Sign of the Times
New contract with Jamie Benn shows Dallas Stars mean business for the future
For the past few years, the Dallas Stars have been lost in the NHL wilderness. The talent that made them great has slowly gone away.
The team's former owner went into bankruptcy. The Stars went $90 million in debt. They kept missing the playoffs. The season ticket base eroded. And then, of course, the NHL lockout.
In an effort to win back Stars fans — diehard and fair-weather alike — the Stars talked about being as fan-friendly as possible as this season started.
No move was friendlier than signing center Jamie Benn to a five-year contract. It shows new owner Tom Gagliardi and Stars management are committed to reclaiming the Stars’ former spot among the league’s elite.
Mike Modano was once the Dallas Stars’ identity. Benn, just 23 years old, could become the new face of the franchise.
Stars CEO Jim Lites told the PBS program CEO in September that signing Benn, a restricted free agent, was a priority once the new collective bargaining agreement was in place.
During that interview, Lites compared Benn’s potential impact on the Stars’ future to Mike Modano’s impact on the franchise when it first moved to Dallas.
Modano became the franchise’s identity. Benn, just 23 years old, could become the same for these Stars.
Benn’s future is bright
Getting Benn under contract means the Stars will have him until he is 28 years old. Theoretically, Benn could be among the top 10 players in the NHL by then, if he continues to improve as he has the past three seasons.
Each of those seasons his point total rose from 41 to 56 to 63, making him the only Stars player to amass 100 points before his 23rd birthday. Yep, not even Modano managed that.
Benn likely won’t reach 63 points this season, as he’s already a week late for the season, one shortened to 48 games. But points aren’t the point, at least not symbolically.
The Stars’ first week of the season found some good vibrations. Jaromir Jagr, one of the game’s true legends, scored two goals in his Stars debut and, at age 40, had four points through the team’s first four games. The other Stars player with at least four points was 40-year-old Ray Whitney.
Those are both great stories, but we know that, at most, Jagr and Whitney have a year or two left in them. Benn’s new contract is the clearest sign that that Stars management believes the future they’ve been promising Stars fans the past couple of years is about to arrive.
Wing Loui Eriksson and defenseman Alex Goligoski are under contract until 2016. Benn and defenseman Trevor Daley are under contract until 2017. Goalie Kari Lehtonen is under contract until 2018.
Let’s put this in perspective. Eriksson led the Stars in points last season. Benn was third in points. Goligoski was sixth in points, and Daley was eighth. Lehtonen was among the NHL’s top 10 in goals against and save percentage.
The Stars don’t have to fight to keep any of those guys until 2016. They can focus on finding pieces to surround them.
Signing Benn is peace of mind for the franchise and for the fans. It’s a sign that the prosperity Stars fans have craved since the glory days may finally be set to arrive.
It demonstrates that this new ownership is committed to keeping good players and not just committed to their bottom line. That might curry more favor than any ticket discount or bobblehead the Stars give away this season.