161Sam Bennett

Timing the biggest question for a potential Sam Bennett trade

Reaction has been mixed since Elliotte Friedman’s Saturday revelation Sam Bennett has requested a trade. Knowing how these things go, it’s fair to assume Bennett will be playing elsewhere in the not-so-distant future. That said, there are two important angles to consider here. First and foremost: when is the best time for the Flames to make this happen?

Timing

We have no idea when Bennett made his initial trade request. Was it in the off-season? Was it more recent? Now that it’s public, though, the public countdown clock has started, fair or not. General manager Brad Treliving has a number of things to weigh here.

The obvious place to start is the “he will become a problem” angle, which I honestly don’t think applies here. Everything I know about Sam suggests he isn’t the kind of player to force or actively play his way out of town. Bennett is very well liked by his teammates, enjoys being in Calgary, and is wired to go hard every shift (sometimes to his own detriment). Regardless of how long it takes for the Flames to fulfill his request, I just can’t see Bennett becoming an issue.

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In saying that, there’s always the human side of things to consider. I fully believe Bennett will be a a straight up professional for as long as this takes. But he’s also not a robot. This is about opportunity and if the guy feels like doors aren’t going to open in Calgary, it’s only natural for performance to be affected.

We’ve all been there, right? If you don’t love your work situation, it can be tough to consistently perform at your highest level, as hard and professionally as you might try. Bennett’s situation is no different, in my opinion. Whether this went public or not, not allowing this to drag out unnecessarily makes sense for the Flames as much as it does for Bennett. With more eyes on this situation now, however, there’s more incentive for Calgary to sensibly expedite this.

There’s one snag the team has to, and will, consider: the current forward depth. Through seven games, free agent signings Josh Leivo, Dominik Simon, and Joakim Nordstrom haven’t provided the depth boost the Flames were hoping for. Say what you want about Bennett, but he’s an everyday top-nine NHL forward. As such, subtracting him from the lineup in-season becomes harder to do unless Calgary’s forward depth improves.

A forward swap with a pair of players looking for new homes would address that worry. For instance, we’ve seen deals involving Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen or Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi suggested online. Something like that would allow the Flames to fulfill Bennett’s request without losing an NHL forward.

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Conversely, a Bennett deal returning a pick or prospect would allow Calgary to free up $2.55 million in cap space, assuming no salary is retained. In this economic climate, added flexibility is a huge asset and could help the Flames come the trade deadline and/or the off-season. Finally, if the two sides can wait until the end of the season, Bennett would be an RFA and free to negotiate with his new team.

All of this is to say two things: this is complicated and there’s a lot to consider.

Return

I’m even more uncertain on this part. How is Bennett perceived around the league? Are his recent playoff performances, specifically in the 2020 bubble, enough to convince interested teams Bennett has potential to be unlocked? Or are Bennett’s frustrating regular seasons the main body of work being judged on? Your guess is as good as mine.

I do know Calgary has had Bennett trade conversations in the past. For instance, there was plenty of buzz about a Bennett deal at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. The Flames would end up sending Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton to Carolina for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Bennett’s name was a part of those discussions at some point.

We’re talking about a former fourth overall selection who has shown flashes of brilliance in his five full NHL seasons. As a pending restricted free agent with a palatable cap hit, I believe the Flames will be able to find a trade partner for Bennett. I struggle more, however, trying to get a firm grasp on what Calgary can realistically expect in return.

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For me, a deal allowing the Flames to free up all or most of Bennett’s cap hit is the most ideal scenario, even if it happens during the season. Increased daily cap space could end up being a weapon for Treliving further down the line. That would involve a deal with a prospect or pick coming back the other way and limited salary retention, if any at all. A deal like that is a possibility, although the pool of teams with the necessary cap space is limited.

A straight player swap is interesting, too, but doesn’t come with the same tantalizing cap possibilities. Either way, and save a change of heart from Bennett, it’s in the best interest for both the player and team to get something done as soon as they can. A deal has to make sense for Calgary, of course, and the Bennett camp understands that. But now that this is all public, holding off longer than needed doesn’t do anyone any favours.