Matching Minors: Jamie Benn's Contract
This should be a quick one, right? The Stars back up a truck, give their captain a pile of money and it's all over. Only, how big is the truck, and how big is the pile? Also, what if they don't? Marcus and I gave the matter a little thought
Jamie Benn is about to get himself paid. The 26-year old left winger heads into the final year of his current contract on the heels of two playoff appearances in the past three seasons, a scoring title, and very serious Hart trophy consideration. No, none of this is news, I just really like mentioning how amazing Bennie the Younger is. The interesting part (or the terrifying part) is speculation on who will have the honor of giving Jamie his money.
To-date, everybody is making the right noises. Jamie seems to want to stay, the Stars obviously want to keep him. The team is up-and-coming, cap-flexible, and plays the sort of hockey you'd think any player would enjoy, but weird things can happen. Just ask Tampa Bay.
Wes: So let's start there. This deal gets done, right? The Stars would have to be insane to let Benn walk. He's there everything. He scores at even strength, on the power play, he even plays on the penalty kill. Jamie is the sort of player you can build a team around, as is evidenced by the fact the Stars basically did that. Can you even imagine a world in which he doesn't re-sign?
Marcus: I suppose there is an alternate dimension in which Jamie Benn does not sign with Dallas, but it won't be this dimension. You said it above. He is the straw that stirs the Stars' drink and everyone knows it. I will offer a hot take here: if he doesn't, it's because he didn't want to. He has said publically that he wants to stay, and if you accept that at face value (which I am inclined to do), he will re-sign here this offseason. No doubt about it.
Wes: Agreed. There's just no reason to think he isn't being above-board, and no reason to think the Stars' brain trust lacks the wherewithal to get something done. To further settle nerves, I would argue that Dallas has traditionally been a positive destination for NHL players, and that the current management structure has not struggled to draw talent. This isn't an Edmonton situation, the Stars aren't bidding against themselves.
If we assume he's back, the next thing we need to determine is at what terms. Put your official Jim Nill fan club mustache on and make me a deal. How much, and for how long? Who do you throw out as comparable players? And how about Jamie's agent? Same questions. Art of the Deal, me.
Marcus: Everyone is going to look at the matching Kane and Toews' deals signed in 2014. Those deals were ~$10.5 million for 8 years with substantial signing bonuses. It feels lazy but those two players are nice comparables to what Jamie Benn brings to the Dallas Stars. If you are Jim Nill, you have to start the negotiations at $9 million per year for 8 years.
Your argument for the discount to Kane and Toews is twofold. First, see what those contracts did to the Hawks' cap situation? Second, we can work on the 8-year part.
If I am Jamie Benn's agent, I bring a book of stats and a VCR with a highlight reel. Then I take pictures of the crowd at the American Airlines Center (50% Benn jerseys). Then I would say that not only is the Toews comparison an insult to Benn, you could argue that Benn is more valuable to Dallas than Kane is to Chicago. Benn expects to get paid accordingly. Somewhere in the $12 million for 8 years range?
The whole thing comes down to how badly Benn wants to stay in Dallas, and if Jim Nill has the courage to push him. My guess is he signs in Dallas for $9.5 million for 8 years. But what we saw with the Klingberg deal is the fact that Nill isn't afraid to tack on a few extra years, if the average salary per year comes down. Does Benn prefer years or dollars? Only he can answer that.
If you are assuming the deal gets done, what kind of deal are you expecting Benn to get? Shifting gears, does he get a different deal in Dallas this offseason than he would next offseason?
Wes: Short answer? I think not really. Going back to your point above about everybody seemingly wanting him to stay, I don't see how playing hardball for an extra 12 months does anybody any good. Imagine a post-Stanley Cup July in which Jamie Benn walks off stage with the Hart Trophy. If you're in Camp Benn, what can you possibly prove over the course of the next season to tack any more value on your client? Maybe if the cap jumps? At some point max is max.
Conversely, if you're the Stars, there's value in Benn both on and off the ice. Isn't he an attraction at this point? "Come play with the MVP!" is an excellent sales pitch to prospective free agents. Way better than "hey, we're the goobers that just let the league's MVP head into a walk year without an agreement!"
There are on-ice arguments too. Even if Jamie were just all-star (as opposed to all-universe) at this point, it's not like Dallas' system is replete with high-end offense on the wings. He checks the consistency box, the youth box, the leadership box, see where I'm going? Dallas has the opportunity to sign a predictable, elite asset at a position of need. Sure, there's going to be a price-tag associated, but it's not like he's Ryan Kessler or David Backes (just you wait). One other wrinkle, if we look at the cap situation in 2017-2018, Dallas is #9 in space available. They're ready.
Numbers-wise, I actually think Dallas starts with Anze Kopitar out in LA. Center is a position of higher responsibility, Kopitar has also won a Cup, but I believe those two factors are counterbalanced by the way Jamie's physicality transforms Dallas' playing style. There will be no move language, also some significant signing bonuses, but I'm guessing you're right, he lands between $9 million and $10 million AAV over 8 years.
Finally, let's get click-baity. Do you think there's a scenario in which the Stars don't get something done, or, gasp, don't want to get something done? Are there any red flags in your eyes?
Marcus: The short answer is no. But in the spirit of playing devil's advocate, I will play along.
Jamie Benn plays wing, inherently a more replaceable position than center. Benn plays hard hockey and that could make year 7-8 at $9.5 million a tall glass of water. The lesson the Hawks are having to learn about the pains of the salary cap are probably at the very least a cause for concern. Especially because Dallas doesn't have 3 cups in the last 6 years to lean on.
As I said earlier, if something doesn't get done it is because Jamie Benn wants to get paid no matter what the cost to his legacy or where he is playing. I actually do think there is a dollar figure/term Benn could ask for that would cause Dallas to walk away, I just don't think Benn will fall on that sword. He has a lot of things going for him in Dallas and I think he knows that.
These types of situations are so fun to talk about, but I expect this to be a boring process. Nill and Benn both seem to hate the spotlight. Expect a perfectly reasonable deal that is announced minutes before the NHL Draft or something. I guess that last paragraph was kind of anti-click-baity, don't you think?
Wes: If there was a winger in the system this might be a more reasonable worst case. If Brett Ritchie were a 40-goal per season AHL goal-monster, if Val hadn't had to stay in neutral for a year, or if Seguin didn't have a nasty habit of getting hurt at the end of the year. If any (or all) of those things were true, concerns about durability, style of play, etc might be more acute. It's impossible to ignore the annoying little voice asking how abruptly Brendan Morrow became "Brendan Morrow."
Those things aren't true, and honestly, even if they were I think the other lesson Chicago has taught is how important it is to double down when you seen an opportunity. Jason Spezza, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen, Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya all have dollars coming off the cap in years to come. Meanwhile, the Stars will (hopefully) enjoy productive seasons from the likes of Julius Honka, Jason Dickinson, and Denis Guryanov. In other words, canny drafting and cost controlled assets could minimize the impact of a Jamie Benn mega deal.
Marcus: This is completely out of left field, but let's say Benn doesn't end up re-signing with Dallas, where does he go? I think you could list 29 other teams that would want him, but realistically is Vancouver the natural incumbent?
Wes: That's a tough one. For starters, it's not like every team in the league has $12-$13 million sitting around. That's me assuming Benn only leaves for a crazy raise, by the way. A lot of the teams that could afford him are also terrible. That said, I'll give you two names: San Jose and Tampa Bay. Both are currently elite squads with what is thought to be strong management. Both have traditionally been willing to spend on elite players, and both seem to offer a style of play favorable to a guy with Jamie's talents. With the Bolts, maybe Jamie and Stevie Y have bonded over Team Canada duties. As a long shot, the Sabres might be good by then, how would Jack Eichel look flanked by Evander Kane and Jamie Benn?
How about you? Who gets our guy? Any other closing thoughts?
Marcus: You know, asking that question felt like a natural turn in the conversation but after reading your response I threw up a little. I don't want to think about The Captain in another jersey. But I think you're right about San Jose and/or Tampa. If Tampa drops off of the list because they do sign Stamkos, Toronto would be a player for Benn. The Leafs throwing their name in the hat for a superstar? Who knew?
It has been said a few times, but Jamie Benn is a generational player. Guys like him come up once every 20 years if you're lucky. Frankly I am not sure that I will be disappointed with any contract signed this offseason. It's hard to overpay for what Benn brings to the table.