One of the best stories in the NHL this season is the offensive resurgence that has been found by Dallas’ veterans under new Head Coach Pete DeBoer. Based on personal favoritism, it has been exceedingly satisfying to see Jamie Benn find a scoring rhythm that has been virtually absent in recent years.
Knowing his previous offensive capabilities, while also conceding the notion that his style of play may be wearing on him physically, led many to question if a return to form was even possible for the 33-year-old Art Ross-winner. Now being nicknamed “The Bennaissance,” the reasons are numerous of why Stars fans are being emotionally compelled by Jamie Benn’s reemergence as a scoring presence for the franchise in his record 10th year as the captain of this squad.
Past to Present
In retrospect 10 years is a very long time to be doing anything, let alone holding a position of leadership. CEO’s of most organizations don’t even hold their positions for that long or perpetuate organizational success for their institution to the level that Jamie has.
Each year since being named Captain, the Stars have sustained relevance in playoff conversations and made it to the Cup Finals in a year the voice behind the bench changed mid-season and playoffs were conducted in isolation. The emergence of Dallas’ youth may have subverted memories of years past, but Benn was a sustained force in the league for years before system changes limited his offensive output.
To turn the clock back, I revisited some highlights of his ’17-’18 season that brought about some stirrings that were enjoyable to revisit. First, it’s fun to hear Razor doing play-by-play and exhibiting jubilance every time Jamie registers another score while acknowledging how much Radulov and Klingberg contributed to Jamie’s success.
However, it’s notable that Jamie’s compilation of points from years past look much similar to the way he’s been able to maintain his scoring this year. He gets in front of the net to clean up a shot or two, he picks his corner on a break, and he creates space for his teammates with clear & present danger operating as his shadow on the ice. Notably, the coach is implementing a plan for him that allows him to play where his game shines the most.
In the highlight film above, an added layer of context reveals that his line was getting the Modano treatment that Hitch employed prominently in his first stint as the bench boss. Further, he was given leave of defensive responsibilities to allow scoring for a lead that the bottom three lines could defend.
As younger scorers emerged, Montgomery and Bowness reallocated this freedom to different players and subjected Jamie to the doldrums of low-risk tendencies that kept the leads safe. This season DeBoer has opened the middle of the ice back up, similar to the Ruff-era Stars, and given Benn and others the opportunity to utilize the middle of the ice for their benefit.
So long as we can keep from limiting Benn to the edges of the ice, we will continue to see his game mimic years gone by as we progress toward 2023.
Present to Future
In order to be a successful team, we knew depth scoring for the Stars needed to be activated in some capacity. It was also widely expected that the system change would bring about a faster pace, but to see this team leading the Central Division with a +23 goal differential through 20 games is something we should all be thankful for as we surround the turkey today.
Contributing to the aforementioned cause & effect is the 20 points Jamie has scored in the month of November. For perspective, Jamie has a higher point total then perennial Hart candidate and consensus best player in the world Connor McDavid. Jason Robertson leads the league in scoring this month as the top Star, so Jamie’s follow-up provides the necessary depth to layer out the success of this team.
The depth scoring provided by Benn on the 3rd line creates a dilemma for the opposition and makes up for deficits within the roster. Aside from the Colorado game on Monday, Benn has primarily operated on the 3rdline with Johnston and either Dellandrea or Gurianov. The success with Dellandrea & Johnston on his wings made up for brief slumps from Marchment and Seguin for a couple weeks.
After roaring out of the gates, Marchment & Seguin cooled off and ceded some of the spotlight to Benn and the kids. Defenses became keener on eliminating that second line scoring and weakened to where Benn could take advantage to that devoted attention as indicated by his November scoring pace.
The 3rd variable in the previous equation is Dellandrea being moved to Benn’s wing and the subsequent success they’ve seen. As it stands, two young junior-league captains are earning their stripes on & off the ice with Benn leading by example in their immediate vicinity. Johnston echoed his appreciation for Jamie in preseason interviews and is setting up a firm apprenticeship with the Captain on the ice and assistant captain Pavelski, sheltering him off the ice.
Dellandrea has mimicked a young Benn’s fiery, competitive approach since captaining the Flint Firebirds amidst tough times and persevered to secure a spot under the same tutelage Johnston has secured. Benn’s role is pivotal to advising and preparing the junior leadership for future success.
Future and Beyond
The implementation of veteran leadership mixing with the youth on lines 1 and 3 are key to perpetuating a culture of success with the core group of players that the Stars have. We’ve seen how positioning Pavelski between Hintz and Robertson has propelled them to stardom, now Benn is playing the same role for the younger generation playing on his line.
Without sacrificing the depth scoring provided by the lower lines, Benn is able to provide foundation for two potential future captains. With Johnston’s naturally stoic disposition and the team’s investment in his development, I could easily see him emerging as the team’s captain in the next half-decade as the Benn-Seguin era comes to a close.The easy candidates for the A include Dellandrea and Robertson, as they’ve both been groomed to lead as well, with Heiskanen retaining his for the long-haul.
Forecasting a transition for the young core to take over was clouded by the performance of Jamie and the elders of the team this season under a new system. The repeatedly beaten dead horse of recent off seasons has been the contract situations of Benn and Seguin, and the likelihood of these situations working themselves out is becoming easier to envision with their production trending upward.
Benn will need to take a significant pay cut in order to remain a Star for his entire NHL tenure, and the middle point between the two negotiating parties in 3 years is becoming less variable by the day. Additionally, the unforgettable clip of Benn sitting alone in the locker room after the cup final implies that he’s well aware of how precious the opportunity is to see this team hoist the cup during his long captaincy. He holds the posture of a man that does not intend on relocating for the sake of prolonging his career.
These days hold as much value to Jamie Benn as it does to the youth that he’s helping develop. Putting hockey aside for a second, we can recognize that Jamie has devoted his life to this Franchise. He’s personified the ideal characteristics that his teammates look to for a captain and he stands firm despite the calls for more from leadership up top.
His famously vanilla post-game interviews highlight the integrity that he keeps when it comes to maintaining the culture of his locker room. For this reason and others highlighted, we should all expect him to extend his deal in the next couple years to ensure that he sees the passing of the torch all the way through.
Altogether, All Together
This seasons response to adversity by the Captain has galvanized the identity of a highly talented team with an outstanding young core. As indicated by his goal kicking off the comeback Wednesday, the team follows where he leads. Cultivating a locker room of positive morale, grooming the youth for leadership, and restoring his top-tier production from a decorated past have pushed this team to the forefront of Cup contending conversation.
Now a quarter of the way through the season the path to success has been outlined by Benn’s leadership, the unstoppable scoring force of our top line, and world class goaltending by Jake Oettinger. All indicators point to this year being the springboard for a new era of Stars hockey, with the captain standing firm at the helm.