Jordie Benn is a mystery wrapped in an enigma cloaked in a fabulous beard.
From a possession statistics standpoint, the elder of the Benn brothers was one of the best Dallas Stars defensemen last season, logging extremely tough minutes (many of them with Jason Demers after the latter was acquired from San Jose) and driving the play forward while limiting shots against.
Seriously. Check out the graph of the Stars defense from last season, courtesy of War on Ice:
The darker the blue, the better the player drove shots for the Stars (and prevented shots against). The higher to the left, the tougher the minutes. This graph does include Demers' time with the Sharks, but when you take that out, the only thing that changes is he moves to be parallel with Benn in terms of zone starts.
Using the underlying numbers, one can make a strong argument that no player did more with less-favorable deployment than Benn. And that's before you consider the salary factor, where he's still a very strong bargain, or that he had the lowest PDO on the defense, indicating he probably battled some bad luck throughout the season.
For whatever reason, there's a contingent of Stars fans who have really soured on Benn. Perhaps it's his tendency to be quietly solid with an occasional spectacular mistake. Perhaps it's that he's no longer the newest and shiniest option on the blueline. Perhaps it's that he has a homing beacon for players who aren't holding on to their sticks tightly enough.
(You knew that was coming somewhere in this article. I have absolutely no regrets.)
Given all of the above, evaluating Jordie Benn is an interesting prospect. He's a guy where the numbers for many just don't match the eye test, and in the majority of those cases, the eye test is the more flawed of the two systems. But when so many eye tests are sour, they also deserve consideration.
It's all strangely polarizing for the player who will be the least expensive member of the Stars defense (and third least-expensive player on the team). Any decent contribution, let alone one of the best defensive performances on the team, provides very good value.
Why then is he so low on this list then? For the same reason that his defensive brethren in Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka are - namely, there's a ton of defensive depth in the role he's likely penciled in. The addition of Johnny Oduya likely bumps Benn from the No. 4 slot in the rotation, and Nemeth, Jokipakka and even Jamie Oleksiak will be champing at the bit to push Benn out of prime minutes.
That isn't to say depth is a bad thing. From a team perspective, having depth at the lower rungs of the defense helps brace against regression and inevitable injury. And from an individual perspective, it can provide that tiny edge to make a game that much sharper.
The edge Benn has in that competition is his history of consistent performances.
If he can repeat his performance from last season - and as Robert wrote earlier this summer, he's been very consistent after his rookie year and on par with Oduya - the Stars will boast two very formidable pairings that can limit possession from the opposition along with the pair that will beat you on both ends of the ice in Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg. Heck, a strong season from Benn could even lend itself to a true shut-down duo with Oduya that frees Demers up a bit to push forward on offense in easier minutes.
The consistency over time and the proven ability to handle tough minutes is what makes Benn just a smidge more important entering this season than players like Nemeth and Jokipakka, who were both extremely solid as rookies but also used in sheltered minutes. The Stars have high hopes for both of those players, but they know what they are getting in Benn and that what he brings is quite valuable.
There's also something to be said for the experience Benn gained clawing his way up the ladder as an undrafted free agent from the CHL and ECHL to the AHL and finally the NHL. There's a tenacity inherent in those players - you could see it in Rich Peverley, and you can see it in Vernon Fiddler - that will likely serve Benn well in the struggle for ice time.
The defensive overcrowding will eventually come to a head. Someone will get hurt, someone will get traded or someone will simply struggle, but it won't last forever.
If I were a betting person, I'd put my money on Jordie Benn to be one of the last men standing when that smoke clears.