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.
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).
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.
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.