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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bennett’s role is becoming more clear

Sam Bennett is perhaps the most polarizing member of the Calgary Flames. Some love how hard he plays and believe there’s offensive potential yet to be unlocked. Conversely, others see flashes of promise mixed in with long stretches of general ineffectiveness. While I tend to be in the latter group, I also don’t think it’s time for Calgary to move on. In need of a new contract, Bennett looks to be an affordable forward for the Flames at worst, which isn’t a bad thing.

The story so far

So much of Bennett’s four years in the NHL has been defined by where he was drafted. Being selected fourth overall in 2014 brought with it excitement and sky-high expectations. Approaching half a decade in the league, though, I think it’s time to forget where Bennett was drafted and start looking at him for what he is. Doing so allows for an evaluation with less emotion attached.

Bennett’s fourth NHL season was very much in line with what we’ve seen from him throughout his career. Playing largely as a middle six winger, nothing about Bennett’s counting numbers or underlying metrics jumped off the page.

GP G Rank PTS Rank G/60 Rank P/60 Rank CF% Rank OZS%
71 13 9th 27 12th 0.67 11th 1.57 14th 53.5 14th 54.1

The career path for Bennett has been odd, mainly because things got off to a promising start. Bennett was a junior hockey beast prior to debuting with Calgary late in the 2014-15 campaign; he had an assist in his only regular season game and made an impact in 11 playoff appearances. Bennett followed that up with 18 goals in his first full season, but hasn’t been able to get back to those rookie totals.

Season GP G A PTS
2015-16 77 18 18 36
2016-17 81 13 13 26
2017-18 82 11 15 26
2018-19 71 13 14 27

The same is generally true from an underlying perspective, specifically when it comes to production. For whatever reason, Bennett just hasn’t been able to impact things offensively the same way he did as a rookie. It’s not like you can point to unsustainable percentages, either; while slightly higher as a rookie, Bennett’s shooting percentage has been fairly steady throughout.

Season G/60 P/60 SH% CF% OZS%
2015-16 0.86 1.67 13.2 48.7 54.0
2016-17 0.48 1.21 10.7 48.7 56.0
2017-18 0.61 1.41 7.0 52.6 59.2
2018-19 0.67 1.57 11.3 53.5 54.1

Bennett’s NHL body of work is over 300 games now and everything I’ve seen suggests the statistics above, counting and underlying, are representative of the way he’s played. He belongs in the league, he’s not “terrible” by any means, but he’s not a big time impact maker.

Of course, there are other ways that Bennett impacts a game and those can’t be completely discounted. He’s one of Calgary’s few forwards with a physical edge to his game, which has endeared him to home crowds numerous times. Bennett works hard and is consistent with that ethic; to this point, it just hasn’t paid off where it matters most.

The playoff bump

Give Bennett credit: he brings it in the post-season. While the sample size is significantly smaller, Bennett has been more effective in playoff action than in the regular season. That’s plain to see by watching and is backed up by the numbers.

Bennett has 11 points in 20 career playoff games and was the Flames’ best forward for most of their short-lived 2019 playoff run. He led the team with five points in five games against Colorado and made a far bigger impact at the most important time of year. That is a trend we’ve seen in three playoff runs for Bennett.

Game Type GP G/60 P/60
Regular season 311 0.66 1.43
Playoffs 20 1.01 1.77

What’s interesting is how people value what we’ve seen from Bennett in the playoffs. Some believe his ability to thrive in the postseason environment puts him a whole lot closer to “untouchable” than others who are more dismissive due to sample size. Where Calgary values Bennett’s playoff work likely lies somewhere in the middle.

A fair evaluation

My opinion on Bennett’s role with this team also lies somewhere in the middle. By no means do I believe an untouchable tag is warranted and I understand if the Flames see him as a potential trade piece. In saying that, I don’t believe it’s time for Calgary to move on and/or to be actively shopping him.

With a July 27 arbitration date in the offing, we’ll get clarity on Bennett’s next deal soon enough. One thing is for sure, though: we’re not talking about a massive raise on Bennett’s $1.95 million AAV from the last two seasons. Bennett may never live up to the expectations of a fourth overall selection, but he’s fine as a middle six winger on the Flames.

With Brad Treliving’s contract history, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll keep providing Calgary value for the next number of years.

  • Budgie

    Bennett is a Centre, I’d like to see him play Centre on the second line, that could be a top line when matching teams like Colorado’s top line that killed us in the Playoffs.

    I would trade Backlund and Frolik-my target-Josh Anderson on Columbus-1.85 mill upcoming season then RFA
    Gadreau LW, Monahan C, Lindholm R.

    Tkachuk LW, Bennett C, Anderson RW

    I’d put this 2nd. line out against Colorado’s Flame Killers in the Playoffs . Landeskog, MacKinnon.Rantanen–it might slow them down. Gadreau’s Purple Gator line would actually be the 2nd. line for that match up.

    Mangiapane LW, Ryan C, Neal RW = 3 rd. line

    Dube LW, Jankowski C, Czarnik RW—Dube is also a Centre, versatile player he has to get promoted

    Some of the prospects that have looked promising will be brought up in case of injury-like Pospisil, Pettersson, Koumontzis, Phillips, they can fill in. Develop them, or bring up a pro like Lomberg

    • withachance

      What part of his NHL career thinks he can match top tier lines as a centre, a position he’s struggled with every time he’s played there in the league. Why would Columbus trade Anderson?

      This sounds great in a fantasy world, it’s just too bad we dont live in that world

      • Budgie

        What should Calgary do then? After seeing Colorado stifle Calgary’s offense, if your top line can’t match another teams then you try something else, nothing wrong with using a quasi checking line-Bob Johnson didn’t try to match the Gretzsky line with offense, he used tight checking and hitting.
        Columbus lost many players, offer them something decent that gives us Cap Space and secures us a physical player with size. Do you remember the size of Colorados top line? They were fast, and hard to move off the puck-Gadreau, Monahan, and Lindholm didn’t get to free wheel. Too bad addressing a problem is what you call “Fantasy’ I’m glad you aren’t a GM. Its called deal-making and improving your team-so far Calgary hasn’t done anything but draft another small player and lose Hathaway.

      • Baalzamon

        What part of his NHL career thinks he can match top tier lines as a centre, a position he’s struggled with every time he’s played there in the league

        That’s not quite true. The best hockey Bennett has ever played in his career to date (in the regular season) was at center at the beginning of his rookie year. Yes, even better than the time he spent on Backlund’s wing that year (though people choose not to remember that).

      • Budgie

        Yes, but what to do with Neal? Dube actually would be a centre ideally-Ryan wins the draw, Mangiapanne has speed and Neal can go to the Net-how do you know its weak? Our top line was weak against Colorado but would you say it is a weak line in general? No, they were one of the top lines in the regular season.

    • Sir ryosus

      I don’t think trading on hope a player will be able to move up the line up is wise. Not opposed to try Benny at 2c but not trade backs first because if Benny fails then what? Would like to see Benny and byng together.

  • buts

    Face it people SB is a bottom 6 player no more. He’s great in the playoffs but during the regular season he is what he is. SB is definitely not a centre as his play making ability and vision on the ice is not that of a centreman, quite frankly he’s a terrible passer. Anything over 2.5 to 2.9 is an overpay and if he wants more you got to trade him.

  • Herringchoker1971

    The one thing boys I will say is I agree with Director. I know Sammy was supposed to be the big gamer number 4 pick. Lets please put this into perspective. Poor high prospect management from season 2 onward. How do you expect to be that big time player on a third line with some of the worst highest paid players in franchise history in Brouwer, Neal and a 400 year old broken down Jagr. I mean seriously. Not to mention he was playing along with a young center in Janko who is also trying to find his way. You don’t think that Tkuchuk playing with Backlund and Frolik his whole career hasn’t helped make him be who he is. Of course it has. I really want to see Bennett start on that second line RW next season and stay there for a while so he can adjust. See what he is really with no excuses. He needs to be with guys who can finish and will cycle and bang. Thats his game. Now I suggested that last year and they stuck with Frolik so we’ll see.

    If Neal has to take that second line RW spot to find his game then move Sammy to second line center and Backlund to the 3rd line and move Janko to the 3rd line wing where I think he fits better anyways. I’m assuming at this point a defenceman (not sure who) will be traded or bought out and that’s the end of the off season moves. Dube will spend one more full season in the AHL to slow cook until they can trade Frolik. Which is realistic.

    I think my lineup below is possible as of today for me. I would like a bit more size on that 4th line to be honest. If Neal shows up this season then you trade Frolik at the TDL for picks. Or you just lose him to free agency if you have to…..who cares. I’m second guessing trading Frolik until you see what Neal shows up next season. If the “Real Deal” is a bust again then at least Frolik gives you options to move around the lineup as the young guys find consistancy.

    Gaudreau Monny Lindy
    Chucky Bennett Neal
    Janko Backlund Frolik
    Mangi Ryan Lomberg/Czarnik/Dube

  • Trevy

    Trade rumours between the Flames and Oilers are not going away. This time, as per Gregor, sees Lucic/Russell for Neal/Frolik. At least we have rumours to keep us amused so far