Dallas Stars running out of time to win Stanley Cup with soul Jamie Benn | Opinion

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With the possible exception of Tony Romo or Jason Witten, no athlete around here has gone through more, and sustained more damage to their body, any more than Jamie Benn.

Since joining the Dallas Stars in 2009, their current captain has played 17,102 minutes over 925 games.

These are not your typical 925 games, and 17,102 minutes. This mileage hurts. Benn feels each game, each minute even.

“He plays such a heavy game,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said in a phone interview.

Jamie Benn plays the heaviest of games, and it’s a reason why he’s been so good for so long.

There is also a heavy price to playing the heavy game.

As the Dallas Stars open their 2021-22 season on Thursday night on the road against the New York Rangers, they do so acknowledging they are grooming the heir to one of the most important positions in the franchise, the goalie.

While they groom prospect Jake Oettinger, who will start the season in the minors, they have to keep an eye on their captain, the player who has been the heart and soul of this team

Since Benn joined the Stars he often has been compared, flatteringly so, to former Dallas Stars captain, Brenden Morrow.

They are both left wingers from western Canada who played fearless, tireless hockey. Benn, like Morrow, is not afraid to hit. Benn, like Morrow, is not afraid to fight.

Benn is more talented version of Morrow, and it’s not a coincidence they are good friends.

Using Morrow’s timeline as a frame of reference, Benn probably has one or two seasons of high-end production left. Or, he could potentially fall off without any warning.

When Morrow was 32, he was in his 11th NHL season and he scored a career-high of 33 goals in 82 games.

After that 2010-11 season, injuries started to mount as production started to slide. He never scored more than 12 goals in a season again. He was traded in March of 2013, and he retired in March of 2016.

Jamie Benn is 32, and he is entering his 13th NHL season.

Of all the Stars players who looked like a beat up corpse after the team lost Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Tampa Bay in the “Edmonton Bubble” in 2020, no one looked worse than Benn.

Watching him sit alone in an empty dressing room was sad. Watching him struggle to find the air to utter a single word to reporters in the post-game press conference was painful.

He had carried this team through so much for so long, and in that 2020 playoff run the mileage started to show. He would vanish, and then re-appear to show the entire league he still had it.

Since scoring 79 points in 82 games in the 2017-18 season, the production has started to slide. Not to “healthy scratch” levels, but a slide nonetheless.

In last season’s shortened schedule, Benn did everything he could to haul a weary roster to a playoff appearance that never happened.

“When I talked about the guys I was proud of last season, he was one of them,” Nill said. “He was in the bubble and two months later he was back at it. He played some of his best hockey for us last season. He and [forward] Joe Pavelski both really battled and did everything they could.

“Jamie has had a great summer,” he said. “If there is a benefit to us not making the playoffs, it’s that he’s had time to rest and get completely healthy.”

Benn is under contract through the 2024-25 season, and his salary cap hit is $9.5 million every year of his deal. He’s not going anywhere just yet.

He’s not a liability, but he is also entering that point in his career where the team has to know he needs help. Even if he doesn’t want it.

“How our team is composed might be able to help us manage him more,” Nill said. “I don’t know if it’s ‘load management,’ but we can spread it around.”

No player with the Dallas Stars deserves a Stanley Cup more than Jamie Benn.

No player could care, play, or fight, any harder than Jamie Benn.

But after 925 hard games, and 17,102 heavy minutes, there is a price.

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