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.

  • calgaryfan

    He has not found his role with the Flames. I believe he has played for 3 different head coaches and played every forward position. I hoped he would be a first line go to guy, don’t know what to think of him now, he does not seem to be improving just running in place.

  • 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

      • 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

        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.

      • 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.

    • cjc

      IIRC, Bennett didn’t play much with Brouwer (Brouwer was mostly on the fourth line). According to Natural Stat Trick, Neal was his fourth most common linemate (after Jankowski, and slightly behind Backlund and Tkachuk). Bennett only played ~30% of his 5v5 minutes with Neal on the ice. So if Bennett was “saddled” with anyone, it was Jankowski.

      Despite seeing easier opponents and more favorable zone starts, Bennett-Jankowski-X had worse underlyings and lower production than the 3M line. Yet some people are clamoring for Backlund to be demoted/traded and Bennett-Jankowski promoted to second line duties. It makes no sense.

      • HOCKEY83

        He has not had the exteneded opportunity to play with skill or amount of ice time as tkachuk has been given since entering the league or even Ferland was given with out having earned it. I’d love to see him go to a team that needs a top six guy and play with some skill on his line and get more minutes. He’s been wasted here as a high draft pick.

        • cjc

          This is a team in its contention window though. The team doesn’t have the time to let Bennett figure out how to play in the top 6 when there are others who can fill the role just fine. Tkachuk lit the league on fire the day he joined, and Ferland did better with his tryout on the top line than Bennett did. Bennett hasn’t been wasted here, he just hasn’t done enough to prove he deserves more.

  • KootenayFlamesFan

    I think Bennett is a solid regular season player and a great playoff player. With the right linemates I think he would shine. Have him centre Tkachuk and someone else who plays a similar game. Anderson from the above post is a great option, just not sure we want to lose Backlund as our 3C.

    I have also never seen a hockey player with worse luck than Bennett. The bounces just keep going the wrong way for him. If that ever changes, look out!!

    • Budgie

      Anderson may not be available, someone of similar characteristics-he’s 220 lbs, 6’3″ fast and can score-if you need Cap Space and room on the Roster for Dube you have to give up a good player or two-Frolik, and Brodie have been mentioned the most-we are crowded at Centre, Bennett might be a better Centre, his Junior success was at Centre-Time to make a deal for a young big Right Winger with skill and speed. Who can go from Centre that can bring a decent return?

  • cjc

    If it’s under 2.75 AAV and less than 4 seasons, I can stomach that. Anything more seems like an overpay given his ice time, production and role on the team.

  • HarveysFleaCollar

    This kid should be the 2nd line center. A line (with current roster) of
    Tkachuk Bennett Lindholm
    Would be pretty good, grit, defensive responsible, scoring touch, physical, and two guys who can play center..

  • Mitchell

    At the beginning of the season I thought he was great. I thought he was creating chances, and space for his linemates with his physical play. I dont think his counting numbers for that stretch of play was representative of his impact since he was playing on the third line for the majority of that time. I think he struggles with consistency, but when hes on he can be one of calgarys best forwards. However, he has long stretches of ineffectiveness between his short stretches of great hockey.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • SouthernFlame

    Compher just signed for $3.5 mill for 4 years. Sam should come in around $2.8 for 4 years or 3 for 2. I would sign him for $3.2 x 10 years. The heart and soul of this team. One of the best players to go to battle in the corners.

    • Kevin R

      I just saw that as well & actually Bennett’s stats are pretty bang on if not a tad better than Comphers. Definitely I see Benny’s agent using this in his case. I would love to see us get Benny locked down for these numbers for 4-5 years. Trash away but third line solid players that are playoff driven will easily command 3.0 + per.

  • Luter 1

    Very poorly managed from the beginning. Should have spent time on the farm then played with some real sucky players like Neal. I still think he has unused potential and the fact we are soft as pudding, makes him untouchable in my opinion. Surprised at Steinberg not recognizing the lack/need of truculence on this team and Benny one of few that brings it. “His physical edge…….can’t be completely discounted”?? Uh no kidding, the game of hockey when it gets to the important time of the year, balances on that physical component…..exactly why the most “talented” teams don’t always win and why we were out in 5 games.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Sam is just an average player, if he was drafted in the third round, I wonder what the discussion would be. He’s had 4 years to prove himself, I think he’s a 15 to 20 goal scorer. I’d keep him because of his grit, which we lack.

    • cjc

      Exactly – that’s why the article said we need to ignore his draft position. If he was a third rounder we’d be talking about how pleasantly surprised we were and we most certainly wouldn’t be saying he needs a promotion to 2C or first line wing.

      I do think Bennett’s early injury problems hampered his career a bit.

  • Skylardog

    If it goes to arbitration he will get 1 year at 2.5 to 2.75. I can live with that. Another show me year ahead, but as a first line guy with JG, that has been proven as a pipe dream.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am pulling for Sam Bennett to be the player we all hoped he would be but the reality is that his play has been spotty. There is little point to talking about Bennett’s playoff contribution when his play in the regular season hardly gets us in the playoffs. Players have been injured and Bennett’s name always comes up as the player to move up to the top 6. There is a lot of hype but very little results. I tend to agree that he has bad luck and has played with some a average line mates, but can’t help but notice he does not score goal scorer goals irrespective of his line mates

    Now players like Janko and Mangi have demonstrated they can create offense without being surrounded by top line talent. Bennett has always been given the benefit of the doubt…being drafted 4 th overall gives some latitude. I see Bennett as an energy player that will always have a role but top 6 scoring is not it. I see players like Janko, Mangi, and Dube as excelling more in a top 6 role more than Bennett.

    Janko has been bumped up to play in the top 6 once that I can remember (that includes preseason) it was in a nothing game and scored 4 goals.

    Players look at being on a line with Johnny as winning the lottery but really only Tkachuk and Bennett have been given the chance. Given the lack of offense Bennett has shown on the top line when given a chance, it is hard to imagine how Mangi or Dube could not have more success with the same opportunity.

  • jagrlegend

    I don’t see Sammy developing into an elite scorer in the N. I love his grit and tenacity, but his low hockey IQ isn’t going to translate into great scoring numbers. He can skate and looks great on the rush until he tries to force a pass or dangle the d man that just knocks the puck off his stick and turns the play the other way. If we’re going to keep him around, it’ll probably be a contract around 3mil for 3 years.

    If we’re looking at trading the guy, and we’ve been linked to Minnesota, what about something like Frolik and Benny for Greenway plus? We shed Frolik’s contract, get a big, hard nosed forward in Greenway in return to replace Benny on the 3rd line, and possibly a decent pick or prospect back. I think there’s a hockey trade to be made there, but I’m not sure Tre wants to move on from Benny quite yet.

  • slapshot444

    Every day I click the Flames Nation site expecting to read about a trade, buyout or signing. This is the slowest offseason ever. Only 2 and 1/2 months til next season. Sigh.

  • drogon

    Sam Bennett looks like a good kid, person.
    He was being mentored by our best center ever, Doug Gilmour.
    Looking at many videos, there are 2 patterns:
    1- When he has the puck, he seems clueless. Is it due to a low IQ or perhaps a lack of creativity.
    2- His level of nervousness is quite high, if he can reduce it, he will get way more points, especially at close range.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      I think another season of BP will help, if this is the case. He has looked more comfortable, off and on, under BPs. I think confidence is key with him.

      And I daresay, I think his ‘creativity’ is actually a problem! Bennett tries to do way too much out there. He tries to force plays that aren’t there, deke guys that he can’t deke, etc etc. He has skill. He can pass. He has a decent shot.

      The problem is he is trying to play like a top 5 draft pick with second-third line overall ability.

      I think he would be much more effective if he played a more simple game. There is nothing wrong with that. When he has slowed down his game to the level at which he can perform/process the plays, he has looked like a second line-third line winger.

      He is in the process of making this switch, but time will tell if he can make it in time.

      I still believe in him.

      • drogon

        @Brian McGrattan… I agree, good analysis.
        Watching videos, he still plays like he’s in the OHL.
        If he can calm down, have fun again, this is hockey, this should be fun.
        Hopefully he’s still in touch with Doug Gilmour.
        The first thing you notice is that his skating is really good, very fluid.
        He’s not a 26 points player.

    • Albertabeef

      Doug Gilmour was definitely not the Flame’s best ever center lol. He wasn’t even the best center on that cup winning team. I’d give that best Flame’s center to Kent Nilsson or Joe Nieuwendyk. Conny had a “Gilmour” type stats season with Iggy. At a point in time when all good players were scoring 30 goals(Pepper scored 30 with the Flames one season), Gilmour never scored more than 26 goals in a season while with the Flames. Just had to clear that up :).

      • buts

        What! Gil our was thee best centre on that team. He did all the dirty work, penalty killing, setting up Mullen. Neuwy was just getting his feet wet playing sheltered minutes on the PP and regular shifts on the 3rd line.

        • Albertabeef

          Oh you mean Joel Otto! Sorry, “Gilmour” is a swear in my house. He was never a favorite player of mine. Otto only had 3 points less in that playoff run. Can’t be that good if Otto is within three points of you lol.

  • 89Flames

    Do not trade Benny. Give him a better role this season and stick with it! Let him make mistakes without immediately punishing him. Let his confidence grow. He has obvious skill and if you trade him now, another team will utilize him properly and we’ll regret it

  • Korcan

    My opinion regarding blue-chip prospects remains unchanged. If the skill level is there, even if displayed inconsistently, then you must be patient.

    My belief is that players generally don’t peak until around age 25 (elite talents are the exception to this generalization), not because their skills/talents are still developing, but because their brains are still developing and will so until about age 25. The skillset is already there, but their ability to think the game at an NHL level is still evolving.

    I believe player statistics bear this out. If you go through team rosters i would argue that for most players there is a notable improvement in their age 25 season (give or take one year). There are obvious exceptions, especially with elite talents who reach that top level of play much earlier, but generally speaking i believe statistics support my theory.

    Does this mean Bennett will be a point-per-game player in his age 25 season? One can only hope. I am confident, however, that he can become a consistent 20 goal, 50 point player who also brings an edge to his game and elevates his play when it matters most.

    These are the type of players all GMs are looking for, because they know that their team needs these types if they have any hope of becoming Stanley Cup champions. Calgary already has one in Sam Bennett, so why would Treliving give hime away? Patience will be rewarded.

  • b

    Here’s a thought, loosely tied to this article (or not). Looking at the roster the Flames have currently signed plus the RFA’s left to sign and last year’s point per minute totals for forwards: if you simply take the best p/min the lines would look like this (putting players in their potential positions on each line):

    Obviously points are only one factor, but it paints an interesting picture in that Bennett doesn’t make the top 9, Backlund doesn’t make the top 6, and Neal doesn’t make the top 12. Sample size is obviously small for Quine, but I’m glad they signed him based on this and his AHL stat line.

    • Budgie

      That is a real makeover-Tkachuk switching to RW-I like the Purple Gatorade line of Gadreau, Monahan, Lindholm
      Tkachuk will be on the powerplay with Gadreau. Quine would be getting quite a promotion, I think he’d start on 4th. line.
      It is interesting but too many players are out of their preferred positions. What about the Defense? Any ideas?

      • b

        Defence would need a different metric (Corsi god forbid?), as point production would be less relevant. I was surprised at Quine’s point/min production as well! I know he had a couple of good games that will be bolstering that and again small sample size!

      • b

        This doesn’t consider potential, unfortunately Dube was out of the top 12 for points/min last season (in the NHL). I’m hopeful that changes this coming season.