On Wednesday, yet another young franchise player was signed long-term by their team. Yet again, that player is not named Jamie Benn.
The Edmonton Oilers signed Taylor Hall to a seven-year, $42 million contract on Wednesday and yet again Stars fans instantly think of Jamie Benn and the fact that the RFA has yet to sign a contract with the Dallas Stars. As the list of young players that have signed long-term extensions with their teams has expanded this summer, almost all of them considered franchise players, it's easy to get anxious over the fact that not only have the Stars not signed Benn -- the two sides appear far apart in negotiations.
The thought has been that the Stars are waiting on the new CBA to sign Benn, but as each new signing is announced it's become clearer that it's not so much about the CBA -- which is still likely a major factor -- but more about the term of the contract. Mike Heika wrote an excellent article on this subject last week, stating that the Stars would prefer to give Benn a "bridge" contract similar to what James Neal and Loui Eriksson signed, while Benn is certainly looking for a longer-term contract.
The problem with comparing Benn's situation to those of Hall, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and others that have signed is that Jamie Benn is 23 years old, while the others are significantly younger. That's a very important factor.
Let's take a quick look at the long-term contracts signed by young franchise players this summer, and their respective ages.
Here's what is very interesting. The only player this summer that has signed a long-term contract that is close to Jamie Benn in age is Max Pacioretty, who is also 23 years old. He has just one full season of NHL experience under his belt (65 points in 72 games) and is considered one of the top young centers in the league. But he also in the middle a two-year "bridge" contract of his own, signed prior to the 2011 season.
Why this is important is how these contracts relate to free agency. All of these players will be coming off their long-term contracts between the ages of 26 and 27 years old; a contract of similar length would take Benn to 29 years old and directly into the middle of his free agency eligibility. Basically, a six year contract would mean Benn is hitting free agency at 29 years old and in the middle of his prime -- that's a scary proposition for a team looking to lock up their franchise player.
The Stars obviously don't want to sign Benn to a contract longer than four years, as that would take him out of their control; Benn will be a RFA up until the age of 27 years old, if the current CBA rules apply. And perhaps that's where this waiting game for the CBA comes into play, because there's a good chance those rules change with when the new CBA is signed.
When we see these teams lock up these young players to long-term contracts we wonder if the Stars are doing something wrong; why wouldn't the rest of the NHL want to wait for the new CBA as well. The answer is actually quite simple: the situations are actually much, much different when you consider the age and experience of these young players.
There is also the fact that all of the players listed above come with a very well-defined pedigree. All five were drafted in the first round, two of them first overall, while Benn was drafted in the fifth round and didn't make his NHL debut until the age of 20. While it's easy to say that Benn is a better player that most of these five right now, their potential is still relatively untapped.
There's no doubting that all of these contracts are related, either. Taylor Hall stated today that negotiations with Edmonton picked up significantly after Jeff Skinner signed his contract. Negotiations of this nature feed off each other, especially with so many young players coming up for their contracts at the same time.
Still, the Jamie Benn negotiations are a very complicated matter. The team obviously wants to lock up Benn, but they want to be smart about it. Facing the possibility of losing a franchise player in the middle of his prime is scary, and there's the fact that the team still doesn't know just what sort of potential Jamie Benn has. This is going to be the first year where the team is truly built around Benn, with all of the focus and attention on him. Mike Ribeiro is gone. Brad Richards is gone. The fate of this team now rests on Benn's shoulders and the moves the Stars made this offseason reflect that.
When you consider the ongoing CBA negotiations, then it's easy to see why a deal hasn't been struck yet.
It's easy to start panicking every time one of these young franchise players signs a contract but we have to remember the context -- the age and experience of these young players compared to Benn. It's a very important factor. That being said, Dan Tencer had a very interesting thing to say today after the Hall extension was announced.
Thoughts on the Hall deal are pretty simple: franchise players are rare. When you find one, lock him up long-term ASAP. Great deal.— Dan Tencer (@dantencer) August 22, 2012
I'm certain the Stars feel the same way about Jamie Benn. It's just about finding the right balance between contract, potential and the long-term ramifications both may have in the future.