Breaking Down The Sam Bennett Decision

The Calgary Flames finally returned Sam Bennett to his junior club, the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. The announcement was made this morning and followed by a media availability both with Bennett and Flames general manager Brad Treliving.

Here’s the gist of what happened and the decision-making regarding Bennett’s assignment.

WAS BENNETT GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY IN THE NHL RIGHT NOW?

Per Treliving: “Do I think he could play? Sure. Is it the right thing to do? No, it’s not.”

Bennett’s last game was a pre-season game in late September and his last meaningful game was last April. Throwing him into the proverbial oven, with the expectations that come with his draft stature and the team’s play to this point, wouldn’t have been a smart move. Teams are going at full-speed right now and throwing Bennett into it would be stacking the deck against him a bit.

Per Treliving: “He’s going to go back to Kingston and play
a ton, in all situations, in a playoff push, a team that’s in a
playoff push. It just made sense.”

THE SEASON’S NOT A LOSS, THOUGH

Bennett will probably get a dozen or so games in before the OHL regular season is over. But he has also spent the bulk of the season with Calgary’s coaching staff, strength and conditioning personnel, and the NHL club itself. When camp opens up in the fall, he’ll be 19 years of age – and a young 19 – and have spent essentially a full season in meetings, working with video coaches and learning systems.

Long story short: he’ll be 19, but a healthy 19, and with his brain jam-packed full of knowledge of his teammates tendencies and his coach’s habits and systems. That’s pretty invaluable. (Think about how much Lance Bouma improved from a year spent rehabbing an injury in Calgary and pouring over video.)

Granted, not as invaluable as playing a full season at 18/19 years of age…

WAS AN AHL CONDITIONING STINT CONSIDERED?

Yes, but Treliving noted a similar concern as regarding throwing him into the NHL. The AHL’s arguably the second-best league in the world, and it’s February and teams are at high-speed and fighting for playoff spots. As with the NHL, the perception was basically it’d be throwing him into the deep end of the pool.

Plus, Treliving noted they wanted Bennett to get comfortable, rather than have him sit in Calgary, then play two weeks in Adirondack, then come back, then go to Kingston. It was deemed best for him to get a good amount of time in one spot rather than taxing him around here and there.

CAN HE COME BACK THIS SEASON?

Yes, but only once Kingston’s season is over. He’s eligible to return to Calgary as a black ace, and my understanding is his contract would only run if he played in 10 regular season and playoff games (combined). He could also be assigned to Adirondack, though I’m unclear if he’d necessarily need to be there on a try-out or if his regular deal would apply. I believe Morgan Klimchuk and Brett Kulak were down in Abbotsford on amateur try-outs (ATOs) previously last season, so I think that would happen here.

IS THIS THE RIGHT MOVE?

Honestly, it probably is. Sean Monahan was able to step in right away and contribute as an 18-year-old, but he was also heavily sheltered, relied on good teammates and match-ups, and had the benefit that he was figuring out the NHL style of play in October, when the rest of the league was doing the exact same thing. Oh, and Monahan was nearly a year older and wasn’t coming off major surgery.

Bennett? His ability to be sheltered would be diminished considering the Flames play the bulk of their remaining games on the road. Oh, and they’re already attempting to shelter Johnny Gaudreau and, to a certain extent, the Glencross/Raymond (and whoever’s their center from game to game) line. Oh, and it’s February and the bulk of Calgary’s opponents are in playoff spots or fighting for them. And every team in the hunt has more or less figured out the nuances of their games by now.

A lot would have to go right for Bennett to have had a successful end to the season had he stayed in the NHL. And much of what would have to go right wouldn’t have been in Calgary’s control.

WHEN’S HE PLAYING NEXT?

Most likely on Wednesday versus Belleville. Bennett’s traveling today and Treliving indicated he’d been in conversation with Kingston and the basic idea was to give Bennett time to adjust, and then put him in after the weekend.

THE QUOTABLE BRAD TRELIVING

“We’re talking about a young player, we’re
talking at the end of February, who’s missed a whole lot of time, who
is a real talent and is a really, really important player for this
organization moving forward and we feel you take all the emotion out
of it and just what makes sense? What’s smart? What is the best thing
for the player?”

  • KiLLKiND

    I like the decision, it is too bad Bennett couldn’t get traded to a contending team earlier like Prince George did for Leon. Being around the team this year learning what it takes to be in the NHL may be really beneficial. He can see how the players eat train and go about their lives in the NHL. He will know exactly what he needs to do to be prepared for next year and I think he will put in the effort to make the team out of camp next year and most likely will.

    Also I watched the Kelowna vs Victoria game yesterday and Austin Carroll actually looked pretty good and had a nice powerplay goal.

  • supra steve

    I can’t say it’s the wrong call, cause I do believe that this kid is can’t miss no matter where he plays next week.

    I do find BT’s comment on this matter to have been a bit disingenuous. Today…”Quite frankly, at the end of the day we thought there was only one smart decision to be made and that’s getting him back to junior”…when just yesterday he was still saying that no decision has yet been made on Bennett.

    Having said that, I still look forward to following Bennett’s progress in Kingston (last league game Mar 22), and then possibly in Addy after that (last league game Apr 19). And who knows, with this kid’s apparent determination (was pleased, but not surprised, to hear today that Bennett has added 10lb of muscle during his recovery), you could still see him playing in Calgary before season’s end (last league game Apr 11)?

    Best of luck to him.

  • beloch

    Given what Bennett could add to this team, even I would have been tempted to rush him into the NHL on the off chance he’s ready. Sending him down shows where Treliving’s priorities lay. My only concern with the Frontenacs is that they will rely too much on Bennett, as they did when they allowed him to play injured. The Flames will no doubt keep a close eye on things while Bennett is there.

    One other good thing from this decision is that Bennett will probably be eligible for the Calder competition next season. He’s going to have to go up against players like McDavid and Eichel, but it’s always fun to have a horse in the race!

  • MWflames

    With glencross not returning next year, this is going to be a young forward group next year… Think Bennett will be played on the wing next year or will push one of or both of granlund and jooris to the wing??

    • MWflames

      IMO the Flames need to do whatever they can to keep Bennett at center.

      I think Granlund will start next season in the AHL, Jooris and Shore will be the Flames’ third and fourth RWs.

      1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
      2. Bouma – Backlund – Jones
      3. Baertschi – Bennett – Jooris
      4. Colborne – Stajan – Shore
      5. Raymond

      Doesn’t look like a playoff team, but well, this year’s starting lineup didn’t either. Best part: Bollig doesn’t need to play, like ever. Strange that there are still too many wingers on the team (though notice that I have Baertschi in the crew ahead of Raymond)

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Time will shortly show that the Oilers goofed in not taking Sam (are we surprised?). I think this kid will be a star. To think he put up those numbers with a bum shoulder…. no wonder he couldn’t do the pull-up… his shoulder was hamburger.

    The argument was that the Oil “got the player they needed” and that Sam was “just like Nuge”. Well I disagree. Sam’s body type may be similar put his PIMS, compete level and feistiness will make him as good or better than Nuge. Leon will never be able to skate with Sam. So glad we got him – Sam fits the mold and identity of this team with his speed and voracity on the forecheck.

    IMO, Leon could become a good 2nd line centre, but I’m not sure he’ll rise above that. He put up good numbers in junior because he was over 200 lbs, but he is also significantly older than Sam.

    I know this has been debated to death in the past, but hearing Treliving’s comments today on Sam’s competitiveness and drive had me thinking he won’t take no for an answer and he’ll will himself to maximize his potential.