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.
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.
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.
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.
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.