Think back, loyal Stars fans, to 18 or so months ago.
The NHL had finally worked its way out of the lockout. The Dallas Stars were finding their way early in the second season under coach Glen Gulutzan but doing so without one of their best players. Jamie Benn and the Stars were locked in contract negotiations that seemed to be more about term—the Stars wanted to lock him up for much longer than a typical bridge deal while Benn was looking for a shorter term contract.
And on Wednesday, it became clear exactly why the Stars were looking to lock him up at that relatively affordable price for an even longer term.
Because Wednesday was the day the Chicago Blackhawks announced a pair of eight-year, $10.5 million cap hit per season extensions for superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Those will be the top cap hits in the league by just about $1 million when they take effect in 2015-16.
What might that mean for Benn, when he reaches unrestricted free agency after the 2016-17 season ends? First, let's take a look at how Benn and Chicago's wonder twins have stacked up to this point in their careers.
For the near future at least, Benn's average of $5.25 million per season puts him at the same salary cap hit as David Krejci, David Clarkson, Evander Kane and Joffrey Lupul. Kane and Toews, who are both more or less one year older, have cap hits of $6.3 million before their massive extensions kick in.
Now, Kane and Toews have huge leverage in their team's success that Jamie Benn can't touch. Two Stanley Cups each and two Conn Smythe Awards between a pair of guys will do that.
But in terms of his peer group, which are the guys who will be up for the same types of contracts around the same time, Benn is a clear standout. He has the highest career points per game of any player born in 1989 by a fairly clear margin with 0.791, and is second in goals per game while leading in assists per game. The peer group is no slouch either, with forwards like Logan Couture and James van Riemsdyk alongside defensemen P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty.
For comparison, Kane and Toews were both born in 1988, they are number one and two in points per game, and they along with Claude Giroux are the top of the class by a country mile. Kane and Toews' points per game averages of 0.957 and 0.909 respectively is significantly higher than Benn's, though Benn's 0.453 goals per game is well in front of either's goals per game number.
There are lots of unknowns—Benn's health and potential chemistry with whatever linemate slides to the right beside him and Tyler Seguin being chief among the individual concerns. On a team and league scale, the Stars' other financial commitments and the likely-to-skyrocket salary cap will be the key financial factors.
But it looks pretty clear that if things continue on their current path, Benn is well on his way to a big payday when he hits unrestricted free agency at 28 years old.
How will that affect the Stars? Well, when it comes to that 2017-18 season, they only have two players currently under contract, prospects on ELC who will be RFAs and roster players that year notwithstanding—Kari Lehtonen and Seguin—for a total of $11.65 million in cap hit. Obviously things will change as we get closer, especially if the Stars are able to extend Jason Spezza, but the team isn't hamstrung by giant, long-term contracts heading into this time frame.
As an aside, that Seguin contract is looking better and better as well. Locked up through 2019 and a top 10 scorer in the NHL? There's nothing shabby about that at all. Thanks again, Bruins.
While there are those who might flinch at the idea of the Stars having to pay Benn anywhere near the money Kane or Toews got, whether that's because they think contracts like that hamstring a team when it comes to the cap or because they feel that type of salary goes past the point of absurdity, the Stars may not end up with much of a choice if they want to keep him. He is clearly the player they have built their franchise around and he's becoming less and less of a secret every day.
Jim Nill may be patient in waiting out players in many contract negotiations, but he's also shown a willingness to give big contracts based on body of work. The Benn extension, when it gets here, will be a big test of his skills.
After all, the cost of the top end player in the NHL isn't going down any time soon. Wednesday's extensions for Kane and Toews are just more proof of that.