Perhaps the one thing that has been weighing on the minds of Dallas Stars fans during the lockout -- aside from the fact that there was one -- is that Jamie Benn had yet to be signed to a new contract. The Stars had attempted to sign Benn before the expiration of the last collective bargaining agreement yet it seemed, almost as soon as the season had ended, that a new contract would likely not come before the new CBA had been put in place.
Now that the lockout is over and the CBA is just days from being ratified, most fans are expecting news of the new Benn contract to be made mere moments after full ratification of the new deal. Unfortunately, it seems as if fans are in for a bit more drama than they'd like as a new contract might not be so easily signed in such a short time.
Because of health risk, and because it allows the Benn camp to put pressure on the negotiations, Benn will not join practices until he is signed. While that will drive Stars fans crazy - especially if he is not ready for the start of the 48-game season Jan. 19 - the Stars seem to be ready to wait, if that's necessary.
The Dallas Stars found a diamond in the rough with Jamie Benn, snagging him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft when concerns about his skating and ability to play physical appeared to push him down the draft board. He exploded in the WHL, however, putting up 147 points in 107 games and instantly became the top prospect in the Stars system.
Three years later and Benn is the best player on the team and will be looked upon as the face of the franchise moving forward. Benn is coming off a three-year entry-level contract and earned $821,667 against the cap last season and is looking at a gigantic leap in pay, with his yearly salary likely falling between $5 and $6 million in this next deal.
Where things will get hairy in the negotiations between the Stars and Jamie Benn's agent is on the length of the deal. As stated several times over the past year or so, the Stars are going to want to sign Benn to a "bridge" contract that gives the team one more round of contract negotiations with him still under team control, likely to be around a three-year offer.
All indications point to Benn and his agent looking for a long-term contract, one that takes him to his free agency years or locks him up for the full eight years allowed under the new CBA. This is where things get tricky in the negotiations. Benn is worth around $6 million or so on a five- or six-year contract. As Heika notes in his article, if the Stars are looking to sign Benn short term then they'd want a lower annual value than than $6 million, especially after signing Loui Eriksson to $3.2 million per season on a bridge contract of his own.
Just like the lockout negotiations we all had to sit back and watch, this is all about leverage. The scenario that is likely to play out over the next few weeks was probably going to happen no matter what -- lockout or not. Benn's situation compared to other young players around the league that have signed big contracts is unique in the fact that he is already 23-years old -- Benn will reach unrestricted free agency faster than players like Jeff Skinner, who signed for six years and $5.725 million per season.
Holding out into training camp is far from an uncommon occurrence and generally happens in situations such as these, although it's tough for fans to watch. We want the team to sign the franchise superstar as quickly as possible for whatever he wants, while the Stars have to be very mindful of how this team is being built financially for the future.
Given that training camp is only going to be around six days, and that the Stars have not been able to negotiate for nearly four months, there is a strong possibility that negotiations progress into the start of the truncated regular season. This gives Benn and his agent more leverage than they already have, if what the Stars are offering isn't to their liking.
"We've had talks with Jamie for a year and a half, so we know the parameters," Joe Nieuwendyk said earlier this week. "We've made it clear to them that it is a priority for us, and I think Jamie knows we want him in camp. It's important, but time will dictate whether it gets done."
As much as we want Benn on this ice for this very first game of the season, this is about the next long-term future of the hockey team and Benn's career. Fans should not panic if Benn misses the first few games before a contract is signed and there's a very strong chance a deal is not reached in time for Benn to attend training camp.
With three new forwards now in the top six for the Stars, it's important to have Benn on the ice as quickly as possible with his new teammates. Unfortunately, the nature of some fairly unique negotiations may prevent that from happening within the next few weeks.