While the NHL is in danger of vacating games if a new CBA is not ironed out sometime soon, things in Dallas have been relatively quiet for the Dallas Stars. After the signings of Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr surprised many and brought about a new look to the team to go with a couple of big trades, the buzz has died down with the NHL reaching the regular slow period from late July until camps start up in September. But while the Texas Rangers are catching fire again and the metroplex is turning their attention to a new season for the Dallas Cowboys, there is still one thing of business the Stars need to take care of before they take to the ice.
Jamie Benn has become one of the better young forwards in the game. The former 5th round pick has turned out to be the top-tier talent the Stars needed as they head into a new chapter of the franchise. No, I don’t expect him to become the next Mike Modano. People need to understand that like many greats, no future Stars’ forward may ever have that great of an impact on hockey in Texas and the franchise. But it is true, Benn is definitely a special talent and likely a player that can put up big numbers. He is only 23 but is already an All-Star and has tallied 70 goals in his first three NHL seasons. But as I write this right now, the Stars’ best player under 25 is a restricted free agent and is without a contract if a new season does start on time.
So what is Jamie worth? Really worth? Sure he might be the Stars’ next face of the franchise, even if reluctantly (let’s face it, he isn’t as flashy or into the media spotlight like many other potential superstars are). With millions of dollars being thrown around left and right over recent summers, what type of money should Jamie receive and what do other recent contracts mean for him?
First off is Wayne Simmonds with the Flyers. The former 2007 2nd round pick by the Kings was taken three rounds before Benn in the same draft and has turned into another nice, young forward. Simmonds just received a nice 6-year deal that averages $3.975 million per season. But the numbers don’t quite match-up. Wayne has 67 goals and 142 points to Jamie’s 70 goals and 160 points, but Simmonds has played in 100 more NHL games than Benn. While Simmonds is a nice fringe 2nd-liner right now who can be a top-six guy for many years, he doesn’t appear to have the same potential and top-level talent that Benn does.
Then we can look Matt Duchene, the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 draft. Duchene came into the league with far more attention and higher expectations, playing for the Colorado Avalanche right away. In three less NHL games (as he missed time last season and only played 58 games), Matt has 20 fewer points than Jamie and has a -18 rating on the ice compared to Benn being a +8. Duchene signed a new two-year contract this summer for $7 million to avoid being a RFA in Colorado. Just on expectations, Duchene is supposed to be the better player. But Benn has out-played and looks to have the top-tier talent that would come with the high pick that Colorado used.
Finally I want to look at Taylor Hall in Edmonton. The former 1st overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers is a stud. It is hard to deny it. Hall has the offensive capabilities to be a top line forward for many years and has already started to rack up points for the struggling franchise. In two seasons with 126 games played, Hall has 95 points tallied (along with the nasty pictures of his facial injury last year). Yet the Oilers already handed a hefty 7-year contract recently for $6 million a season, at only 20. The expectations and talent are definitely there, and Hall might end up surpassing Benn in the coming years. But the two could both be players that have many similar years stats-wise as they both mature into stars for their respective franchises. The issue is the Oilers handed out Hall the money now that many would have expected him to see in a few years.
In between all of this, it is apparent that Benn is worth some money. He definitely deserves more than the entry-level contract he played under last season. Should he earn elite-level money right now (more than $5.5-6 million)? I definitely don’t think so. He is still young, and the Stars are stilling seeing where he can be used and how big of an impact-player he can become. In the end I think the writing is on the wall though. It might be for 2-3 seasons while the team tests out the new CBA, or they could go ahead and sign him for a 5-6 year deal and tie him up. But he is worth more than $4 million per season, at least at the level of comparable contracts right now. Pencil me in for $4.5-$4.8 million a season. If Jagr and Whitney are worth that type of money, I think a potential top liner for many years that outproduced one of them last season is worth the same money. Only time will tell what length he and the team agree on, but at this point I expect the Stars to sign him at a cap hit between $4-5 million. Anything less than that is either a bargain or a low-ball offer.