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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

This looks like the Sam Bennett we’ve been waiting for. Now what?

As a general rule, when a team loses, its players look bad. And when a team wins, its players look good. There will almost always be exceptions to this, but it’s pretty par for the course, ultimately.

Throw in the fact that it’s preseason, and it’s important to keep emotions and perceptions in check.

But dang, did Sam Bennett look really, really good against the Coyotes.

Bennett was ranked as a potential first overall draft choice, and ultimately chosen fourth overall, for a reason. He scored 91 points in 57 games in his draft year, not to mention the 118 penalty minutes tacked on. Then there was his abridged 2014-15 season, in which he only dressed for 11 OHL games… and scored 24 points in them. A quick sweep out of the playoffs later, and he was ready for the NHL.

And when we say ready, we mean ready. Bennett, then just 18 years old (thanks, Jim Hughson!) dazzled immediately, looking like he fit right in even though he had missed most of the season and was only just starting his NHL career. His four points in 11 playoff games were outstanding, all circumstances considered; even more outstanding was the 46.40% 5v5 CF (+2.11 relative) – seventh out of 18 regular skaters through the postseason.

A year of his entry-level contract burnt, Bennett stepped into a modest rookie season, consisting of 36 points in 77 games (and a 48.83% 5v5 CF). He followed that up with more of a disappointing sophomore season: 26 points in 81 games (and a 48.70% 5v5 CF), and in need of a new contract.

Whereas Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau earned $6+ million in their second contracts, the consensus that eventually came to fruition was that Bennett would have to settle for a bridge deal. And indeed he did: a cap hit of $1.95 million over the next two seasons.

Which brings us to now: two preseason games played, his new contract not officially kicked in yet, and looking a whole lot more like the player we expected when he was drafted fourth overall.

The ideal linemates

Now, I don’t think anyone is suggesting Sean Monahan loses his projected spot in the lineup after sitting out one preseason game. That would skew towards the positive overreaction territory.

Bennett filling in for Monahan did give us a few of things to look forward to:

  • Should Monahan go down, at least the top line shouldn’t suffer for it.
  • Micheal Ferland starting the season on the top line is, in all likelihood, going to be a worthwhile experiment. He doesn’t have the same skill set as Johnny Gaudreau and Bennett, but he didn’t look out of place on that line at all.
  • Bennett deserves powerplay time.

It also signified a drum that’s been beaten since this past season: Bennett needs to play alongside good players in order to turn in this kind of performance.

When Monahan returns to the lineup Bennett won’t have the chance to take a regular shift alongside Gaudreau and Ferland. Fortunately, though, he has Kris Versteeg: maybe not someone on quite the same level as the Flames’ top scorer, but a highly skilled, highly competitive player in his own right, who can keep up with and feed off of Bennett, if the most recent playoff series in particular was any indication.

And then there’s the unknown quantity: who else fills out that line?

There are Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar, two recent acquisitions by the Flames who perhaps haven’t shown what management was expecting out of them. Brouwer hurt Bennett through the previous season (and Versteeg to an extent as well), while Lazar hasn’t exactly shown much through this preseason to suggest he can play on Bennett’s level.

And while it would be one thing to merely put together a decent third line that can chip in every now and then, the potential Bennett has exhibited since he was drafted and in spurts to present day would be wasted on that. That publicized centre depth the Flames have could finally be coming to fruition should Bennett take his preseason performance and the four-goal game of old and push it forward into this season. And that’s where you go for three lines that can score, not two and two-thirds.

So… who? In the other preseason game Bennett dressed for – one in which it’s pretty much universally agreed he was the Flames’ best player – he played alongside Emile Poirier and Spencer Foo, neither of whom may be safe from cuts. Probably the most impressive forward prospect this exhibition season has been Mark Jankowski; does he slot in on that wing? Or do the Flames sign Jaromir Jagr to fill it out? (I’m sorry; what is memed may never die.)

Does that give Bennett the linemates he needs to have to display such enthralling success and give the Flames a truly deadly top nine?

With a number of cuts expected in the coming hours, the picture should become clearer then. And with three preseason games to go, it should sort itself out in time for the start of the regular season.

Hopefully it works out – because this version of Bennett is far too good to waste.



  • Southboy

    I would like to see him perform for 10-15 games against NHL caliber teams before i get to excited. Yes he has looked good, but he has had flashes his whole career, than faded. And yes we can say quality of linemates, but if a guy was playing good he would have been promoted.

  • everton fc

    Have the guts to go with Mangiapane/Bennett/Versteeg, out of camp. Bennett’s a leader. He showed that last night. He’s a different player this year – beard included! He’s a scoring centre desperately in need of playmaking wings. Versteeg fits the bill nicely here. Whose the other? Not Brouwer, not Lazar – heck, I’ve seen more playmaking ability out of Hathaway this camp, than those two.

    Perhaps they pluck a wing off the waiver wire as camps cut vets. Someome like Versteeg, though LW, so Versteeg can go to RW. Might be the solution.

    Brouwer is such a millstone…

    • freethe flames

      The “Burden of Brouwer”. I don’t know why GG and BT don’t see it. I don’t get it. If they see something in him that we don’t stand up and defend him but his on ice performance lacks everything we were told about him. I hated the signing when it was rumoured and have grown to hate it even more; his wearing a letter adds insult to injury. Send him to Stockton or KC maybe he can earn a letter there.

        • freethe flames

          The difference for me is that Stajan has at least earned my respect by being a good soldier and I don’t think he will be cancer in the locker room if he is sitting; Brouwer I’m so sure. Also b/c Stajan is still an effective face off man he has more added value than Brouwer.

          • Cfan in Van

            Yep. Moan all you want about Stajan being older and making too much cash, but he’s an effective player. And one that doesn’t mind what roll he plays, as long as it pushes the team forward. He’s still valuable, and I wouldn’t at all compare that situation to Brouwer.

        • Skylardog

          Your views are exactly what I have been thinking all summer. I even thought he would be a stabilizing player for the 4th line.

          Preseason has changed that view. Some of the young talent can do what he is doing, and have an upside when it comes to scoring. He is not lifting the players he has been playing with.

          Don’t get me wrong, I like Stajan. But he is not playing at a level needed to remain on the roster and in the lineup.

          • Stajanforadirtyboot

            Stajan has not played at an NFL level for 7 years now. He is not effective in any faction of the game. 22.5 points average as a flame, face off % just above 50%, Not a power play specialist….i can go on and on about his stupid hooking tripping and slashing penalties. Last year he was out scored by Chassion and was trailed by only 5 point by England and Wideman ffs. Waste of a roster spot waste of cap space….

          • Slowmo

            I would have to agree tuff to show quality playing for 7 yrs when he was never sighned in the NFL lol. But on a serious note the amount he is getting is a spit in the bucket these day you can even sighn a second yr with his ability for less that 4-5 just saying and he has been able to stop the Opposition and put up a few points. I don’t think you would be happy with him even if put added another 10-15 goals but your wrong he is a useful player

    • Carl the tooth

      I always thought Hathaway has more offensive potential,last season he made lots of wicked plays but his linemates weren’t good enough to accept his sweet passes . He always made an impact . Hathaway could be a potential 3rd line option with versteeg and Bennett

      • fumanchu1968

        Jankowski needs to play centre before Bennett does.
        Don’t be afraid to use Bennett on the wing, he will flourish and act as good backup centre.
        Send Lazar to the AHL if he doesn’t start to use his weight and play with reckless abandon.
        Give Brower a chance over the first 10 games. If he doesn’t help us win, send him to the AHL.
        Stajan is too good to send anywhere. Keep him on the 4th line.

        I like these lines:
        JG-SM-MF
        MT-MB-MF
        SM-MJ-KV
        RL-MS-GH

        Foo, Dube, Mangiapani, Klimchuck and Lazar back to AHL to continue to develop/call up for injuries. Lazar doesn’t deserve an automatic spot on this roster. He is sleeping at the wheel…For the opportunity for a new lease on his hockey life, this kid should be killing everyone in site and playing like it’s his last day on earth.

  • freethe flames

    As we await the Flames cuts today I ask myself how close to being able to play 4 effective lines this season; if they are prepared to play the guys who have earned it through their preseason play I think very close. However if they are committed to veterans and their reputations then they need to build 3 effective lines and try and limit the damage done by a 4th line featuring you know who.

    Two huge question marks remain for me; who do you play Bennett with and where do you Janko? Maybe that is the answer; you play them together? Would they compliment each other? Who would be the ideal other cog in that line? Versteeg seems like a likely fit. Maybe another kid? Poirier/Magpie? Hathaway? Do you try 1 exhibition game with Lazar on the RW with Janko and Bennett to see if he can step up? Lots of questions; it’s up to GG and his staff to figure it out. But in the end it’s up to the players to earn their job and make GG decision easier by their play; stand out show you are better than the guy you are competing against.

    Nice to see Bennett look more like the guy we hoped he would be but he needs to prove it night in night out. If he does then the Flames will much better. Good luck.

  • Azim

    As much as we may be hesitant to break the 3M line, for the sake of the teams balance, I still believe putting Tkachuk on the left side of Bennett with the versatile Versteeg on the right as the best option.

    The 3M line can still thrive with a slightly less talented player in place of Tkachuk. They may score less, but we’re all expecting a slight regression in PTS from Backlund anyways. They can instead focus even more on being a shutdown line, whether it’s Jankowski, Lazar or whoever joins them.

    • freethe flames

      I have said for months now that Janko makes perfect sense with Backs/Frolik. His performance so far this preseason confirms this for me and doing so would not likely cost that lines production. He has offensive tools. What he lacks that Tkachuk brings to that line is grittiness.

    • Skylardog

      Yes – Tkachuk to Bennetts left. I would suggest Lazar be given 1 chance on RW with Bennett in the next game to prove he belongs. If he fails then Versteeg.

      Looks like Klimchuk on Backlund’s left. Solid 200 foot player with a potential upside.

    • HOCKEY83

      I’m not expecting a regression from Backlund going into a contract year. With Tkachuk having a season under his belt that line will do better and Backlund will be wanting Monny money come contract time.

  • freethe flames

    In his post game interview GG says he ideally wants to get to 15 forwards and 8 d; the only way to do so for this fan is to waive some vets.(they likely won’t do this but they should) He did say some others may have earned a longer look.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Chucky – Bennett – Versteeg
    Makes the most sense. This also spreads out talent on 3 lines and we create a new pair of Chucky Benny.
    I also believe he could score 70 points playing with Johnny.

  • loudogYYC

    Bennett is at his best at high speed, intense shifts. His ability to think and move faster than the rest is what makes him great, and the best player to compliment that skill on the Flames is Gaudreu.

    I think it all comes down to Tkachuk, if he can pair with Tkachuk then you let Johnny and Benny fly around with Ferly and you’ll still have Backs and Frolik shutting everyone down with whoever you place on their LW.
    Gaudreau-Bennett-Ferland
    Tkachuk-Monahan-Versteeg?
    Poirier?-Backlund-Frolik
    Stajan-Jankowski-Brouwer/Hamilton/Hathaway

    A few question marks on the wings, but this is a balanced lineup with a bit of snarl in it too.

      • Kevin R

        You read my mind. I never posted last night but when I left the Dome last night I had the following conclusions:
        1/ Damn did Bennett & Gaudreau look good last night & with Ferland on that line, Gaudreau took some shots but I knew both Ferland & Bennett would step in. Monahan is like our lethal version of Bossy & all of us love what him & Gaudreau have built together but it is absolutely in the best interest of us & the Flames to get Bennett playing with good line mates & playing like last night.

        2/ I really liked Glass’s game last night & personally, he & Klimchuk showed way more than Lazar, Shinkaruk or even Hathaway for that matter.
        3/ Brouwer was Ok, I hate to say it, he is perfectly fine on that 4th line but that’s about it. Bad contract.
        4/Wotherspoon looked very solid, I think this kid should be alternating in the 6-7 spot.
        5/Brodie had some pretty sweet dangles & I an liking him & Hamonic pairing more & more & more.
        6/Smith is a big man & even on his knees he covers the net pretty darn good. He does like to venture & absolutely we are going to have some face palming moments, but when he gets in-sync with our D, I think we are going to enjoy a puck moving goalie.
        7/Janko absolutely belongs on this team Oct 4th, the question is where. I still think 4th line Centre with Brouwer & someone else.

        So the question is, does GG have the balls to put Benny with Gaudreau & Ferland & put Tkachuk with Monahan & Versteeg. Yes, we do have guys that will shine & work on a line with Frolik & Backlund. Just my opinion.

        • HOCKEY83

          I agree with almost everything you say here except Lazar and Hathaway far outplayed Klimchuk and Shinkaruk. Lazar may not have shown up on the score board but he was the only Flame with memorable hits. And Glass looks to me like he was trying to make the team. He played great in last nights game and the game he play with Dube and Lomberg. Being at the game last night I was a little disappointed that Dube, Mangy and Foo didn’t play. I was looking forward to seeing certain Arizona prospects as well that weren’t in the line up. Andersson played a great game and it was fun to watch Smith work the puck up the boards. He took a couple of chances I’m sure gave the coach a heart attack.

      • TurkeyLips

        You got it. Throw Jank on the third. A top three lines looking like this is nothing short of exciting.

        Gaudreau-Bennett-Ferland
        Tkachuk-Monahan-Versteeg
        Jankowski-Backlund-Frolik

    • freethe flames

      Unfortunately your line up lives up to likelyhood that Brouwer is likely to play and that just leads to frustration. Because Backs and Frolik are so good together there a number of players who could be slotted there; Poirier as you pointed out, Janko as I have pointed out, Klimchuk, Magpie both of whom have looked closer to NHL ready than some others, or even Lomberg if you want that line to have some snarl to it. Heck maybe that’s where you hide Stajan.

    • Carl the tooth

      Do poirier and Foo get another game ? Dube deserves to stay with Jankowski and Anderson has been very steady . Does parsons/Gillies/ Rittich get anymore game action I imagine Lack stRts next game .

  • The GREAT WW

    I never wish for players to get injured, because that is Oiler fanbase crap….

    But a season ending high ankle sprain for Brouwer would solve a lot of problems….

    WW

  • C Watson

    How I would like to see the Flames line-up.
    Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
    Jankowski – Backlund – Frolik
    Tkachuk – Bennett – Mangiapanne/Foo
    Lomberg – Dube – Versteeg
    Popcorn Duty – Mangiappanne/Foo, Stajan
    Gio – Hamilton
    Brodie – Hamonic
    Kulak/Wotherspoon – Andersson
    Popcorn Duty – Stone
    Of course, that is too outside the box for GG and BT so this is more likely:
    Gaudreau – Monohan – Ferland
    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
    Versteeg – Bennett – Lazar/Foo
    Stajan – Jankowski – Brouwer
    Popcorn Duty – Lazaar/Foo, Hamilton
    Gio – Hamilton
    Brodie – Hamonic
    Kulak – Stone
    Popcorn Duty – Andersson

    • Fan the Flames

      Unless Lazar turns it on he will either be in the popcorn seat of in Stockton to start the season . Glass has out performed Brouwer but unfortunately he will get a roster spot . I still think Mangapane , Poirier and Foo will get some seasoning and lots of playing time in Stockton . On defence Wotherspoon ,Kulak and Andersson all look good the question is which two stay.

    • Cheeky

      If you want to go with what GG would do it would look like this:
      Johnny-Monny-Ferland
      Tkachuk-Backs-Frolik
      Versteeg-Benny-Brouwer
      Glass-Stajan-Cramarossa
      Extras: Hamilton-Lazar

      Gio-Hamilton
      Brodie-Hamonic
      Bartowski-Stone
      Ex: Kulak
      Always earned right GG!

      • Baalzamon

        How do you figure there isn’t room? If there’s room for Foo or Lazar, then by definition there’s room for Klimchuk since he’s better than either of them.

        • freethe flames

          Since he has performed better than either of them in a small sample size. It has yet to be truly determined that he is better than either of him. Would I give him(Klimchuk) another game absolutely but I would also give Magpie another. I would probably give Lazar another game as well and even try to put him a position succeed. Foo needs to go to Stockton and then we can see how he develops.

        • supra steve

          I’m just looking at it realistically, Klimchuk will not crack this lineup to start the season…Janko will. As will one of the young D men. If a veteran really stumbles during the season or if there are injuries and a kid comes in and proves that he’s ready (not saying that that kid would even be Klimchuk), Tre may be able to move out a veteran or two (via trade) to make room full time for that kid. Though, that probably doesn’t happen till close to the TDL. That is my hope.

          • Kevin R

            Personally, I think the Flames should be having both Klimchuk & Lazar audition with Backlund & Frolik & see who fits better. As much as that 3m line shined so well last year, reality & inevitability dictate that the future is Tkachuk playing with one of our younger high end centres of either Bennett or Monahan.
            I may be convinced that Janko might fit on the line with Frolik & Backlund for this year but…. I think Janko centring his own line on the 4th line. But that puts Stajan on the outside & I love Stajan & want him in a management role with this team but he really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot last night.

      • Skylardog

        So to answer exactly what you are asking, I made the moves on CapFriendly to see.

        Brouwer, cap $4.500, relief $1.025, remaining hit $3.475
        Stajan, Cap $3.125, relief $1.025, remaining hit $2.100

        My team is there if you want to look, last I checked first on the list of Calgary teams

    • FuNky ANGER

      Under the 2013 CBA, teams no longer receive full cap relief when demoting a player on a one-way NHL contract to the American Hockey League (or loaning him to a team in another professional league). The AAV (Average Annual Value, aka cap hit) less the sum of the minimum NHL salary for that season plus $375,000 still counts against the Club’s cap total.

      Summary Table for Calculation Purposes:
      •[Season]: [Minimum Salary] + $375,000 = Total that can be buried
      •2012-13: $525,000 + $375,000 = $900,000
      •2013-14: $550,000 + $375,000 = $925,000
      •2014-15: $550,000 + $375,000 = $925,000
      •2015-16: $575,000 + $375,000 = $950,000
      •2016-17: $575,000 + $375,000 = $950,000
      •2017-18: $650,000 + $375,000 = $1,025,000
      •2018-19: $650,000 + $375,000 = $1,025,000
      •2019-20: $700,000 + $375,000 = $1,075,000
      •2020-21: $700,000 + $375,000 = $1,075,000
      •2021-22: $750,000 + $375,000 = $1,125,000

      Illustration:

      The Chicago Blackhawks demote Bryan Bickell to the AHL during the 2015-16 season. Bickell carries a $4.0 million AAV. The Blackhawks would still have $3.05 million counting against their Averaged Club Salary total for the period Bickell is in the minors.

    • BendingCorners

      If a team suspends a player then the player’s cap hit is zero but the team must be able to accommodate the player’s return without exceeding the cap. 50.10(c) of CBA page 289-290.

  • T&A4Flames

    What about moving Backlund to LW With Janko playing C on the 3M line. Backs played some wing in his days. He was a winger in Sweden during the last lockout and played very well. Great mentorship for MJ.

  • everton fc

    Tkachuk/Bennett/Versteeg would be an interesting line, but it seems you’d be demoting Tkachuk, or making Backlund and Frolik’s line, the 3rd line.

    We need a wing for Bennett. Mangiapane’s gone. Shinkaruk and Foo will also be in Stockton. The left-over forwards, as I see it (Jankowski’s on the team, so I’m not including him);

    Brouwer (not a playmaker)
    Lazar (not a playmaker)
    Stajan (hasn’t played wing in camp)
    Hathaway (I kind of like this option, but also note Jankowski and Hathaway always play well together, or so it seems)
    Klimchuk (Klimchuk/Bennett/Versteeg. Could work.)
    “Freddie”
    Lomberg (Could be a nice 4th line option)
    Poirier (highly unlikely, but it’s be nice to see Poirier/Bennett/Versteeg, next game)
    Dube (also highly unlikely, as he’s a centre, but if he could play wing…)
    Glass (4th line/extra forward)

    Perhaps a wing falls into our lap off the waiver wire, or thru another team’s PTO process, like Versteeg. But there’s a gaping hole on the 3rd line wing. We need to put 4 solid lines on the ice. A 4th line of, say, Glass/Stajan/Brouwer could be what the brass settles for, while they continue to push Lazar on 3rd line, RW. But the best 4th line, to me, would be Klimchuk-Stajan-Lomberg/Jankowski/Hathaway. And the best 3rd line would include Versteeg/Bennett and one of Klimchuk or Hathaway. I can’t see how Lazar and Brouwer are better than Hathaway/Freddie… Even Klimchuk, Lomberg or Glass, this camp, thus far. But maybe Jankowski is less likely to suffer than Bennett, with bad linemates. At least keep Jankowski with Hathaway, somehow.

  • BendingCorners

    It’s fun to speculate about lines during camp, especially when it’s the bottom six we are discussing and not the top six. Kudos to BT for putting together enough talent that the main question is who is the #9 player and do we have enough good players to give the new #4C enough support for him to be part of a good line too.
    More than that, if you categorize the lineup by their natural positions, we have 5 C (Sean, Sam, Mikael, Mark, Matt) and 4 LW (Johnny, Matthew, Michael and Micheal) but only 3 RW (Kris, Curtis, Troy). So kudos to GG for swapping wingers around so that we have two good top lines and third line that look only to be missing one 3W to be complete. It would be great if BT could go get the missing 1RW and 2RW but we really only need one of three things to happen for the top 9 to be good enough to contend: Curtis to actually play well, Troy to play well, or one of the prospects to play well. I don’t think any of Morgan, Emile, Spencer or Andrew (now demoted) played well enough to force their way in, but I also don’t think Curtis and Troy have played well enough either. Morgan and Emile look close but not quite. If that changes, great. If not, I hope BT picks up another cheap gem at the last minute, the way he found Kris last year.
    As to defence, is it just me or do Juuso and Fat Ras look better than Brett and Mike Stone?

  • Just.Visiting

    Looks like he’s bulked up a fair bit.

    What about going out of the box with trying Bennett at C with Monahan on LW shifting JG to his off wing like Kane and, for those old enough to remember, Cournoyer?

    Monahan’s speed and defensive game has left something to be desired.

    I continue to be interested in seeing fancy stats on the positioning on JG’s shots and goals, as I think there’s already a lot of activity on the right side. Third line would then be Janko, Versteeg and Ferland or Tkachuk, where the latter would probably mean that the third line would then become the second line.