The Stars may not be celebrating a Stanley Cup victory this summer, but Dallas could be parading out Jamie Benn at some point over the next few months to mark the signing of a new, long-term deal with their captain.
Benn, 26, completed the fourth year of his five-year, $26.25-million contract this past season, and heading into the off-season he’ll become eligible to sign a contract extension with the Stars. And it sounds like Benn, who has blossomed into one of the league’s best scorers over the past four seasons of his deal, has every intention of coming back to Dallas and staying there for a long time.
“This is where I want to play,” Benn said. “This is where I want to be, and I don’t think it’s going to be a problem…Going into the last year of your contract, you don’t want it to be a distraction for your team.”
Stars GM Jim Nill said the plan is to meet with Benn at some point over the next two weeks to talk about the season that was, and Nill said ideally an extension could be done by July or August. Benn can officially sign on the dotted line on July 1, and it could very well end up that the biggest contract of the opening day of free agency, at least financially, comes when Benn signs his extension. Because even though there’s no doubt the Stars want Benn around for the long haul, it’s near certain he’ll end up being one of the highest-paid players in the league.
He’s earned that right, too. Over the past three seasons, only Sidney Crosby, who has 273 points since the start of 2013-14, has scored more points than Benn’s 255. And while Crosby has been able to boost his point total thanks to his outstanding playmaking ability, Benn has done it by sheer force, becoming a powerhouse power forward in the league. Benn’s 110 goals over the past three seasons is tied for third-most in the NHL with Corey Perry.
There are five players who, statistically, have posted similar totals to Benn over the past three years. Those include Crosby, Perry, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Joe Pavelski. Of those players, the average cap hit this past season was $8.67 million. On the low end is Pavelski, currently in the second year of a five-year, $30-million deal. The high end sees Patrick Kane locked up to an eight-year, $84-million contract. It’s more likely Benn’s new deal is closer to Kane’s than Pavelski’s, though, and Benn exceeding the average cap hit of those five similar players is a certainty.
While Benn hasn’t had the team success that Kane has, the fact remains that Benn is part of the duo that drives the Dallas Stars alongside Tyler Seguin, just like Kane and running mate Jonathan Toews are the faces of the Chicago Blackhawks. That alone is going to earn Benn some extra coin, as will his role as the team’s captain. Add in that Benn has outscored Kane over the past three seasons, albeit with a slightly lower points per game, and Benn’s deal creeps ever closer to the $10-million mark. On top of his production, though, the contracts of Anze Kopitar and the soon-to-be-signed Steven Stamkos will likely put Benn’s cap hit over $10 million.
Offensively, Kopitar’s production is nearly 50 points back of Benn’s. As a two-way center, though, Kopitar’s value is driven up, and that was seen in the eight-year, $80-million deal he signed this past January. The $10-million average salary seems like the going rate at this point to retain a star player, especially one of Kopitar and Benn’s quality.
As for Stamkos, he’ll be one of the hottest free agents to hit the market in recent memory should the Lightning fail to re-sign him before July 1. If that’s the case, he could command $10 million or more, which will all but ensure that Benn is earning roughly the same rate. If Benn were an unrestricted free agent this off-season, there would be no shortage of teams lining up to sign him to a contract that paid him $10 million-plus per season. And while that seems like a tough figure to fit under the salary cap — ask the cap-strapped Blackhawks — the Stars may actually be in a great financial position to handle Benn’s big raise.
By 2017-18, when Benn’s extension would kick in, the Stars' Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky and Johnny Oduya all head to free agency, freeing up $13.65-million in cap space. Depending on the goaltending choices at that point, some of the $10.4 million locked up in mediocre netminding could be off the books, and that’s not to mention the possibility of shedding any additional unwanted salary through unprotected players in a potential expansion draft. There’s a stable of young players ready to fill holes, too, all of whom will have at least one additional year to grow before Benn’s extension kicks in.
Benn has solidified his place among the best in the game over the past three seasons, and his new deal will almost assuredly pay him as such. And though it could result in saying goodbye to some familiar faces come July 2017, Benn is well-positioned to take his place among Kane, Toews and Kopitar as members of the double-digit cap hit club.