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.