Sam Bennett is a free agent this summer. But unlike Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau last summer, Bennett isn’t in line for a major raise over his entry level contract. His relatively disappointing sophomore season of 13 goals and 26 points puts him well outside of the typical “six-year second contract” group of young players.
Which usually means it’s time for a “bridge” deal: a short-term “prove it” contract between one and three years. This gives the team flexibility to further evaluate the player while he develops and it gives the player a chance to increase his value and get a better deal relatively quickly.
That said, given Bennett’s pedigree as a potentially elite talent, his mediocre season might actually be an opportunity to lock him up longer to a discounted rate.
So what should they do?
There are some concerns and risks associated with inking Bennett to something beyond a bridge deal. Beyond the fact that his agent might not be terribly keen on this option, the problem is Bennett’s results in the NHL so far have been ambiguous at best.
During his rookie season, Bennett’s results were good when he skated with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, but average-to-below average everywhere else. This season, his results pretty much regressed across the board: points, shooting, possession, everything.
As a result, Bennett looks like a merely decent ES scorer and a below average possession player:
Bennett Hero
Sam Bennett’s HERO Chart, 2016-17
Which isn’t someone a team needs to lock up long term.
There are two things working in Bennett’s favour though:
  1. He is very young, so much of this could be put down as growing pains.
  2. He played a majority of his season with Troy Brouwer, who had an unprecedented deleterious effect on his linemates.
With Brouwer, Bennett’s CF% was a putrid 44.4%. Away from him, it shot up to an above average 51.7%. That differential at least suggests the youngster is a better possession player than his overall rates would suggest so far.
So either Bennett is a top five draft pick who is on track to become just a mediocre middle rotation forward (it happens), or he’s a kid on the verge of breaking out who will become much more expensive to retain down the road.
If the Flames think it’s more the latter than the former, then they should push for a long-term deal. If his agent thinks he’s more the former than the latter, he should do the same.
However, if the club isn’t certain about Bennett taking another big step or two, then they should settle for a two-year bridge contract. By then they’ll have a much clearer picture of just what kind of NHLer Bennett will be.
So what would you do Flames fans? Lock him up long term and pray he becomes an impact player? Or play it safe and settle for the bridge?