24Sam Bennett

RFA Profile: Sam Bennett

Of the forthcoming contract negotiations for the Calgary Flames this summer, Sam Bennett’s might be the most interesting. Bennett is one of 12 pending restricted free agents and remains one of the team’s top prospects. His second NHL contract, however, isn’t going to be in the same range as the ones signed last summer by teammates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. So what is a good ballpark for Bennett’s next deal? I think I’ve found the right wheelhouse, in both terms and dollars.This is the first of our RFA profiles this summer and we’re starting with a fascinating negotiation. Because Bennett hasn’t produced at the same rate as other high picks coming off their entry level contracts, he’s likely not going to nail down a long-term extension. Specifically for Bennett’s camp, locking into a long-term deal wouldn’t make a lot of sense, mainly because his future still looks very bright. Let’s further examine how this might play out.

Evidence

Like Monahan and Gaudreau, Bennett is thought of as a top end prospect by the organization. After all, he’s a former fourth overall selection and has shown flashes of brilliance in his two full NHL seasons. Unlike his newly extended teammates, though, Bennett hasn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers in the early stages of his professional career.

Monahan went into his first true contract negotiation last summer as a three-time 20 goal scorer while also hitting the 60 point plateau twice. Gaudreau, on the other hand, was almost a point-per-game player in his first two NHL seasons. While Bennett’s numbers aren’t bad by any stretch, they certainly don’t compare to those two or those of other recently extended players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele, or Aleksander Barkov.

Finding comparable deals for Bennett was a little more difficult, but really came down to taking a look at a few recent draft picks with somewhat fresh extensions. By using CapFriendly’s comparable tool, and by going through players in Bennett’s age range, I came up with a decent list of players of which to group him in with. The table below charts results of the two seasons going into each player’s second NHL contract..

All of the above have signed deals somewhat recently, and all of them have produced similar results. Bennett’s outputs are certainly lower on the counting side of things and his underlying numbers are inferior to the rest of the list, as well. On the bright side, though, Bennett’s even strength scoring rates are very much comparable, which goes to show you how little powerplay time he’s seen (0:33 average per game).

Where things get really fascinating, though, is how eerily similar the contract extensions look for the players in question. All four have had their deals kick in in the last three seasons and all are within striking distance of one another.

Every single one of Tatar, Galchenyuk, Niederreiter, and Lindholm signed bridge deals out of their entry level contracts. The evidence seems to point even further to Bennett signing a deal with similar term (two to three years).

Deliberation

Is a shorter, bridge contract best for both parties? My personal view is that, yes, a bridge is the way to go on both sides. Calgary would likely have to bump the AAV up a little bit to get Bennett to sign for six or more years, and I don’t think we, or the team, knows exactly what type of player he’s going to turn into. A longer term deal could pay big dividends down the road; but, if Bennett never progresses beyond a third liner, is that the ideal type of contract to have on the cap?

The benefits on Bennett’s side are far easier to define. If he continues progressing at a decent rate, Bennett will be looking at a decent raise once his bridge deal expires. While it’s not a perfect comparison, take a look at Mikael Backlund’s situation. After a number of short term deals, Backlund finally has enough leverage to sign a nice, fat contract. Theoretically, Bennett could be there at the end of his next extension, and that’s exactly why his camp should have no problem agreeing to a shorter term.

Bennett really is an interesting player. There’s no doubting how much raw talent he possesses, and it’s been on display on a number occasions with some highlight reel goals. Where I worry a little bit, and as I wrote a couple months ago, is how he “thinks the game”, specifically at centre.

Bennett seems to struggle most on zone entries as the primary puck carrier, and far too often potential cycles are easily thwarted due to his decision upon entry. In saying that, though, Bennett showed improvement in that area as the season went along. The jump to the NHL is a difficult one and decisions need to be made in a split second; that’s the area I think Bennett needs to show the most progression in.

That leads us to the final point in this discussion: it’s still not clear what position is best for Bennett in the long run. While the Flames are committed to playing him down the middle, part of me still wonders whether the wing is the best place for Bennett. Playing on the wing eliminates some of the puck carrying and defensive responsibility that go with playing centre, and I still think Bennett has looked most dangerous in those situations.

Verdict

I believe the contracts we zeroed in on serve as a generally accurate gauge for Bennett’s extension. It’s pretty clear to me he’ll be signing a bridge deal, and the dollar figure is the only thing up for debate. That’s where I think Lindholm’s extension, signed a couple summers ago, comes into play.

Lindholm and Bennett have similar offensive outputs when looking at their raw numbers and their even strength scoring rates. While Lindholm is a superior two-way player at this point, his contract was also signed in the summer of 2015 when the salary cap was slightly lower. If Bennett were to sign for two years at $2.7 million per, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Regardless, though, I think we’re talking about a two to three year extension in the $2.5 to $3 million range.

  • everton fc

    I think $2.5-$3mill for 3 years would be a good deal for the Flames, and Bennett, for it leaves cap room to sign another forward who may benefit the team, and Bennett, going forward.

  • RKD

    He’s a great young player with a lot of potential, I think where he is in the lineup and shuffling between C and W hurts him. I don’t think he should be playing with a guy like Brouwer, that hurts him and drags him down. He was one of our better players in the playoffs. I think with the right linemates and ice time he can fly. But yeah, bridge him now see what he does in the next couple of seasons.

    • Alberta Ice

      I agree with RKD. Lots of potential for Sam ahead. I didn’t like our sending Sven to the West and we gave up on him to soon. That said, Sven wasn’t given any encouragement while with us. (A lot like a certain Justin Schultz up North)

  • snotss

    poor last two years really…..but the upside to this kid is real….2 year bridge deal works for both..after his great 2 or 3 year deal is done flames can sign to a long term deal…I know I sound confident……….. but things can always change quickly hope he is not a bust

  • Old Goat

    Bridging Bennett will be a bad deal for the Flames in the future. Sign him for 4 or 5 years at Stajan pricing 4 to 4.5 per year. He is going to be a horse

    • Cfan in Van

      That might be bad value for Bennett though. His camp may want to cash in on expected future results. It could go either way, in my mind, depending on his priorities.

    • everton fc

      I could live w/Bennett for 5 years at $4-$4.5 mill. I think Bennett will become a very good player, especially in the post-season, where he and Monahan seem to shine. May prove a Brodie-esque steal. Especially if we can unload Brouwer’s contract to Vegas (OFF-SEASON PRIORITY #1A, after the goalie situation is finalized).

      And we need the cap space…

    • SmellOfVictory

      Five years would take him right to the end of his RFA eligibility, which would be the worst thing the Flames could do. Four years would give him arbitration rights, while the Flames take a risk by paying him substantial money over multiple years. There are two options with Bennett that make some sense: the conservative option is to give him a bridge deal now, and a longer deal once he’s more established; the riskier option is to gamble on him and give him a long term (7-8 year) deal right now at a low price due to his unimpressive resume, and hope he ends up being a significant bargain.

  • Cheeky

    What scares me is looking at those comparables. Is that Bennett’s ceiling – a very good player but not a perennial all star? A bridge is best but I do think he would be best served as a winger and will prove his worth. He can always move back in a couple years if needed, but a 4th overall should not be a 3rd liner…

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I’m starting to like the idea of Bennett on the wing but only if Janko is ready. What would this be like?

    Johnny-Mony-Tkachuk
    Versteeg-Backlund-Frolik
    Bennett- Janko-Ferland
    Shinkaruk/Brouwer-Stajan-Chiasson/Brouwer

    Above assumes Bouma gets buried and hopefully Chiasson is used in a trade. If not then no Shinkaruk

    • Eggs Bennett

      If you’re gonna take Ferland off the top line, might as well throw Bennett up there to play wing with Johnny and Monahan. Did you see that goal that Sam and Johnny created in the Playoff clincher against SJS?? There’s some chemistry there that has yet to be exploited. Don’t touch 3M and let Versteeg-Janko-Ferland be a skilled and effective 3rd line.

      • Eggs Bennett

        For the record, Draisaitl played on McDavid’s wing (even though he was originally drafted as a C) and look how that’s working out. You have to surround your highest potential prospects with high potential line mates for them to succeed in most cases.

  • Eggs Bennett

    In addition to reducing risk of Bennett not playing to his potential, a bridge deal also makes sense because it gives him extra incentive to work at his game for that next contract. And if we end up needing to shell out 5-6 mil in 2-3 years time because we have a bonafide 1/2 pivot, it’s not a bad problem to have…

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Sam Bennett has been to the playoffs twice and has played his best hockey as a pro in the postseason. Which other current member of the Flames is touted for being at his best when the money is on the line and even has a cup ring to show for it? Let’s hope Sam isn’t a younger version of that guy.

  • Hat

    Bennett is a winger. Right now. I feel this is the crossroads for Bennett. Regardless of his contract, he really needs to decide if he truly WANT to be a centre. Centres get PAID. Look at Monahan’s salary versus Gaudreau’s; That isn’t just size. Gaudreau is significantly more valuable relative to Monahan than his contract indicates; Except position matters.

    I think that Bennett should take a 1 year deal for around 1.75 and work his ass off this summer to learn centre. I think the playoff burning of his contract year hurt him badly.

    From the Flames side, three years. He likely develops to a Monahan or Gaudreau salary in that time period, but likely not more unless you are happy to throw money at him. You grudgingly do a 2 year if he insists and avoid a 1 year like the plague.

    Bennett could end up as a bottom 6 forward (I felt he was the most boom/bust of the top 5 when he was drafted, and still feel the same now) but he has many avenues to improve.

  • Jay

    Sign him to a long-term contract at 3 mil AAV. Play him on the wing, especially with the number of centers we have (Monahan, Backlund, Stajan, Lazar, Jankowski). Maybe he’ll eventually be able to play on the top line with Monahan and Gaudreau!