Jamie Benn is now back with the Dallas Stars, thanks to a five-year, $26.5M deal signed yesterday. Image Credit: Tony Guterriez, AP
During last night’s Chicago Blackhawks-Dallas Stars game, a roar came from the Dallas home crowd at a seemingly inconspicuous time. Nothing big had happened on the ice, but something big had just happened off it, and had been announced to the crowd via the American Airlines Center PA system. What had the crowd all a-titter? The Stars had re-signed restricted free agent Jamie Benn to a five-year, $26.5 million deal.
Benn, considered by many to be one of the Stars’ best players, had missed the first four games of the condensed NHL season thanks to a bad case of lack-of-contract, and while the Stars had gone 2-1-1 in that span, the fan base was getting anxious for their top-line center and the 2012 All-Star to get back in the fold. And now, the wait is over. Benn, who notched 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) in 71 games last year, should be ready to go for Dallas’ game against Columbus on Monday night, even if he will miss their game this Saturday vs. St. Louis.
Benn’s return to the team does present an interesting quandary for the Stars’ top-six forward alignment. Since the Stars are not a team that rolls their lines, their top-six gets the lion’s share of the minutes on game day. But, with Benn’s return, some changes are going to have to be made. Benn will undoubtedly center the top line, between Loui Eriksson and Jaromir Jagr. Current top-line center Derek Roy will now be bumped down to the second-line center role, the job he was originally intended to play. But what to do now with Cody Eakin?
Following the Stars’ 1-0 road loss to Minnesota in the second game of the season, head coach Glen Gulutzan shook up his lines, moving top prospect Eakin up from his fourth-line role to second line center, where he would switch places with the ineffective Tom Wandell. Since switching places, Eakin has actually been the Stars’ leading points-scorer, having notched a team-high three assists over the last two games. But now, with Benn’s return, he’s the likely candidate to be bumped out of the top six, despite his production as of late.
But does it really make sense to knock down on the depth chart the guy who’s set up three of your team’s last four goals? Eakin’s earned himself more playing time, so maybe the solution is to start rolling the lines a little bit more, perhaps giving the fourth-line energy-unit of Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Reilly Smith a bit more playing time so the team doesn’t lose out on Eakin’s production.
Either way, Benn’s back in action for the Dallas Stars, and not a moment too soon. With the shortened 48-game season, points are at a premium and teams need their best players on the ice and producing at a maximum. With Benn resigned, the Stars finally have the proverbial all-hands-on-deck, and have no excuses not to get their ship into postseason waters now.