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How the Flames saved Sam Bennett’s season, and perhaps his time in Calgary

Getting a grasp on Sam Bennett has been like trying to grip mercury with a fork. There have been highs, lows and everything in between, but it’s been difficult to find a rhyme or reason and project what the future that at once seemed so bright for Bennett now holds.

It’s been easy to lose sight of the bigger picture at either extreme, and indeed it seems many have from time to time. Whether that’s projecting Bennett as the top line centre of the Flames’ future, which at one point seemed reasonable, or finding his name as a fixture in the rumour mill, as we did as recently as the beginning of this season.

With a slight course correction, the Flames squashed the latter of those possibilities. By moving Bennett back to the wing on a line with Mark Jankowski and a rotating cast of wingers highlighted by Jaromir Jagr and Garnet Hathaway, they’ve restored Bennett’s stock to a place where his value with the Flames far outweighs anything they could reasonably expect for him in a trade.

After a pointless and mostly lifeless 15 games to start the season, Bennett’s found his game again, and the Flames have found consistent secondary scoring.

Since shifting back to the wing on the third line, Bennett’s rediscovered his two-way game. Best of all, he’s chipped in with 16 points in Calgary’s last 24 games, good for a 0.66 point per game pace. Not bad!

Some of that is a matter of luck, which is largely out of the Flames’ hands and even Bennett’s to an extent. When Bennett was sporting a personal shooting percentage of null and had an on-ice shooting percentage that wasn’t that much better in the first handful of games, it wasn’t that he forgot how to score – Bennett just couldn’t catch a break. Now that the Flames are scoring as a team at a slightly better than expected rate with Bennett on the ice, well, he looks positively great.

Even when the Flames’ on-ice shooting percentage trends downwards with Bennett on the ice, as it’s likely to do at some point or another, the drop off won’t be terribly steep.

Playing Bennett with a playmaker like Jankowski has allowed him to focus more on putting the puck on net and less on distributing offence between his linemates. Bennett’s taking to his new assignment with unmatched enthusiasm.

No Flames player is shooting the puck more often than Bennett, who’s sending over 11 shots on net per hour at five-on-five. The next closest Flames skater is Michael Frolik, and he’s about two behind Bennett. And they’re not exactly low-chance shots from the perimeter either. If they were, Bennett wouldn’t also lead the Flames in high-danger scoring chances per hour with close to six, according to NaturalStatTrick.

If Bennett’s pace keeps up, he’ll top his season-high in shots by about 50 at season’s end.

Bennett’s assists might be inflated, if only slightly, but his tepid scoring rate relative to how often he’s putting the puck on the net is sure to pick up at some point. That’s when the fun starts.

The chemistry that Bennett’s developed with Jankowksi goes beyond their scoring prowess, although that alone says plenty. Bennett has a better share of unblocked shot attempts, shots and goals with Jankowski than without. It’s paying dividends at the other end of the ice as well.

Whereas secondary scoring was once an issue for this Flames roster, it’s now a relative strength – however, the Frolik injury does strain that. And with Jagr back from injury, there’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon. The only question now is what exact configuration works best, in light of Hathaway’s emergence from relative obscurity.

As Steve MacFarlane noted earlier in the season, the Flames deserve a lot of credit for their patience and diligence in handling Bennett this season. There was no panic, just a calculated plan to get the highest draft pick in the history of their franchise back on track. It took a little time for it to pay off, but they’ve set themselves and Bennett up for a lengthy, productive relationship.

  • ComixZone

    Funny way of looking at it. The Flames were screwing Bennett over by playing him with atrocious, pretty much non-NHL caliber teammates all of last season, and the beginning of this year. To commend them for finally putting an end to ruining a player’s development by setting them up for failure is an odd, odd thing.

    Expecting a player as young as Bennett to carry awful linemates like Brouwer etc., is something that poor organizations do. You have to set youth up to succeed, not wallow in the depths of failure thanks to being buried with anchors on his line.

    • oddclod

      Exactly. Zero credit is due to the organization for their restoration and deployment of this Gem. ZERO. They successfully turned a Centre into a winger.

      Teams in the NHL pair forwards. Once Tkachuk proved that he can carry himself with or without the Mikes, He should have been Bennett’s winger in this years training camp (who would want to match up against that?) Nah… Give the 21yrs old saddle bags to carry AGAIN. The Mikes could have easily tutored another 200ft player (yes even Lazar).

      Pairings should have resembled this in training camp with other veterans fighting for jobs:

      John Mon
      Mike Mike
      Tkachuk Bennett
      Janko Hathaway

      Other than a shut down line, Jagr slides up and down that line-up much better than where he is now with two anchors. I had to shut the game off after watching him carry those two, set them up only to watch them lose the puck in their skates or whiff.

      Again, they turned a 200ft centre into a winger. That’s not saving his career. #FAIL

  • Mike Kennelly

    Always love Reading your insightful and positive articles. This one in particular mainly for the reason that I didn’t give up on Bennett like a massive ammount of Fans threw him under the bus and wanted to trade him.

  • Calgarycandle

    A tangent–not on Bennett. The close Flames do not have many games left to figure things out. Peter Maher said you could usually tell what a team was by the 40 game mark.

    If so, we have a .500 playoff bubble team which aside from brief interludes has not been able to get its entire game on track at once all season. If the PK sucks the power play is hot and then the opposite is true. If the high danger shots are reduced, the offence dries up.

    Starting with Chicago, the Flames need to win need just play hard, put in a good effort and then walk away without points. They need to learn to win in the Dome–they are sub-.500, not exactly an example of their goal of being a hard team to play against at home.

    If they were to have a winning streak–even a modest one– of three or four games they be back in the thick of it. After all they are only 4/5 points out of a divisional and wild card spots. A few more good efforts in a losing course and except for a miracle their season is sunk.

    I for one certainly hope they have the pieces on and off the bench to pull it together this year. We all had such high expectations coming into this season when 100 points was the goal, not the low 80’s out of the playoffs we are currently on track for.

      • Calgarycandle

        Checked out Twitter. Shannon was pretty vague. I wonder how serious these adjustments are. If I’m freaking out about a season going down the drain, Tre must be far more stressed! Call-ups, trades, what kind of adjustments?

        • Primo

          Only speculating…I think one or both of Lazar/Freddie are finally going to be demoted or in Lazar’s case moved. That gives Mangi/Hrvit a call up. If anything more significant then I see Brodie or Stone moved for a RW…..

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        They have said this before. Changes coming. That usually means Bart comes in, or Lazar comes in to replace Stajan. Perhaps BT has already explained this with the trade for Prout, in which case th 7th guy gets sent down, be it Gully fave Bart or scapegoat Kulak. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Bart sent down and Prout be the extra, perhaps getting in against bigger teams. Doesn’t solve the lack of goal scoring that started when we “tightened up the defense”. 40+ shots and one goal for isn’t exactly something to be proud of.

    • cberg

      A week ago the Flames were in a playoff spot and we were saying the same things. They are dropping like a rock. In two more weeks the playoffs will be a distant memory.

    • Cheeky

      Before doing any drastic big trade (that I’m sure we’ll regret down the road), dismiss this amateur coaching staff and see how this team and players can actually perform under an experienced coach…

  • EhPierre

    I always knew Bennet would come around; he’s my favourite Flames player. The kid was an all star in the OHL, you just don’t lose those skills overnight. He just had bad bounces and had to carry some subpar linemates. It’s nice to see him finally play with someone of his age and contribute on the PP/PK/OT. He still needs to improve on quite a few areas but he is young and a smart player so he’ll learn

    • The Penn

      Benny being dragged down by the anchors on this team for sometime .Now playing with some youth makes him better. The whole team is now is being dragged down by anchors. Time to rid them of the anchors and replace them with youth .Makes sense to me. Why can’t GG see this .We all do get your head out of the sand or get gone before this season is to far gone.

    • In the year 3 A.C.

      Let’s not count Bennett a success yet just because he had a couple of weeks putting some points up. He scored 4 goals once too then disappeared for another year before showing up again.

      • Cfan in Van

        That’s not all he did that year. He had 18 goals as a rookie that season. Combined with 18A, that’s not bad. He actually had a more productive season after the four goal outburst than before it, so…

  • Cheeky

    Interesting article, so basically trying Bennett on wing has worked out so far (like a few on here suggested). Also using youthful linemates with him rather than boat anchors has worked out (like a few on here suggested). I guess most fans really don’t know what they are talking about…

    • oddclod

      Exactly. What do ex-hockey players and educated fans know about hockey over a word spinning newspaper man? We were right. Again. Always too little too late for this team. #GETTINGOLD