Throughout this NHL off-season, there’s been little to report on contract negotiations between the Dallas Stars and center Jamie Benn.
A restricted free agent, the 23-year-old Benn is coming off an entry level contract that paid him an average annual salary of just more than $821,000.
Over the course of that contract, Benn made consistent improvement, from a 22-goal, 41-point debut in 2009-10 to a 56-point performance in 69 games during his sophomore campaign to his 26-goal, 63-point effort last season, tying him for second in team scoring.
If Benn were playing in a larger hockey market or the Stars were the perennial Stanley Cup contender they were a decade ago, his efforts would’ve received considerably more press.
The reason for the lack of frequent updates on his contract status was the agreement he and Stars management reached in late-June to keep those discussions out of the media.
However, the Edmonton Oilers’ recent re-signings of two comparable players (left winger Taylor Hall and right winger Jordan Eberle) to long-term contract extensions, coupled with the possibility of another NHL lockout, have pushed Benn’s negotiations back into the spotlight.
Hall, 20, and Eberle, 22, signed deals in excess of five years, each worth an average annual salary of $6 million, prompting speculation the Benn camp will seek a similar deal.
James O’Brien of NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk recently cited “Defending Big D” blogger Brandon Worley’s suggestion that Eberle’s “two-way ability and offensive dynamism” was more in line with Benn’s style of play.
O’Brien pointed out no one on the Stars currently makes $6 million per season (defenseman Alex Goligoski currently earns the most at $4.6 million), meaning Benn will likely become their highest paid player.
Allan Muir of SI.com reported it was believed the Stars hoped to sign Benn to a “bridge contract” – an affordable, short-term deal – akin to those signed by left winger Loui Eriksson and former Star James Neal.
The deals for Eberle and Hall, plus the NHL’s proposal to claw back more of players salaries via higher escrow payment under a new collective bargaining agreement, could throw a monkey wrench into those plans.
Muir felt there’s no reason for Benn to re-sign now, unless the Stars give him a contract with an even higher average annual salary to off-set the potential losses from higher escrow payments. He even suggested the possibility of Benn threatening a holdout when play resumed following CBA talks, knowing the Stars would wish to avoid starting the season with their best player on the sidelines.
Benn isn’t the only RFA facing this situation.
Winnipeg Jets left winger Evander Kane is only one year older than Hall, but has posted comparable offensive numbers (albeit in more games) over the past two seasons.
In July, the Jets reportedly offered Kane a six-year deal worth just more than $29 million. At an average cap hit of $4.8 million, it’s considerably less than Hall’s $6 million per.
Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly could point to the five-year, $17.5 million deal the Ottawa Senators handed center Kyle Turris as a comparable for a significant raise, as his numbers are superior to those of Turris.
It remains to be seen when Benn, Kane and O’Reilly are re-signed, but the trio could end up earning considerably more than their teams were willing to pay when the summer began.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.