It’s time for the Dallas Stars to start thinking about Jamie Benn’s next contract. The Stars’ captain and last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner is in the fourth year of a five-year deal signed back at the beginning of the 2013 lockout season, and if he makes his way onto the free agent market come July 2017 he’ll certainly be one of, if not the most coveted pieces available.
Benn is in the midst of another star season in Dallas. He’s leading the league in goals with 18, and he sits second in points behind only Patrick Kane with 35. If he continues at this pace, he’ll finish the year with 115 points, which would not only shatter his own career high, but also represent the best individual season we’ve seen in terms of production since Sidney Crosby scored 125 back in 2006-07.
So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Jamie Benn has easily established himself as one of the league’s best forwards at this point in his career. So what does that mean for the Dallas Stars? And what should we expect from his next contract? He’s going to be getting an upgrade on his $5.25 million annual salary, that’s for sure.
Jamie Benn broke into the league in 2009-10 just a couple of years after being selected by the Stars in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. In his rookie season, he scored 41 points in 81 games while also posting a 50.9 Corsi For percentage. Over his next three seasons, Benn managed 0.81, 0.89, and 0.80 points-per-game respectively, quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s better forwards.
The 2013-14 season, though, is when he really cemented himself as a superstar in the league. His 34 goals and 45 assists represented a personal career high, he played a solid role on Team Canada’s Olympic Gold Medal in Sochi, and he helped the Stars to an unexpected playoff berth in which they nearly knocked off the heavily favoured Anaheim Ducks in the first round. And of course, last year his 87 points won him the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer, and this year, he’s been a key part in turning the Dallas Stars into an offensive juggernaut and Stanley Cup contender.
Over the past three seasons, only Sidney Crosby has more points than Benn does, and no skater has produced more point shares. Even if he doesn’t continue scoring at this rampant pace (which is pretty realistic considering the likelihood of him maintaining a 23.4 shooting percentage is pretty low) there’s no denying that Jamie Benn is one of the league’s best forwards — and he should be paid accordingly.
Benn’s next deal, whether it’s signed as an extension with the Stars or with a different team in free agency, will begin at the start of the 2017-18 season. Currently, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are set to be the highest paid players in 2017, as each of them owns a $10.5 million cap hit. Along with Toews and Kane’s mega-deals that were signed in July of 2014, multiple other star forwards have inked some pretty huge extensions recently that’ll keep them off the open market.
Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Kesler, and Jakub Voracek were all set to hit free agency on July 1, 2016, but signed extensions that will pay them an annual salary of $7.5 million, $6.875 million, and $8.25 million respectively. Of that group, Voracek is probably the most similar to Benn based on age, position, and production.
Voracek’s top three seasons in terms of production came in 2014-15, 2013-13, and 2013-14 where he scored 0.99, 0.96, and 0.76 points per game respectively. In contrast, Benn’s best three seasons, not counting this one, are 2014-15, 2013-14, and 2011-12 where he produced 1.06, 0.98, and 0.89 points per game respectively. Also, Benn’s top three seasons in terms of point shares dwarf Voracek’s best seasons. And again, that isn’t even counting this season, which may end up being far and away the best of his career when it’s all said and done.
So what’s Benn going to be worth? He can easily point to Voracek as a comparable and claim that he’s worth more than $8.25 million annually over eight years because he’s produced at a higher level. Also, if he continues to produce at an elite level like he is right now for the rest of this season and next, he would have a pretty strong case for being paid in the same ballpark as Toews and Kane. Obviously there are a lot of factors in play, like where the salary cap ceiling for the 2017-18 season winds up, but it’s hard to imagine Benn being paid less than $9 million annually on his next deal.
Where does this leave the Dallas Stars? I’m guessing they’re going to try their best to lock Benn up well before he comes close to hitting the free agent market. They can’t do anything until this summer, though, but when his extension window opens up, Jim Nill will certainly be on it.
They’re also in a pretty good financial situation for handing Benn a raise. When Benn’s deal comes to an end, so do the contracts of Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, and Johnny Oduya. Combined, those three will open up $13.65 million in cap space. The following year, both of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi’s deals will be finished, which is another $10.4 million off the books. Obviously Hemsky, Sharp, Oduya, Lehtonen, and Niemi need to be replaced, or possibly re-signed, but that gives the Stars a tremendous amount of wiggle room when it comes to a new deal for Benn.