Last week we wrote about how the Dallas Stars were reportedly waiting on signing Jamie Benn to a new contract until after the new CBA was in place, to determine just what the new contract rules would be. For the Stars, this decision would make sense seeing how Benn's contract would likely be what this team would be built around the next five or six years.
What was alarming, however, is how nearly every other big-name restricted free agent was getting contracts from their respective teams. Why weren't those teams waiting for the new CBA like the Dallas Stars have been, deciding to sign their star players sooner rather than later? At first it seems as if the Stars are almost out-smarting themselves on this one, especially when you consider what Jamie Benn must think when seeing that these other teams are signing their players and not waiting.
It seems, however, that the Dallas Stars might not be delaying specifically because of the potential for a drastically different CBA. Mike Heika threw this little nugget out there in his report last week about Jordie Benn's contract:
The Stars would love a two-year deal, but it might take a five- or six-year contract to get it done with Jamie Benn.
They are talking right now, but still a ways apart.
What does this mean, exactly? Let's take a look after the jump...
This is what I said last week about what it would likely take to sign Benn to a reasonable contract:
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.
There are two recent examples of how the Dallas Stars handle their big name Restricted Free Agents, both under Joe Nieuwendyk and Les Jackson.
Loui Eriksson, coming off his entry-level contract in 2008, was signed to a two-year bridge contract as a RFA at $1.6 million a season. Eriksson had just played a season and a half in the NHL, however, and had yet to really show the offensive production he'd hit the very next season. Eriksson, once again a RFA, was then signed to a six-year, $25.5 million contract that has quickly become the best value contract in the NHL.
Similarly, the Stars faced a tough decision with James Neal in 2010. with the big winger coming off a 27-goal, 55-point season his second year in the NHL. There was discussion about teams possibly attempting to offer-sheet Neal and yank him from the Stars, but Nieuwendyk was able to sign Neal to a two-year bridge contract at $2.875 million a year.
So, the road down this path with Jamie Benn has already been paved. The Dallas Stars prefer to give their non-arbitration eligible RFAs short term bridge contracts -- so that the Stars still have control of that player when the next contract negotiations occur and two more years of development are in the books. Jamie Benn is not in the same situation as Eriksson or Neal, however, given his three full years in the NHL and the team's public stance that Benn is the cornerstone of this franchise.
Benn has 160 points in 222 NHL games with the Stars since making the direct jump from the WHL in 2009. Initially seen as a power forward with elite goal-scoring ability, Benn has been catapulted to become the top center for the team and single entity the offensive attack the Stars are going to be built around. Benn enjoyed a tremendous season last year, proving to be the league's best even-strength forward and extremely effective even when put in unfavorable conditions on the ice.
It stands to reason, then, that Benn and his agent believe that he is worth more to the Stars than a two-year bridge contract. Seeing players like John Tavares and Evander Kane working on long term contracts with their teams does not set a good precedent for the Stars, especially considering Benn would want a contract that takes him directly into the prime of his career and likely a much more favorable contract situation.
The Stars have stated that Jamie Benn is going to be a Dallas Star for years to come, yet you wonder why they wouldn't want to back that up with a long-term contract for Benn -- whether that's signed before or after the new CBA is in place. Based on history it's easy to see why the Stars would want to follow the same plan as with Eriksson and Neal, yet the team must realize this is a much different situation.
Perhaps the Stars and Benn are talking now merely to get as close as possible for when the CBA is in place and the new contract can be worked out accordingly. One would hope that both sides are communicating and if the Stars do want to wait, that Benn would understand and accept this plan as merely being part of the process. However, if the Stars are wanting just a two-year contract -- waiting for the new CBA doesn't exactly make sense.
The truth in all this mess likely lies somewhere in the middle, with a team willing to sign a short-term deal now yet wanting to wait on a long-term contract agreement for after the new CBA rules are known. Jamie Benn is rightfully wanting a long-term contract, not so much for the money but for the long-term commitment that would come from the team. As we've seen this summer, loyalty is not exactly a treasured trait these days, yet sometimes such a commitment goes a long way when it comes to your star player.