Jamie Benn’s Early-Season Struggles

You can see the relief on Jamie Benn’s body Saturday in Edmonton. 
His overtime goal not only gave the streaking Dallas Stars a 5-4 win—extending their record to 10-2 record over the past 12 games—but it was also his first goal since a 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Oct. 10. 

The goal was also just his third point of the month. His two other points came on an assist the night before against the Vancouver Canucks and an assist on Miro Heiskanen’s goal earlier against the Edmonton Oilers.

Benn has just nine points (two goals) on the season. He, along with fellow-struggling Star Tyler Seguin, have been called out in recent years, most recently by coach Jim Montgomery, who called both of their recent play, “disappointing.”

Stars CEO Jim Lites, now infamously, commented in Dec. 2018 on his top-two scores, saying “we are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done.” Montgomery, however, knows how impactful Benn and Seguin can be.

Shots on Goal

Benn, quite simply, is not shooting the puck enough so far this season. The 30-year-old forward currently has a Corsi for (total shots, including misses and blocked shots) at even strength of 236. At his current pace, he would finish the season at 920—the lowest of his career. Total shot attempted by Benn declined from 1,323 to 1,230 from 2017-18 to 2018-19, respectively.

Benn has 47 shots on goal in the young season, putting puts him on pace for 183. Seguin leads Dallas with 71 shots but has only five goals.

Benn’s projected 183 shots would be a drop from last season’s 189 and his lowest since 2009-10 when he had 182 shots. His projected 312 shot attempts are also a decline from the 329 he ended last season with. 

His most shot attempts was 512 during the 2013-14 season. He won the Art Ross Trophy the following season with 87 points, 35 goals, 253 shots on goal, and 466 shot attempts. 

The league’s leading scorer, the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak, has 17 goals and a Corsi at even strength of 265. The Bruins possess the puck 57% of the time he is on the ice, and he has already tallied 93 shots on goal. 

Jamie Benn, Ivan Barbashev
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn controls the puck in front of St. Louis Blues left wing Ivan Barbashev. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Stars as a whole are not scoring when Benn is on the ice. Dallas scored 82 even-strength goals when he was on the ice in 2017-18, which fell considerably to 62 last season. Dallas has scored just 15 times at even strength while Benn is on the ice—58.5 goals if projected across 82 games.

Time on Ice

Dallas’ captain is averaging just 16:48 of ice time so far this season, and his 17:53 of ice time Saturday was his most since playing 18:48 on Oct. 21 against the Ottawa Senators. 

He played the fewest minutes of the season during the Stars’ Nov. 10 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, seeing the ice for just 13:03. Benn is not only seeing the ice less, but Dallas is possessing the puck less when he is on the ice. His Corsi rating for possession at even strength is 50.8%, which is just below his career average of 51.6% and a drop from his career-high of 54.2% in 2014-15. 

At his current pace, he would play just 1,123 minutes, which would be his lowest total since 2016-17’s 1,141. His ice time peaked at 20:01 in 2015-16 but has steadily fallen to last season’s 1,179 minutes.

Benn’s 16:46 average ice time puts him eighth on the Stars. He trails forwards Joe Pavelski (18:16), Alexander Radulov (17:19), and Tyler Seguin (19:37). The Stars’ leaders in ice time are all defensemen: Andrej Sekera, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Heiskanen. 

Built for a Different Time?

Less ice time. Fewer shots. Could it just be that Benn, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, might not be the best option for Dallas? The league is much different than it was when he debuted a decade ago. Players like Connor McDavid, Pastrnak, and even Heiskanen are the new normal. 

Jamie Benn, Scott Laughton
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn and Philadelphia Flyers center Scott Laughton (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The Dallas Morning News chronicled Benn’s quest to recapture his game, detailing his new skating coach Luke Chilcott—a former figure skater from England. (from ‘Fixing Jamie Benn: Inside the Stars captain’s quest for a bounce-back year,’ Dallas Morning News, 10/2/2019)

“With the change of direction and the speed of the game, it’s come down to minute details,” Chilcott told the Dallas Morning News. “Getting out of corners quicker, tight turning, making sure you’re loading your skate correctly. It’s really a lot of tiny changes and fixes. If you can think about where you’re loading the skate and where your weight is in a turn through the course of one summer, it might be something you can apply during a game.”

Among the changes to Benn’s game over the summer were new skates (CCM’s JetSpeed FT2) and a new stick, also a CCM. Benn is trying to keep pace with players on his own bench like Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, and youngsters like Nick Caamano, who possess an aspect to their game that Benn does not—speed.

Another teammate, Heiskanen, even participated in the 2019 Skills Competition’s fastest skater event and skated to a time of 13.914 seconds on his second attempt.

The Stars do not need Benn to be competing alongside Heiskanen in the speed competition. They just can’t afford the game to go flying by him.