and Jamie Benn will continue wearing the Dallas Stars jersey. As much as we all dislike the idea of a lockout and are worried about the impact it will have it does emphasise one point. Yes the NHL is about ice hockey and we watch it because we love ice hockey. But its also a business which needs to work out the flaws. It needs to resolve the inherent problems within the league and struggling franchises and it won't be easy.
Just like with the large group of RFAs they need to think about business rather than hockey. Jamie Benn wants to play hockey but he wants to make sure he is paid what he believes others like him are paid. It might be frustrating for fans to see him unsigned still but the Stars need to make sure they are making the right decision business wise.
The fact of the matter is that this is all just business, and like sausages, its not nice to see how it's made.