How the Stars can get the most out of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn going forward
On the ice, the Stars have evolved into a new core made up of a collection of young talent. On the payroll, however, the team is still led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Both forwards are the Stars’ longest-serving players and are also the team’s top earners. The average annual value of Seguin’s contract is $9.85 million; Benn is second with $9.5 million AAV. Regardless of how Jason Robertson’s new contract plays out this summer, Benn and Seguin will be among the team’s three highest-paid players next season.
Although both produced at a high level to earn those contracts, neither remains there now. A combination of age and injuries have taken their toll on Benn and Seguin and reduced their roles as reliable top players to question marks. While it’s highly unlikely that either player will return to the level that earned them their big deals, making the most of them will be one of the main tasks for the incoming head coach.
Let’s explore the possibilities.
Let’s put that aside: Seguin and Benn are locked up in Dallas. Both players have full no-move clauses, so the Stars can’t even think of trading them without their approval.
The whole league operates under a fixed salary cap, so any team that might be an acceptable consideration for Benn or Seguin probably wouldn’t have the cap space to make those contracts for older depth plays that produced at medium to low level. -six rates. And the teams that have a cap on space and would be willing to accept contracts are likely teams that neither Seguin nor Benn would give up their move protection for. Both players are still in pursuit of the Stanley Cup, something that has eluded Benn his entire career and Seguin since his teenage years in Boston.
Both contracts are also surrender proof. Benn’s buyout would carry a cap of $8.83 million per season through 2025, when Benn’s contract expires, and then $333,333 for the following three seasons. Seguin’s buyout would carry a cap of $5.7 million in 2022-23, $7.75 million in 2023-24, nearly $8 million in 2024-25, and about $9.7 million during the last two seasons until 2027, when his contract expires. There would also be a cap of $853,333 for the following five years until 2032.
The NHL is a business. Even before weighing the pros and cons on the ice and in the locker room, contracts are not mobile. They cannot be traded for the foreseeable future, if ever, and they certainly cannot be redeemed. Any conversation about their future during the term of their contracts not being in Dallas is not worthy.
Seguin’s future is the more optimistic of the two. Benn is a month away from celebrating his 33rd birthday while Seguin turned 30 earlier this year. Benn also plays, and has played, a much more physical type of hockey that is much more taxing on the body and doesn’t age well.
Benn’s output deteriorated early in the Jim Montgomery administration and has hovered around that level ever since. There have been signs of hope, like the 2020 playoffs or the mid-season 2021 stance switch, but he hasn’t been able to sustain that level for long stretches. Over the past four seasons, Benn’s 82-game point pace has been 56, 46, 55, 46, respectively. Getting somewhere between 45 and 55 points from Benn has become the expectation, and Benn isn’t getting any younger. If a new coach comes in with a more supportive offensive system and gets Benn to perform at the top of that spectrum, that would be solid. Getting him up around the 60-65 mark would be a big bonus.
The case of Seguin is more interesting. In Montgomery’s freshman season, when Benn’s downfall began, Seguin had 80 points, the second-highest yield of his career. He then had 50 points in 69 games in 2019-20, a season that saw scoring droughts of nine, 11 and 17 games. The COVID-19 break has ended this regular season. It was also the last sample available to objectively judge Seguin.
Seguin played the entire 2020 playoff series on a torn hip labrum, missed the entire 2021 season, then spent the first half of the 2021-22 season getting back into NHL shape and is still recovering from the serious hip and knee surgery. There were encouraging signs in the second half of the season when Seguin went on a 36-game streak in which he scored 32 points. That pace would take him to 73 points in 82 games, one point more than in 2016-17 and just five less than in 2017-18, the season before he signed the big contract.
On a decent sample size, Seguin showed he could produce a clip at least comparable to his peak. With hope also comes expectation. Seguin’s injury gave him a bye for his play in the 2020 playoffs. The surgery and subsequent recovery wiped out his 2021 season and gave him a bye for his 2021-22 season as he was coming back. Starting next season, the caveats will be gone and Seguin will once again be judged on the rubric of the kind of playmaker he has demonstrated in the past.
The role of Seguin
Last season, Seguin and Benn saw their roles on the roster change a lot. At various times, both players saw time on the second and third line and both went between winger and centre. In the end, they landed in their traditional roles together on the second row with Benn alongside Seguin.
Going forward, Seguin’s role is much more defined than Benn’s.
“I felt good with (switching between center and winger),” Seguin said. “There were times when I wasn’t really sure what position I was playing on the ice because it was all over the place. I’ve played in both positions and I’m comfortable with both. I always like the center. I always feel like I can do my best in the middle. It’s where I can get my speed, get under the pucks, drive the neutral zone and be able to kick. This is where I use the best, I think, my strengths. But when you’re on the wing, sometimes you get more looks, more passes and more shots.
Even in its current state, Seguin’s game has taken a dive but it hasn’t fallen off a cliff. He and the Stars are lucky to no longer have to carry the burden of being the team’s best center. That job is now in the hands of Roope Hintz, who still has a year to go at $3.15 million AAV. If Hintz continues to play well on the front line and Seguin manages his business on the second line, the cumulative money allocation for the top two centers would be roughly equal, at least for next season before Hintz fails. get his raise in 2023.
Seguin’s role is pretty clear as a second-line center.
Well in the center
Benn’s place in the roster is a bit murkier. The first question is, what position should Benn play? Last season the lines were constantly juggled but at the end of the previous season, in 2021, Benn looked good in the middle. It’s not as simple, however, to just put Benn in the middle. When he centered a line in 2021, he was the second-line center because Seguin was out most of the season. With Seguin in the lineup, that would put Benn, at best, on the third line.
One issue that former head coach Rick Bowness discussed with this setup was the distribution of ice time. Anyone not on the top two lines faced the possibility of reduced ice time. This is often why Benn ended up on the second line as a winger last season alongside Seguin. Playing them together on the second row was the only way to get them the minutes the coaching staff wanted.
Bowness liked having a line of control and also felt it was important to get Benn and Seguin their minutes. The next coach may not feel that way about either or both of those things. Maybe the Stars don’t have a designated line of control next season. Otherwise, the minutes could be distributed a little more evenly to a third line centered by Benn. It’s also possible that the next coach sees where Benn’s game is at and isn’t too concerned about saving him a lot of minutes and getting his ice time in the way.
Another problem that arises if Benn performs a permanent move to the center is that he automatically aligns the stars to the middle in all four places. Hintz and Seguin are the two best center players while Radek Faksa’s lack of positional flexibility means he will center a line as well. Benn in the middle makes four.
Some of the Stars’ young prospects who could fight for a roster spot are also natural center players. This includes Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque, Riley Damiani, and even Ty Dellandrea and Logan Stankoven. Obviously the Stars could move any of the young lads to the winger, as they often did with Jason Dickinson, and did with Dellandrea in 2021, and asked Damiani last year at training camp. Not all of these young players will make the NHL roster next season, but for all of those who do, playing where they are most comfortable would help their transition to the NHL. Benn playing center wouldn’t give them much of an option.
Benn as Control Line Winger
A Line of Control role could be an intriguing possibility for Benn. He’s not a great defender but if that element of his game improves, playing next to Faksa could be a solution. As a power forward, Benn has always played physically. In recent years, physicality has become more of his game than his skill or ability to score.
In Benn’s first 10 NHL seasons, he had three campaigns in which he had more penalty minutes than points. In those three seasons, his penalty minutes have edged his points by four, seven and three, respectively. In Benn’s last three seasons, two have had more penalty minutes than points, and the gap is much bigger. In 2019-20, Benn had 14 more penalty minutes than points. Last season, Benn had 42 more penalty minutes than points. If Benn is going to play the role of an enforcer, he could do so as a winger next to Faksa on a line of control.
If the Stars went that route, they would have their first line, assuming it remains intact, and Seguin would center their second line in the top six. Faksa and Benn would form two-thirds of a line of control and an additional line would be available to build from scratch.
The next coach’s goal will be to get the most out of Benn and Seguin without overvaluing them in the roster based on their past abilities and contract status. Neither player is a top talent over a contender but, in addition to their leadership and dressing room presence, both can still contribute in some way to the team’s success .
(Top photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)