It’s time for the Dallas Stars to dive into a 2019-20 regular season filled with expectations and potential. Standing at the helm and wearing the ‘C’ for the seventh season (and 11th overall in Dallas) is Jamie Benn. And after an unusual 2018-19 campaign, Benn is back and more determined than ever to help the franchise take the next step.
A new season has dawned on the Dallas Stars. After 149 days of waiting following their elimination from the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Oct. 3, 2019 has arrived. The Stars will open their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday as they go toe-to-toe with the Boston Bruins in front of what should be a sold-out home crowd.
It’s a 2019-20 season filled with expectations and potential for Dallas. Their surprisingly deep playoff run that took them to double overtime of Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues propelled the team into the summer with a seemingly bright future. If they could find a way to be one of the final six teams standing in the NHL with a rookie head coach in Jim Montgomery and the 29th-best scoring offense in the League, it certainly seemed as though they were on the brink of something great.
So as the 2019-20 season gets underway, all eyes will turn towards the Stars. Can they qualify for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008? Can their offense take a big step forward and help take the load off of the defense and goaltending? Are they ready to return to the Stanley Cup Final after a 20-year absence?
It all begins with Thursday’s contest against the Boston Bruins. And, as luck would have it, Oct. 3 serves as a milestone date for a particular Stars forward.
There’s a good chance that you don’t remember what the Dallas Stars did on Oct. 3, 2009, and that’s okay. Besides the celebration of Germany Unity Day and the formation of the Turkic Council, it was a pretty normal day. I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas sat atop the Billboard charts, while Zombieland dominated the box office.
It also hosted the first game of the Stars’ 2009-10 regular season as they fell 3-2 in the shootout to the Nashville Predators. Registering two penalty minutes and two shots on net in 15:59 of ice time in that game was a 20-year-old Jamie Benn as he made his NHL debut and kickstarted what would become one of the most intriguing and perplexing careers in Dallas Stars history.
Fast forward one decade on the dot and you have a 30-year-old Benn preparing for his 11th opening night with the Dallas Stars. And yet, the feelings that the first night of an NHL season spark remain unchanged.
“It’s always the same,” Benn said of the hype that comes with an opening night. “A lot of excitement and you get some butterflies. It really doesn’t matter if it’s your first year, your tenth year, or your fifteenth year. It’s always an exciting time to get out there and start a fresh season.”
And what about the idea that he’s now diving into his 11th NHL season?
“Time goes by fast,” Benn said with a grin. “You have to take advantage of the good teams you play on, the opportunity that you have, and really take nothing for granted.”
Since Benn burst onto the scene with Dallas in 2009 as a former fifth-round pick with something to prove, he’s had no trouble with drawing admiration or attention from Stars fans and hockey fans across the League. That’s been largely due to his determination and the “never quit” attitude that he brings to the ice as a power forward.
But through all of Benn’s antics and actions, it can be easy to forget that this will be his 11th season with the Stars. It can be easy to forget that he’s already 30 years old. And it can be easy to forget that he’s the longest-tenured member of the Stars, with the next closest being Tyler Seguin (who began his tenure with Dallas in 2013).
“I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. I think as of probably a couple years ago, not one guy from my first year is still here. There’s a lot of new faces and a lot of steps in the right direction bringing in great players so we can build a contending team.” –Benn on the roster turnover he’s witnessed in his 11 seasons
Part of that may have to do with the fact that he spent the first four years of his career playing with messy and unsuccessful Stars teams. Another part of that may have to do with the individual accomplishments and accolades that Benn has secured throughout his career. From two All-Star appearances, to winning the Art Ross Trophy in stunning fashion in the final week of the 2014-15 season, to posting a 41-goal, 89-point mark in the 2015-16 regular season, he’s accomplished a lot.
But in the 2018-19 regular season, those accomplishments hit a halt. Benn scored 27 goals and tallied 53 points in 78 regular season games. It was his lowest point total since his rookie season back in 2009-10 and left a lot to be desired from a captain that usually put up anywhere from 70-90 points while playing an aggressive and game-altering role in all three zones using his size, speed, and skills.
With the dip in production came some chatter both inside the organization and around the fan base. Benn was the highest-paid player on the team in 2018-19 with a cap hit of $9.5 million but only managed to finish 94th in League scoring. That didn’t add up, and it got Stars fans (and team executives) talking.
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Stars head coach Jim Montgomery talked about Benn sacrificing his offensive production for the betterment of the team during the 2018-19 season at practice on Tuesday.
“Our conversation was me thanking him for sacrificing [his offensive productivity] and for helping change the way we think about what a good teammate and hard work is,” Montgomery said about his end-of-year meeting with Benn last season. “Then, it was talking about what he needs to do to become the most dominant left winger in the game.”
With that season in the past, the 2019-20 season presents the Dallas Stars captain with a chance to bounce back while helping his team take the next step towards the ultimate goal.
“Come back stronger,” Benn said at training camp about his motivation during the summer. “I had a lot of motivation this summer. With the additions we have, the young players we have here are tremendous, and the team we have is great. It’s in the back of my mind that I need to have a better season personally to help this team.”
Whether you think so or not, there’s a lot to like about Jamie Benn’s situation entering the 2019-20 season. With the Stars in a seemingly ideal spot to take another encouraging stride forward and Benn coming off of a frustrating year, he should be in a good spot to have a serious impact on the team’s success through both his leadership and on-ice play.
“It’s no secret that I think Jamie is disappointed in his season last year,” GM Jim Nil said of Benn at training camp. “He did a lot of great things and I think he was one of our better players in the playoffs and was coming around. Jamie’s got a lot of pride and he’s been skating here all summer and working with a power skating instructor.
“He’s in as good of shape as he’s ever been and these guys have a lot of pride. They’re in the NHL for a reason. He’s our captain and he’s going to lead the way for us. He’s excited about the additions we’ve added and he’s excited for the start of the season.”
Benn will skate on the top line alongside Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski in the first game of the season. The trio already skated together once during the preseason and combined for three goals and six points as the Stars rallied to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in the shootout. In that game, Benn was on another level and looked like his usual self.
But can he keep that mindset and level of effort consistent for 82 games? That will be the question moving forward as the Dallas Stars dive into the thick of the 2019-20 campaign.
A few things are certain, though. The Stars seem to be in a spot to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, no one pushes Benn harder than himself when things aren’t going well, and he’ll be put in a situation where he can use his strengths and skills to drive production and help the team at the same time.
“Expectations are always high for every team going into a fresh season,” Benn said. “With the additions that we made, we know what we have in this locker room this year. We know what we can do out there on the ice and we built some confidence last year even with the ending that we did have. We’ve learned from it and hopefully we can build off of that.”
The Dallas Stars have been stuck on a crazy, winding rollercoaster over the past 11 seasons. One of the few common factors between it all has been Jamie Benn, and that’s given him a front row seat to the evolution and reinventing of a bankrupt franchise stuck in a playoff drought.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” Benn said when asked if he had seen the franchise and fan base change. “We played a few years without an owner, which is an interesting situation. When that kind of settled down, we got some fresh jerseys.
“We obviously have a great owner, good management, and some great players. The fans have also come with that and hockey [in Texas] has taken a great step in the right direction. It’s definitely more popular than my first couple of years here.”
And so, the 2019-20 season shifts into gear. The Dallas Stars have high hopes and high expectations set out in front of them, and it’s up to them to meet the bar. Leading them on that charge will be No. 14, and it will be up to him to make a difference. It’s nothing new for the captain, but it’s up to him to get back to his former status and make a difference on a nightly basis.
That all begins with the first two games of the season that pit the Stars against the Stanley Cup runner-up and champion from 2019.
“There’s no better way to start, really,” Benn said. “Our first two are against last year’s top two teams. It’s going to be some good competition and we’re hoping to get off to a good start.”
Time to dive in.