Now that the NHL lockout has ended and a tentative collective bargaining agreement has been settled upon, the most pressing issue of the Dallas Stars offseason can be addressed. Jamie Benn, the face of the franchise and the scoring leader in 2011-12, is still without a contract after a new deal could not be agreed upon before the start of the the lockout.
Word was that Benn and his agent were looking for a longer-term contract while the Stars would have likely wanted a bridge contract similar to what Loui Eriksson and James Neal received a few years back. Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk has been a fan of these sort of contracts in the past for players such as Benn, giving the Stars another round of contract negotiations before Benn would become a free agent.
The issue at hand was the fact that no one knew exactly what the new CBA would look like. While there were guesses that the NHL would be pushing for contract limits, once negotiations began how contracts would look on the other side was completely unknown. While teams went hog-wild signing players under the old CBA -- the Stars signed Kari Lehtonen the day before the lockout began -- there were some who chose to go this route with certain RFAs to make sure the next contract would be the best one possible under the new deal.
So what would a Jamie Benn contract look like? It's tough to say, exactly, although we can probably guess. The new CBA calls for a term limit of eight years for teams signing their own players, with a 35 percent year to year variance limit. Most importantly, the lowest valued year cannot be less that 50 percent of the highest valued year.
The Dallas Stars cannot negotiate with Jamie Benn or his agent until the CBA is ratified, but it's likely that both sides already have a good idea of just what sort of deal the other is looking for. The Stars would probably still desire a shorter-term contract that gives the team more control for one more round of negotiating and since the UFA age remains at 27 years old, the Stars would have to offer a three-year bridge deal to have Benn remain a RFA when the contract expires.
Benn, obviously, wants a deal that takes him right into the prime of his career. A five or six-year contract has been looking at free agency at 28 years of age, the exact moment in each player's career when the proverbial "payday" is generally reached.
Hazarding a guess as to what deal will ultimately be reached seems a useless exercise at this point. Benn will almost certainly get around $6 million per season, whether it's a three or six-year contract. Now it's just about how long the Stars can lock up their best player, and how quickly that comes after the new deal has been reached.