The Dallas Stars signed Jamie Benn to a five-year contract on Thursday, just as the frustration and impatience by fans were getting ready to hit critical levels. While the Stars had won two-of-three without their top player on the ice the team still felt far from complete and it's become clear that while the team isn't entirely dependent on Benn, it would be much better if he were actually on the ice with his teammates. The question was never whether a deal would actually be reached, however; it was how long it would take to sign him.
Even I was questioning my own read on the situation, that a deal would be reached by this weekend. Talks had slowed down and, from everything we could tell, that a deal was reached tonight caught many by surprise -- no matter what Bob McKenzie may have had to say.
What was also clear was that growing frustration was being focused on the Stars and that this impasse had carried on long enough. Were the missed games, the potentially lost points, worth the price of holding onto the desire to sign Jamie Benn to a long-term contract?
In the end, the answer appears to be yes, it was.
General manager Joe Nieuwendyk signed Benn to a five-year contract worth $5.25 million per season, by all accounts an incredible discount for a player touted as the "cornerstone of the franchise." This means that the Stars now have Benn and Loui Eriksson locked up through the 2015-2016 season for under $10 million combined; remarkable when you consider that both are considered two of the premiere young forwards in the NHL.
Benn is also getting less yearly value than most of the players his contract situation has had him compared to; it's clear that the Stars looked right at the deals given to to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, with both signed to five-year contracts at $5.325 million with the Ducks (although those deals are expiring). The contract locks Benn up relatively long term at a very affordable cost and gives the Stars better financial freedom moving forward as they build the team around him.
The value of the contract is already getting a lot of attention but it's important to remember the biggest factor in this situation -- Benn's age.
With this five-year deal now in place, Jamie Benn will become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 28. He'll be directly in his prime and there's a very, very good chance he will be seriously more valuable than the contract he's just agreed to. This is why Benn was reluctant to sign long term and why he was pushing for a three-year deal; so he could renegotiate for a bigger payday sooner than later. This is why the Stars wanted to sign him longer term, knowing they'd have a potentially elite player at a bargain price.
In the end, five years was in the middle and likely not the term either side really wanted. The value of the contract seems low, yet the Stars were likely not willing to pay more just to see Benn face a monster contract at 28 years old. Perhaps this is why so many felt things had reached a stalling point and you wonder if something happened to bridge the gap and just get the deal done.
Joe Nieuwendyk has had his ups and downs since coming to Dallas but he continues to methodically rebuild this team and he's doing it smartly; being patient in these negotiations got a very good deal for both player and the team. While the wait and delay into the season was certainly frustrating, the Stars patience in this process certainly paid off in the end.
We should also not discount Benn's side on this, who secured the next contract negotiation to come in the midst of Benn's prime.
Also important to note is that while this may have been tough for fans to work through, neither the Dallas Stars nor Jamie Benn ever resorted to negotiating through the media (much). At no time did negotiations turn personal and the team and player still maintain a good relationship -- exactly what you'd want for someone considered to be the face of the franchise for the considerable future.
We'll worry about what happens in five years when we get there. In the meantime, Benn is signed long-term at a great value and the team can now move forward and leave this little delay behind us.
What matters most: