Jamie Benn signs; Quick hits from Blackhawks at Stars
By Allan Muir
• Win, lose or draw, the big story in Dallas was going to be the signing of restricted free agent Jamie Benn. More accurately, his agreement to sign. That's an important distinction because the actual papers won't be inked until today, and that poses a bit of a problem. Benn is expected to practice with the team, but he's unlikely to be available for Saturday's home game against the Blues. The reason? He can't obtain his work visa until the contract is official and a same-day turnaround on a Friday isn't likely.
• The contract itself -- five years, $26.25 million -- is a win/win. Benn wanted shorter term and more money, but he had no real leverage to get both. So this isn't the deal he wanted, but he won a commitment that sets him up for life ... and he'll still be in his prime (28) when it is finished, an ideal point at which to break the bank. The Stars have to be thrilled with both the term, which keeps him locked in for the rebuild, and the cap hit, which is lower than several recent deals for roughly comparable players like Jeff Skinner and Travis Zajac.
• The fans at the AAC were so excited by the news when it was announced midway through the second period that they probably didn't notice the odd wording that credited Tom Gagliardi and Joe Nieuwendyk with signing Benn. Obviously it's Gagliardi's money, so yes, he did the deal...but when have you ever heard put that way? It's almost always the team or the GM that gets credited with the deal. Maybe this is Gagliardi's way of trying to prop up his image in a sports landscape dominated by celebu-owners Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban.
• I'll just go ahead and say it: Kari Lehtonen might be the best goalie in the NHL right now. The big Finn was great against Detroit Tuesday night, losing his shutout bid in the final four seconds, but was even better in this loss, dominating the angles and jauntily flashing the leather. He made all the saves he was supposed to and about half a dozen that he had no right to. For the longest time it looked like his fast feet and quicker glove would be enough to steal the game, but the breaks--especially Trevor Daley's deflection of Patrick Sharp's wide shot--conspired against him. He'll have to be even better Saturday for the Stars to have a chance against St. Louis. Don't bet against him.
• Dallas' defense was in shambles all night. The couldn't control the gaps, allowing the Hawks to enter the zone at will and tee up on Lehtonen. It's a group-wide issue, but if you're making a list of the league's roughest starts, Alex Goligoski deserves consideration. Everything's a struggle for him right now.
• It'd be gracious to suggest that rust is all that's nagging Dallas captain Brenden Morrow right now and that he deserves a little time to hit his stride after not playing during the lockout. The truth of it is the 34-year-old's game went into deep decline last season and he's been even worse through four games this year. He's routinely a step behind the play, and he makes too many mental mistakes when he does have the puck. His time might be up.
• Can't say enough about the resilience of the Hawks, who came back from down 2-0. They play the game the right way, with speed, panache and puck hunger. Lots of talk in the press box about how that speed was the envy of the league, but I don't think that's all it is. Chicago looked faster as the game wore on -- I'm thinking conditioning might be their secret edge right now.
• The Hawks neutralized every edge the new-look Stars had enjoyed through their first three games. They were better in the circle and they won the majority of the battles along the boards, giving them a huge edge in puck possession. They had the Stars chasing them all night, earning six power play chances and not going on the PK themselves until midway through the third.
• Patrick Kane is as fun to watch as anybody right now. When he's confident he starts to dangle and tonight the puck was on a string for him. His pass to set up Marian Hossa's OT winner was a stunner.
• I wasn't actively watching for Nick Leddy, but the 21-year-old defender played a game that commanded attention. He's always been quick, but he seemed to have an extra gear tonight. That might be a tribute to his improved positioning -- he always seemed to be in the right place. Thought he made good offensive reads, too.• It's almost too easy to take potshots at Corey Crawford, but geez could he break this pattern already. He allowed Loui Eriksson's shorty with less than a second left in the first and only a Duncan Keith crease-fishing expedition saved him from doing the exact same thing at the end of the second. It's not that he lets in goals. It's that he always seems to let them in at a moment certain to inflict the most soul-crushing pain upon his teammates and their fans. It's hard to imagine this team going into the playoffs with Crawford and Ray Emery as their tandem.