Why trading Sam Bennett now would be a mistake

The highly coveted first rounder’s rookie season was full of promise. Two goals shy of 20. More than 35 points despite limited ice time. He played with an edge and the upside was obvious.

But the sequel was disappointing and he was labelled an enigma. His second professional season was a step backward and the doubts he would ever fulfill his potential began early.

Despite the familiarity you may be feeling, we’re not talking about the Calgary Flames’ Sam Bennett here. This was Todd Bertuzzi’s entry into the NHL.

After a few inconsistent seasons to start his own career, there’s no telling yet what Bennett may be capable of. But Bertuzzi’s story is as good as any to illustrate why the Flames should avoid the temptation to trade young Bennett amid all the chatter that other teams are circling to take advantage.

Drafted 23rd overall in 1993, Bertuzzi went to the New York Islanders organization with the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. Despite his respectable start as a 19-year-old rookie, Bertuzzi didn’t sustain that pace in his second season. He didn’t respond to criticism well, either, and asked GM Mike Milbury for a trade as a sophomore who was playing too “soft” for the team brass’ liking.

Milbury responded with a demotion to the minors. The 13-game stint (during which Bertuzzi scored five goals and 10 points) did nothing for his confidence or his play. His third year saw the numbers decline even more. Through 52 games, he’d scored just seven times and accumulated 18 points before he got his wish — a trade to the Vancouver Canucks.

His new coach was Iron Mike Keenan, who despite his reputation realized the big man he’d just acquired had a sensitive side that needed to be nurtured.

“He had dealt with a certain level of rejection,” Keenan told ESPN The Magazine back in 2002. “There were unrealistic expectations, and he put a great deal of pressure on his own game. I tried to get him to understand it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”

The change of scenery helped Bertuzzi — still just 23 — become one of the most dominant power forwards in the league, reaching his peak in 2002-03 with 46 goals and 97 points.

That story didn’t really have a happy ending, with The Incident changing the narrative forever. But even with that unfortunate event affecting Bertuzzi’s later years, the winger racked up really good numbers with 314 goals and 770 points in 1,159 regular season games over 18 seasons.

The Flames would be thrilled with that kind of production and longevity from Bennett, who has also struggled with expectations — the organization’s as well as his own —  while managing just 42 goals and 89 points through his first 241 games heading into his fourth season.

The pressures of being the Flames’ highest-ever draft pick at fourth overall in 2014 came in tandem with comparisons to feisty ex-Flames forward Doug Gilmour, who also happened to be Bennett’s junior coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. Bennett’s 55 goals, 155 points and 219 penalty minutes in 128 OHL games had Flames fans frothing for their shiny new forward.

Like Bertuzzi, an 18-goal (and 36 points in 77 games) rookie season from Bennett added to the excitement. But that love affair in Years Two and Three faded along with declining goal totals (13 in 2016-17 and 11 last year) and identical 26-point sums.

We’ve been teased by the chemistry he showed on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik as a rookie, and brief stretches of strong play since — like the 10 points in 12 games he earned nine months ago while paired with Mark Jankowski — but he has remained an enigma of inconsistency.

That vexation is why his name comes up in trade rumours so often.

Showing more signs of finding his stride now in his fourth season, Bennett added his second official goal Friday night (he’s also had a pair waved off through the first seven games) and has three points nearly a month earlier than he hit that mark last year (Nov. 13). People aren’t forgetting the struggles of the past two seasons, but they’re remembering why they were so enthusiastic about him after the draft.

And the 22-year-old is still younger than Bertuzzi was at the time of his move to Vancouver.

Bennett is showing some speed and grit on the forecheck, a fearlessness going to the net, and the strength and skill necessary to finish plays there, too. He’s taking minor penalties, but he’s drawing them, too, because he’s regularly pushing forward in the attacking zone.

The bottom line is that nothing that they would get in return for the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder would be as likely to hit those Bertuzzi numbers as Bennett himself.

A new coaching staff in Calgary may have been all the fresh start Bennett needed.

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      I would also trade Bennett if the return was right. But it would have to be a Bennett-like player who is even better, or a legit starting goalie, neither of which will happen. I have a feeling he’ll be a beast all season long and we’ll LOVE him in the playoffs.

    • Luter 1

      One recommendation for Byng though, too much reacting to phantom high sticks and other stuff. The refs aren’t calling them and also nowlegitimate penalties because he’s doing too much of it. Johnny takes a lot of abuse too but should tone it down too with complaining to the ref because it’s a fact refs don’t like being burned by phantom calls and have long memories. Byng should look at throwing a few more bone-crushing checks like Bennett every game.

  • Justthateasy

    A trade is a fresh start which is what he already has with the new coach. Bennett has shown the desire and patience and all we need to do is show patience!

  • Squishin

    I like this player, and I think he can be something great.
    The Gulutzan years were harmful to his development. He wasn’t allowed to grow and make mistakes. I am very excited to see where Bennett’s skills are four years from now.

    • BendingCorners

      I’m no fan of GG but I don’t understand your comment and hope you can explain.
      Bennett last year tried to do it all himself and couldn’t. The team didn’t have the forward depth to play him with good linemates. That was a BT issue not a GG issue.
      Brodie last year had a weak partner and played on his wrong side. Maybe pairing him with Hamilton would have worked better but this year he is with Giordano on his right side and he still has brain cramps, still chases the puck carrier and abandons his position.
      I didn’t like GG because he lacked emotion, played for.the tie and didn’t seem able to prepare and motivate the team. But I didn’t and still don’t see how he negatively affected those two players more significantly than the other players.

      • Kevin R

        Simply because GG did not adapt & make changes in a positive way. He rolled the same f*****g starting lineup game after game & did not change until it was too late at the end of the season & he had to. GG was a horrible coach.

        • BendingCorners

          Yes GG was a bad coach and rigidity was part of the problem. On the other hand, a lineup that had Stajan, Brouwer, Glass, Stewart and Lazar as options was unlikely to become good just by moving Bennett to a different line or putting the lines in a blender. I’m happy that BP replaced GG but replacing four of last year’s plugs with Dube, Czarnik, Ryan and Neal makes a big difference too.

  • Korcan

    Good article. I agree 100%. My opinion is that you don’t give up on blue-chip prospects before age 25 (unless you NEED to trade them for a critical upgrade in another position or for an equally promising prospect). My reasoning is even though they are physically developed and mature, their brains are still developing and don’t mature until around age 25. As we all can agree, being an effective NHLer is as much about processing the game at an elite level as it is the physical attributes of the athlete. I believe the reason players tend to peak in their mid to later 20s isn’t because their skills are peaking then so much as it is because they are finally thinking the game better due to their brain maturing. So Tre, please don’t trade Sam, he looks to be taking that next step and, like big Bert, could still prove to be the stud we all hope he becomes.

  • RKD

    I don’t know if he will get back to his 1st season level he’s really young but this season he seems to playing well each and every game and cut down on the dumb penalties. So what if he isn’t a 1st or 2nd top end offensive talent he can still be a very effective 3rd liner with some offense.

  • TheBear64

    At the start of the season, my opinion of Bennett was that he needed to step up his game, or the Flames should trade him. So far, he has stepped up big-time. Even early on, when he wasn’t scoring, he was working so hard and doing lots of things right. It’s paying off nicely for him now, and I hope that he’s now gained enough confidence in his game to put together a very good season.

  • oilcanboyd

    Seems nearly everyone wants to trade Sammy except Flames Management. They see his upside and for a 22 year old and currently on a low risk high reward contract for the Flames he is performing well.

  • Jakethesnail?

    It’s time to cut bait and move on. Would still be able to get a second rounder for him but that’s it. He is a third line winger that can play top six when called upon.
    If we accept it and he is not overpaid then he can hang around.

    • Puck Head

      Bennett is one of the best players on the squad right know Jobu. If he can sustain it and build on it there is no way he should be moved. I’d buy a ticket just to watch him at this point. The guy’s on a terror.

  • FlushedOut

    He’s not ridiculously overpaid, and as underperforming as he has been the last 2 years because of his draft spot he is still a solid bottom six player. If that’s all he ever becomes what is the problem with that that some people want to trade him for anything. He still has grit and a 2 way game to his play. Unless you get an unbelievable offer what is the problem with keeping him at this point in his career.

  • SeanCharles

    The more I’ve researched things in regards to Bennett the more I’ve realized that there have been a number of factors that have contributed to his lack of success the last 2 seasons.

    The first reason is due to himself.. I feel like he, much like Baertschi, came in with the weight of the world on his shoulders because he was eager to perform. After a stellar playoff run and rookie season you become a little bit more noticed in the league and its part of the reason the ‘softmore slump’ moniker exists.

    He didn’t perform as well in his second season under a new coach, with new expectations and now some league recognition.

    In his softmore year he was also consistently playing with guys that were nowhere near the level of Backlund and Frolik so his icetime and production decreased.

    His 3rd year was much of the same, but one thing I think I didn’t quite realize until further investigation is that being paired with Jankowski didn’t really do him any favours.

    Jankowski only had 8 assists last year and after viewing them all it became obvious that Jankowski is not much of a playmaker in the offensive zone. Every assist was a scramble in front or from something that began in the neutral zone. I didn’t even notice Janko on most plays as Bennett was the player flying around the ice causing havoc.

    Jankowski is a player that currently has a play style that is conducive to cycling the puck and driving the net for tips and rebounds. He isn’t much for setting up his teammates on the rush. I’ve always liked Jankowski so it was harder for me to identify this issue because I think Bennett has that speed and tenacity that is more useful for a line that likes to score on the rush or make nice plays into the slot.

    I still think Janko can sort out his game and find his niche but I think he’s been given too much credit because of his 17 goal rookie season. He is still young so I’m not wanting to give up on him, especially considering his size, reach and slick hands. He just wasn’t a good fit with Bennett and it didn’t seem obvious until this season seeing him with other players.

    I’ve always been a big supporter of Bennett because he has the package of skills that could make him a great player, I think he’s finally on his way to putting it all together.

    I’d be pissed if we traded any of Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Lindholm, Backlund, Bennett or Dube upfront. Bennett was even on that list the last 2 years because I know his potential and love the way he plays. If he continues down this path we are going to be setup well with how young all our top forwards are.

  • Luter 1

    Every player brings different strengths to the team. Bennett brings intangibles such as bodychecks that actually hurt opponents. If you haven’t noticed the NHL players of today like to keep games non-contact as much as possible as they are all carrying around very fat wallets in their pockets. Bennett doesn’t care if your Subban or Joe 7th defenseman, he will paste you. Invaluable on this team sorely lacking of this commodity. He is potentially a better, younger version of Neal, and everybody was frothing at the mouth when we got him. If you give up on the Bennett’s, Janks, Mangiapane’s, even Kulak, then your entrusting scouts and Treliving to bring in guys like way overpaid Ryan, Czarnik, even Neal (I still like him), Stone, Brouwer, etc. at the expense of young guys. How’s that working for us!!!
    And please find a new home for Brodie, he is digressing and his one strong asset – skating is now only average in this faster league. His strength and shot are minor league at best and he seems disinterested in the game actually most of the time. Find a dance partner and trade him, our young guys will benefit.

  • TKO

    welcome back to the Bennett band wagon folks… going to be nice to see his 25 goal, 50 point season as our bottom six give other teams fits
    this team is much deeper than previous versions, and early in the seaosn, we are seeing the evidence.once this team tightens the defensive zone, they will take their place on top of the pacific division.