It can be argued that Jamie Benn is the future face of the Dallas Stars organization.
Quite frankly, that might be an undisputed fact. Despite an up-and-coming talent pool, as well as a solid nucleus of young players currently on the roster, Benn has established himself as a strong forward in a short amount of time.
How he has gotten here is just as remarkable as where he seems to be going. Benn was drafted in the fifth round (No. 129 overall) by Dallas in the 2007 NHL Draft. He had just come off a strong year playing for Victoria of the British Columbia Hockey League, a Junior A hockey league based solely out of British Columbia.
While his 42 goals and 65 points in 53 games were both mighty impressive, Benn was overlooked because the BCHL is a level below the Canadian Major Junior leagues and, according to an article written by Mark Stepneski of the Stars’ official website, scouts often bypass Victoria when scouting because of the additional travel needed to get there.
“You have to take a ferry or an airplane to get to where he played in junior,” Dennis Holland, the man who scouted Benn for Dallas, told Stepneski. “The Victoria Royals weren’t in the Western Hockey League at the time and it was a process to get over there. You lost a day-and-a-half of travel because of the ferry. Lots of scouts decided to go see the (WHL’s) Vancouver Giants or the Seattle Thunderbirds.”
It turned into a perfect storm for Dallas. A year later, Benn moved up to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. He played there for two years; 133 games and 175 points later, he found himself in NHL training camp prior to the 2009-10 season.
The rest his history. Benn has been in the Dallas lineup ever since, and has consistently gotten better; he was named an NHL All Star this past season.
In professional sports, with success comes a guaranteed payday. For Benn, that time has come.
He original entry level contract expired following the 2011-12 season. OK, no big deal right? He is clearly one of, if not the team’s best player. Getting him locked up should be easy, no?
Turns out it wasn’t. As the CBA expired, Benn was still without a contract. Because of that expiration, Dallas is not allowed to negotiate with him until a new CBA is signed. If that happens and we have hockey the year, the shortened training camp could make those negotiations a little hectic.
Complicating matters here is how Dallas has handled restricted free agent offers under general manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
Following the 2009-10 season, then-Dallas forward James Neal was in a similar situation that Benn currently finds himself in. He had just registered 55 points in 79 games (slightly off from the 63 Benn had in 71 games this past season) and was looking for a long-term deal.
The only issue was Nieuwendyk preferred Neal sign a “bridge contract,” getting him two more years of development time. Neal ended up signing a two-year, $5.75 million contract a day before training camp began.
Later that year, Neal was shipped to Pittsburgh in the infamous deal that brought Alex Goligoski to Dallas. Not that Benn would be traded this year, but Neal ended up forming great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and was recently given a a six-year, $30 million extension by the Penguins. That situation is part of what makes Benn’s so murky.
Recent trends have shown that young players are not getting the bridge contracts that Dallas signed with Neal. Rather, they are getting long-term, big money deals.
Courtesy of CapGeek, Taylor Hall got seven-years, $42 million. Jordan Eberle got six-years, $36 million. Tyler Seguin got six-years, $34.5 million. Evander Kane got five-years, $26.25 million. You get the picture.
Where does that leave the Stars and Benn? Certainly he can be placed in the same echelon as those players in terms of talent. And you better believe he sees guys his age getting contracts of that size and is bugging his agent to push for him to get the same.
Certainly, the season he is having with Hamburg (20 points in 19 games) is only helping his case.
The question in this situation is what will Nieuwendyk choose to do? His past actions (although in an incredibly small sample size) seem to suggest he will hope for Benn to take a bridge deal. However, Benn has shown that he is at a higher level than Neal was during those negotiations in 2010.
The wildcard here in this situation is the CBA. For all we know, rules regarding restricted free agents could change, making the negotiations much more cut-and-dry. Additionally, if the labor dispute is settled soon and there is an abbreviated season, the shorted training camp could force one side to settle into making a deal.
The only thing for certain is one day, Jamie Benn is going to get paid.
Ryan is currently a senior at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. He covers the school’s hockey team for The BG News, the student newspaper at BGSU. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Ryan_Satkowiak.