Benn negotiations remain confounding
Team executives in our major sports negotiate contracts all of the time and therefore see all sorts of scenarios. But, the rarest of them all is when they have a mountain of money and want to give it to a player, only to find out that his camp is somewhat reluctant to accept it.
That appears to be the situation here, 72 hours before opening night in the NHL, as the Dallas Stars and Jamie Benn are trying to sort out his contract situation while getting the club ready to play Saturday night with or without him.
There is very little question how they feel about him. They have showered him with praise and adoration for a few years now, pledging their allegiance and their future to Benn. Surely, if there was any interest in low-balling him when it was time to "Pay that man his money", they would have picked a real odd strategy in the press.
Sources suggest that the Stars have been willing to go to some pretty high neighborhoods in money to get a deal done, and are willing to stretch his term out at least to 6-years, and if the deal suits the Benn side, perhaps as far as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow (8-years if resigning with your team).
The comparable contracts that have been signed for franchise-level players around the league who are still in the infancy of their NHL careers are plentiful. Everywhere you look, quality kids - some the legal drinking age, some not - are being locked down and paid handsomely. It is believed that the Stars would not feel that Benn is out of his depths in discussing a deal similar to many of the following:
Tyler Seguin signed a 6-year, $34.5m extension last summer through 2019. He is 21 years old next week.
Taylor Hall: 7 years, $42m through 2020. Hall is 21.
Jordan Eberle: 6/$36m through 2019. Eberle is 21.
John Tavares has a slightly older deal: 6/$33m through 2018 and he is 22.
Evander Kane also is 1 year into his 6/$31.5 through 2018 and is 21.
They all seem in the same basic area, $5m-$6m a year, and in many cases getting them to free agency and their next giant payday when they are 27 or eligible for free agency (7 seasons in the NHL).
Benn is 23 and has played 3 years in the NHL, and therefore has 4 seasons left committed to the league pay-scale before he will taste the freedom of unrestricted free agency.
So, if he would like the 6 year plan, then he wouldn't become "free" again until he was 29. And, 27 year olds do break the bank more than 29 year olds if we want to assume he is looking to be the belle of his ball when he becomes free (which would make him a normal player after seeing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise this summer).
So, what is the Benn side looking for? That appears to be the subject of some level of speculation for all involved. Efforts to speak directly with Benn's agent, Richard Evans, have not been successful, but the process has allowed for certain conclusions to be reached.
Either they want a shorter deal to get to free agency on July 1, 2016, or they want enough annual cash to be willing to wait on free agency.
And that is where the Stars have to decide how to deal with this. If Benn wants shorter term, then he needs to be willing to take shorter term money. For instance, Matt Duchene in Colorado signed one of those smaller 2/$7m "bridge contracts" that help a player move up from Entry level money without sacrificing much on arbitration or the substantial cash unrestricted free agency could bring.
Loui Eriksson signed a deal that he is now in the 3rd year of enjoying, a 6-year/$25.5m deal that will take him to age 31. That deal of $4.25m a year is below what Benn would be worth by a good margin, but it does show us along with the Kari Lehtonen deal (5 years/$29.5m, age 29) the marriage between value and age.
I am guessing here, but if I were to guess the position of Tom Gaglardi and the Stars, it probably looks like this: If you want security, you can have it at about a million dollars per year. For instance, 5 years would get $5m a year and 6 years, $6m a year. I do assume that 7 years would top out at Taylor Hall's deal (see above), but who knows? I just am pretty sure they wouldn't give him Matt Duchene's term (2 years), but Tyler Seguin's cash (nearly $6m per).
And it is this give and take which have the Stars in the very unenviable position of perhaps disappointing their fan base (yet again) with the prospect of not having their franchise player around for opening night on Saturday. This will bring out accusations of being cheap and the same ol bankrupt Stars, but I don't believe that is the case. I think the Stars would love nothing more than to have Benn locked up and secure through 2019 as their centerpiece center, and move on to trying to break their playoff drought.
However, Evans and Benn might see leverage completely on their side, because it is. If this does go into the season, the Stars will lose in the court of public opinion, because nobody has patience for a money dispute between owner and player after enduring the larger money dispute between owners and players of the last 4 months.
If Evans and Benn decide to sit out the first few games to gain leverage, this gets uglier. Each game is vital and every day is meaningful. They need Benn badly, for his skill level, but also with the close proximity of games, they need their young 23-year old stud to drag the 2nd oldest team in hockey (only New Jersey is older than the Stars average age of 29.53) around the ice on some nights. But, you can see how Evans might project how a 0-3 start would earn his client more cash in a panicked negotiation once a week passes. But, what is the point of sabotaging your own squad that you have to return to if you are not actually being low-balled?
Nobody believes the idea that Benn wants out. All indicators are that he loves Dallas and the organization and sees the future here. So, to this point, nobody sees this as a play to get Benn out of here and to a city of his choosing. So, can calm the panic on that front.
But, as of right now, it appears the Stars have a wheelbarrow of cash waiting for No. 14 that compares to any of the other young stars in the league who want big dollars with little service time. They want to hop in with Benn for the long-term and are ambitious to do so.
Benn's side has been quiet to this point, leaving some tone of confusion and mystery to the motives in British Columbia.
This seems to not be that complicated. And what amounts to an abbreviated training camp is going on without their most important player.
At least in the lockout, we saw the players wanted more and the owners wanted to give less. This odd negotiation might be just the opposite. The team wants to give more than the player might be willing to take - with Benn/Evans betting, of course, that untold riches might await in the summer of 2016.
In a violent sport, it is a risky play. Especially if the bird in the hand is a giant, over-stuffed $6m-per-year bird.
So, if you are wondering why Jamie Benn might not be in uniform on Saturday night, don't worry;
The Stars are probably wondering the exact same thing.