Options Abound for Sam Bennett

It was a newsworthy morning down at the Scotiabank Saddledome yesterday, as for the first time this season, Sam Bennett skated with the Calgary Flames’ main group.

Bennett has been sidelined with a shoulder injury that he had surgically repaired early in the fall, and he’s been around the team recuperating, rehabbing and getting back into shape. Now he’s skating with the team in a non-contact jersey, and one would expect things will progress through him being cleared for contact and then cleared entirely within a few weeks. At this point, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t fully cleared by the third week of February.

So…what do you do with him if you’re the Calgary Flames?

OPTION A: KEEP HIM UP

Sam Bennett was really good in the pre-season. He was dynamic, speedy and creative, and all with basically one good shoulder. Imagine how good he’ll be full healed! (Granted, he was playing in pre-season against a bunch of guys, some of whom definitely weren’t NHL caliber.)

Upside: Bennett gets some NHL games in, figures out where he fits in and what he needs to work on.

Downside: The Flames are, somehow, in a playoff push. There’s no reason to throw an 18-year-old kid into that pressure cooker. Plus, they’d need to clear a roster spot and once Glencross returns, the forward ranks are really jammed up. Oh, and what if he sucks? No sense in killing his confidence if you don’t absolutely have to.

OPTION B: SEND HIM ON A CONDITIONING STINT

Worried about sending an 18-year-old into the proverbial fire of an NHL playoff race? Well, throw the training wheels on and send him to Adirondack, where head coach Ryan Huska can put him through the paces for two weeks. Granted, he’d need to eat up a roster spot in Calgary during that tenure, but it’d give him playing time and buy the Flames some time before they need to make a decision.

Upside: Bennett gets some AHL games in, figures out where he fits in versus guys like Emile Poirier and the other AHL stars. The coaching staff can get some intel on him, as well.

Downside: Bennett takes minutes away from guys who were playing well in the AHL to begin with. Oh, and there’s arguably more goons and idiots in the AHL than the NHL, so the chances of him getting clobbered by a big body may actually be higher there. (This was also the prominent argument against sending Johnny Gaudreau to the AHL.) He eats up an NHL roster spot despite not being able to help the NHL roster.

OPTION C: SEND HIM BACK TO KINGSTON

He’s 18. He’ll be one of the better players in the OHL. Why not send him back to get some games under his belt in junior before turning him pro?

Upside: Bennett gets some OHL games in, gets his confidence up by dominating some junior kids and playing in the playoffs

Downside: Kingston’s not a very good team, so he won’t get many playoff games in. But hey, that means he could be brought back up by Calgary (or loaned to Adirondack) in late March when the Frontenacs are out of the post-season…

WHY WOULD I DO?

Honestly, the best bet may be a combination of B and C. The Flames could send Bennett to the Baby Flames for a couple weeks, some some pro games in, and then return him to junior afterwards. There’s absolutely no reason not to handle Bennett with kid gloves. He’s coming off major surgery, and the last thing the team needs or wants is for him to have further issues because they got greedy or impatient.

That said, I expect to see Bennett around the ‘Dome in April – either because the Flames kept him up or because they brought him back after Kingston’s playoff appearance.

    • piscera.infada

      They can’t “keep him in the AHL on conditioning”.

      An AHL conditioning assignment can only last 14 days and 3 games total.

      The correct move for all parties (even if Bennett doesn’t want to hear it) is to send him to Kingston. If his season is over quickly, he can still play playoff hockey in the AHL. There is no sense at all in playing him in the NHL this year. He’s coming off major shoulder surgery, he’d have to learn the NHL game and the Flames system, the Flames have a ton of forwards champing at the bit to get a look in the NHL, and the Flames are currently in a playoff race.

      It may be different if the Flames were a bottom-tier team. Then you could have him do his AHL conditioning and see if he’s able to keep up to the pro-game, and then reassess. At this point however, there’s little to no sense in bringing a (still) 18 year-old Bennett with no NHL experience in at this point in the season.

      Bennett will be a great player in time, but in these cases you need to be extremely cautious. No sense in rushing him in considering all he’s been through in his very short-time with the Flames organization. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll see him in Flames’ silks for good next year.

      • Koolmoedee

        There is no three-game limit on conditioning assignments. Vancouver sent Bo Horvat down this season and he played five games. Horvat, like Bennett, is too young to be assigned to the AHL outright.

        “13.8 Conditioning Loan. Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days. The Commissioner may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is Loaned on a Conditioning Loan. If the Commissioner has reason to believe or determines that the Club has used the Conditioning Loan to evade the Re-Entry Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of this Agreement, he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems appropriate. The Player shall continue, during the period of such Conditioning Loan, to receive the same Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, and be entitled to the same benefits, that he would have received had he continued to play with the Club.”

        • piscera.infada

          Sorry, I assume Bennett would fall under the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan:

          13.9 Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan. A Player who is
          on the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception as set forth in Article 50 may, with his
          consent, during the term of such Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception (but in no event
          during the first fourteen (14) calendar days and six (6) NHL Games), be Loaned on a
          Conditioning Loan (the “Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan”) for
          a period not to exceed up to the longer of six (6) days and three (3) games, solely for the purpose
          of determining whether the Player is fit to play. If the Club determines that it needs more time to assess the Player’s fitness to play, the Club may file a written request with the Commissioner’s
          Office, with a copy to the NHLPA, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereof, to extend the Loan for
          an additional two (2) games.

          Bennett is classified as on bona fide LTIR, so it seems as though this would be the “loop-hole” that would prevent the NHL from blocking this because of the CHL-NHL agreement. I guess it would depend on how the team decides to proceed.

          All in all you’re right though, I was wrong about the “14 and 3” timeline. My bad.

  • JMK

    Is it too late to trade Bennett to a Memorial Cup contender? Whether they can or not I feel the best place for him is in Junior for the rest of the season. Bring him to the parent Flames when the junior season is done.

  • JumpJet

    The only reason I would keep Bennett in the NHL is if the Flames have an injury at center around the same time he’s cleared to play. Sure, you could call up Granlund or Arnold, but I would really really REALLY like to see Bennett get some NHL games in. However I don’t think it can be justified with the Flames’ “earned never given” mantra.

    A conditioning stint could be good, but maybe letting Bennett get his game back in the OHL and then have him join the Baby Flames in the late season would be better.

    In short, I don’t think there’s an obviously bad option or one that it clearly better than the other. A big part of that is because of how talented Bennett is.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      I would think that Bennett having spent the last 3 months in Calgary after surgery doing the physio, video sessions and everything else the team staff asked of him may just count as “earned, not given”.

  • RKD

    On one hand, I am really excited to see what Bennett will do in the NHL. On the other hand, I would hate to see him get injured again. Plus, he would be thrown to the wolves. Throwing a rookie in the NHL in February in the midst of an NHL post-season races amongst several teams isn’t the most ideal situation. It wouldn’t hurt to give him the 9 game tryout. If the the Flame made the post-season and Bennett was playing well he maybe a handy guy to have in the playoffs. However, he is still not physically mature so if they send him back to Kingston it’s probably best for his development. I think his chances hinge on how well he is doing in practice, injuries/scratches to other forwards or even traded forwards.

    • piscera.infada

      Different situation as I understand it. A portion of the “man games lost” in Grigorenko’s case were healthy-scratches. Under the CBA the “man games lost” have to be due to injury, illness, or other personal issues.

      In Bennett’s case, the Flames would argue “we want to see if his shoulder can stand-up to the rigours of professional hockey”. That is in the spirit of a “conditioning assignment” as outlined by the CBA. Of course, that’s not to say it won’t get blocked, and in my opinion, it’s all moot because he should just go back to Kingston. As @Derzie said, let him practice and be around the club as long as you can afford the roster spot, if you’d like.

  • piscera.infada

    I don’t worry about the pressure. I think he would thrive on it. I think the bigger issue is that it doesn’t fit in with the motto, which I personally think is just talk, but whatever, let’s pretend everyone is drinking the koolaid.

    I agree that it is likely a combination of B & C. Send him to the AHL for his 3 game conditioning stint and then send him back to Kingston. I assume that he can’t stay in the AHL either because of his age or because it will burn a year off his ELC although maybe Calgary is prepared to burn that, I don’t know.

    What if he goes down and rips the AHL a new one? What then?

    I’m not that worried about the goons getting him. He would have Grats to look after him and I think most of the league will think really hard about taking a cheap shot at Bennett with a fighter of that caliber handy.

  • beloch

    First, can Bennett even be sent to Adirondack? I thought he was too young? Did they finally fix that rule keeping young OHL players out of the AHL?

    Many assume that Junior will put the least strain on Bennett’s freshly mended shoulder. That may not be true. In the NHL he probably won’t see a lot of ice time right away. In Kingston, he might see 20 minutes per game immediately and wind up firing a lot of heavy slappers (not the easiest thing on shoulders). His team will naturally be tempted to ride him to wins, and he’s going to be chomping at the bit to give them wins. The Flames may want to keep him under closer supervision than sending him to Kingston allows.We’re assuming a lot about what it means for Bennett to be cleared to play. His shoulder might be completely healed or it may have a ways to go just yet.

    Bennett’s probably been in the video room learning the NHL game from the stat hounds and coaches for a while now. He’s skating with the team. Clearly, the chance to play in the NHL right away has been dangled in front of him throughout his recovery. I suspect he’ll be given a game or two just to see where he’s at, dependent on how much confidence they have in his shoulder and how he looks in practice once he’s cleared for contact. Whether he sticks or gets sent down will depend entirely on him. If he is sent down, either immediately or after a couple games, that probably won’t be the last we’ll see of him this season.

    • piscera.infada

      Bennett’s probably been in the video room learning the NHL game from the stat hounds and coaches for a while now.

      As Gaudreau and countless other rookies have intimated: it’s one thing to “see” and “hear about” the NHL game, it’s another to actually play the NHL game.

      A lot of this is based purely in the time of the season and what the team is trying to accomplish. Sure, in the first nine games of the season, I would have been all for seeing how he plays. But the kid (I’ll say again, an 18 year-old, with absolutely zero NHL experience) is coming in right at crescendo of the season, on a new team, against competition he’s never played against, with speed, physicality, and skill he’s never seen before. It has the potential for complete unmitigated disaster.

      Look, I want to see Bennett play, but ultimately I can wait another 30-ish games. Next season guys, next season.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Option C. A&B don’t make a lick of sense to me.

    If he lights up the OHL, which I’m sure he would, and they don’t go far in the playoffs, then consider bringing him to Addy or Calgary for some games to end the season.

    But maybe his presence will boost his OHL team so that they do go far in the playoffs. That is good for his confidence etc…

    I would definitely not send him straight from 5 month rehab into the NHL or AHL.

  • Kybb79

    Let him play a few games up here to see where he is at! If he is too talented for junior condition him in the AHL.Big Earn will take care of him and if Calgary makes the playoffs get him ready for that!

    • piscera.infada

      Once you play him in games here, or even scratch him here, he can’t go to the AHL for “conditioning”, hence the discussion about conditioning assignments above. As I understand it, if you’re looking for latitude with regard to the CHL-NHL agreement, you’d likely need to send him to the AHL almost immediately after he’s activated from LTIR.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      It has been proven multiple times that goons like Big Ern DO NOT PREVENT INJURIES TO TEAM MATES.

      This article discusses that idea, and links to 2 other articles as well.

      http://regressing.deadspin.com/the-enforcer-fallacy-hockeys-fighting-specialists-don-1442618145

      So, in what way is McGratten going to take care of Bennett? Put his ruined arm in a sling? Hold doors open for him?

      I’m not saying that he will certainly be injured in the AHL (or NHL or OHL), but suggesting that having a goon around will prevent an injury is ridiculous.

  • piscera.infada

    Back to junior. “Always earned, never given.” HAR! Seriously though, he needs to get his game legs and find his hands. Shake off hte rust. You don’t do that in the NHL or on a conditioning stint as an 18 year old and having never been a pro. Besides, maybe Kingston trades him and he gets some playoff experience.

  • supra steve

    Some of you were convinced that Monahan should have gone back to the OHL last year The Flames had other ideas, and looking at his progression to date, the correct move was made. Anyone remember the Gaudreau situation at the start of the 2014/15 season?

    Same deal with Bennett. When he is medically cleared, I think that the club will take advantage of that 2 week conditioning stint in the AHL (if it is indeed available).

    If he looks over his head there, then the decision is made by Bennett himself and it’s back to the O.

    If he looks like a star at that level, then he gets his shot in the NHL.

    He then gets what, as many as 9 games to prove he belongs in Calgary? If he can’t prove that he is an effective contributor in a top 9 roll in Calgary yet, then back to OHL.

    What I’m trying to get across here is that the decision has not yet been made. Bennett will be given a chance to prove that he belongs, or that he does not. The only time the Flames brass will have to make a tough decision here is when/if he gets close to that 9 NHL game threshold.

      • supra steve

        This kid has been in Calgary for the whole season, learning systems, staying in shape, and soaking in the big league atmosphere. He is on record with his hopes for the rest of the season. He is one of the most valuable player assets in the organization.

        When he is medically ready, I believe he SHOULD/WILL be given a chance to prove himself, one way or the other. If he comes up short, then they will make the obvious call and send him down.

        What I don’t think they can/should do is just make the knee jerk decision without giving him a chance to prove himself, that would be crushing for the kid.

        • supra steve

          Totally agree.

          As a comparable I would say if Poirier, who also had surgery, can handle it, I’m sure Bennett can.

          I just see a place for him developmentally in Kingston right now, especially being with Calgary for so long.

          In Adirondack he’ll be learning the same system/training regime that Hartley plays.

  • RedMan

    regarding the “earn it” mantra, it is my opinion that he already earned it in the preseason – but needed surgery. Still, he earned it. I would rather have him here playing sheltered minutes for the first bit – there’s nine games to make an evaluation on. that being said, we also want to see Porier and Baertchi and Wolf. and Wotherspoon 🙂

    • Danomitee

      He did earn it during the preseason, as all of us stated when he was lighting it up. The problem now is the point of the season were in. He has the possibility of winning us and losing us games given his skill but also his complete lack of experience in the NHL. Worst case scenario is he loses us a game because of a turnover or poor coverage and the flames would put him up in the press box, eventually designating him to the OHL. It’s not the beginning of the season anymore, he’d be on an extremely short leash. I’d love to see him up here playing skilled hockey but the risk might be too great for both him and the team at this time of year

  • Slowmo

    Bennett should get the same option as Mono play ur way in or out he should get his nine game try out and if he can’t be shipped down because he is what they thought he would be then we have our selves another top centre if not then Gilmore will be happy to have him back to finish the season. Give his Nine games be fair I don’t care what time of yr it is he is a 4th over all he deserves his shot.

  • Skuehler

    I’d say Poirier, Ferland, Arnold and Baertschi would have prioirty. We have no shortage of centres so injuries wouldn’t really be a factor. . Would love to see Bennett get a game or two in this season, but he’d be better off in Kingston to finish off the season.

  • MonsterPod

    I still can’t believe we have this kid. Rated #1 by NHL scouting all last year. Makes me giddy.

    That said, a car merges onto a freeway in the slow lane and then works its way over to the fast lane as it picks up speed. I don’t like the idea of throwing him right into the NHL Western Conference playoff race when he hasn’t played a game since September. The risk/reward just doesn’t make sense.

    He seems to be a bit injury prone. Missed some games in junior, had some groin issues in the preseason too. I would say straight to Kingston and then work to put on some weight over the summer.

    See you at the next prospects game. Looking forward to it already.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      Great analogy, fits my way thinking exactly.

      BT on the FAN960 this morning, preaching caution with Benny, but definitely didn’t say where he’ll go once he’s healed.

  • piscera.infada

    I believe I heard that Bennett was working with Gary Roberts in the off-season, which should maximize his fitness for next year.

    Johnny G should join him and put on a few lbs of muscle.

  • BurningSensation

    I know everybody wants to be conservative and send the kid back to jr, but I bet he skates some of the current Flames into the ground in practice, and makes the team.

    I also bet once he is in the lineup that he makes it a very, very, tough decision to send him back down.