The Dallas Stars must do whatever it takes to lock up superstar forward Jamie Benn to a long-term contract because to build a Stanley Cup contender, teams have to keep the high-end talent they draft.
Stars training camp started without Benn on Sunday, and if Dallas doesn't have the 23-year-old star on opening night, the team will have to win games without its best offensive player.
According to Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk and Benn's representatives are working toward a deal, but nothing appears to be imminent.
Told negotiations between the Dalals Stars and RFA Jamie Benn are ongoing, but sides remain far apart. Benn's agent declined to comment.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) January 13, 2013
How much are the Stars offering Benn at the moment? Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca has the latest details:
#Stars closing in? Hearing Dal did make Jamie Benn significant multi yr offer that would pay him as much as 5M per. As of now still no deal— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) January 13, 2013
The Stars' highest-paid player is Loui Eriksson with an average annual salary of $4.55 million, and there is no question that Benn should earn the highest salary as the team's best player.
The contract negotiations between Benn's agent and the Stars should start at $5 million per season. He made just $765,000 last season in the final year of his entry-level deal and deserves a gigantic raise.
Benn scored 26 goals with 37 assists in 71 games last year and was the only Dallas played selected to the All-Star Game. The Stars scored 204 goals last season, and through his goals and assists, Benn was responsible for 30.8 percent of the team's offense.
Benn's assists, points and plus/minus numbers have all improved in each of the past two seasons, and even though he's already a star, there is still plenty of room for improvement in his game.
When you look at some of the other deals recently signed by star NHL players coming off their entry-level contracts, it's clear that Benn deserves at least $5.75 million in his second deal.
|Player (Team)||Contract||AAV||When Signed||Notes|
|Evander Kane (WPG)||6 years, $31 million||$5.16 million||September, 2012||Benn is not only a better player than Kane, his offensive production has been far more impressive since both entered the league for the 2009-10 season.|
|Tyler Seguin (BOS)||6 years, $34.5 million||$5.75 million||September, 2012||Seguin has played two NHL seasons with a career-high of 67 points. Benn arguably has more talent than Seguin, plays on a worse team and still is more productive offensively.|
|Jeff Skinner (CAR)||6 years, $34.35 million||$5.725 million||August, 2012||Skinner has two good seasons in the NHL, including one strong rookie year. His scoring production is similar to Benn's, but the Hurricanes star is three years younger.|
Using the three above contracts as examples, Benn should receive at least a six-year deal worth an average of $5.75 million.
It's important that the Stars take care of Benn not only to keep him happy, but to show other players on the team and upcoming free agents around the league that Dallas is committed to winning.
There's no better way to show players that a franchise is serious about contending than signing star players, especially ones that were drafted by the team.
It's difficult to convince top-tier players to commit long-term to a team by signing a lengthy contract when teams don't show they are willing to spend money to contend. The last four Stanley Cup champions were all in the top half of the league in money spent on player salaries.
In the likely event that the salary cap increases over the length of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), this trend should continue.
|Team||Stanley Cup Year||Salary Cap Rank|
|2011-12||Los Angeles Kings||7th|
Right now, the Stars have the fourth fewest amount of money spent on player salaries for this season without Benn signed, so there is no excuse for the team to drag this process out in order to pressure their star into agreeing to a team-friendly deal.
After this lockout-shortened season, the Stars have $17.55 million of cap space coming off the payroll via expiring contracts of unrestricted free agents.
Benn became an elite player last season and is the face of the franchise, a very likeable and marketable player, and the kind of forward that teams build around.
If the Stars don't have Benn to start the year, they could easily get off to a poor start, which would make it extremely tough for them to earn a playoff spot.
Dallas opens the season on Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes, and the team's next four games are against the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.
Those are five of the best teams in the Western Conference, and without Benn, the Stars could lose all five of these games.
Benn is the kind of player who sells tickets and helps a team make the playoffs, which is where a lot more revenue is earned.
According to Forbes, Dallas made $3 million last season and was one of the only teams in a non-traditonal hockey market to not lose money. It would likely be difficult for the Stars to make money in the future without a player like Benn.
Benn is Dallas' only young star, and for the current and future success of the franchise, he must be re-signed to a fair deal that is as long as possible.
The new CBA allows teams to re-sign their own players for a maximum of eight seasons, and if Benn is willing to sign for that term, the Stars should make the deal for eight years.
Without Benn, the Stars have no chance to make the playoffs, and if he were to ever leave the team in the near future, there would be no reason for free agents to consider signing with Dallas.
This is a contract negotiation that the Stars cannot mess up. Benn is too important to the team's on and off-ice success to risk losing or frustrating.
Note: All salary information via Capgeek.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.