The time has finally come, the Calgary Flames should trade Sam Bennett in the next offseason, whenever that happens. After five seasons without any real development, it’s time to move on from the 4th overall pick from 2014 and highest selection in Flames franchise history.
The lack of development can’t be solely blamed on Bennett either, the team hasn’t really put him in great opportunities to succeed over the years, with regular linemates like Troy Brouwer specifically standing out. At the same time, he hasn’t necessarily performed to the level that would warrant the team trying him out further up the lineup. He’s had flashes of brilliance over the years, but hasn’t really sustained anything for long stretches. Since the career high 36 points in his rookie year, Bennett has finished between 26-27 points the last three seasons and was on pace for only 19 points over 82 games this year.
The biggest defense for Bennett right now is that he has consistently been one of the better Flames over their three playoff appearances since 2014-15. He had 11 points in 20 playoff games, only two points behind Sean Monahan for the most over that period. He also ratchets up his physicality for the Flames which made him a fan favourite, especially last year. However I would argue that Bennett becoming one of the best Flames in the playoffs is more an indicator of how poorly the team performs when they get to the postseason.
Anyways, here are my three cases for why the Flames should trade him:
The NHL landscape has changed dramatically in the last few months, and with next year’s cap having gone from potentially $84-88.2M down to a flat cap of $81.5M or even lower, every dollar is going to matter. Like it or not, Sam Bennett is a replaceable player, especially at $2.55M. While he’s not breaking the bank by any means, the Flames could probably bring in a similar performing player for $1M or less to replace him, saving them $1.5M which could be the equivalent of 1-2 more depth/ELC players.
There also has to be the discussion of re-signing him next summer. As an RFA the Flames would have to offer Bennett at least $2.55M again to retain his negotiating rights past July 1. Simply put, he’s not worth that to the Flames. If the Flames failed to send him the qualifying offer, he’d hit the open market and would more than likely be gone. Perhaps he could find a similar offer around $2.5M from a rebuilding team without a cap space concern, but for the Flames, again his grit can be easily replaced along with his 12 goal pace.
While you can argue that perceived value is somewhat of a joke in today’s NHL, Bennett carrying that 4th overall pick pedigree will likely still be enough to entice a few suitors. Coupled with the true/untrue notion that he’s a playoff performer, he checks a lot of the boxes that traditional hockey people want.
Bennett has been a part of trade rumors for a number of years now and the Flames were reportedly “lowballed” on offers for him as recently as early 2020. There’s interest in him from teams around the league, but it’s hard to say if the Flames have really made him widely available. While Calgary shouldn’t take just any offer, they could try to get multiple teams bidding for him to try and up the price.
At this point, every single roster transaction and consequence of it should be carefully considered with the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021. At this point it doesn’t seem likely that the Flames would use one of their forward protection slots on Bennett. Taking up six of the seven spots right now would be: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, and Dillon Dube. Other players in the running for the 7th spot could include Matthew Phillips, Derek Ryan, Glenn Gawdin, Mark Jankowski, Milan Lucic (depending on his NMC), and any other forwards the Flames may bring in over the offseason.
Bennett could be an enticing pull for Seattle, perhaps still banking on him breaking out with increased opportunity but also being a gritty bottom six forward at the very least. Along with potentially losing Bennett to free agency in the summer, losing him in the expansion draft would hurt as well, especially within the same division. If the Flames trade him, they can decide where he goes, obviously preferring the Eastern Conference should he have a miraculous breakout.
Ultimately the failure to development Sam Bennett into a star is going to bother this fan base long term as the rest of the team actually developed into a regular playoff contender quite well. Had Bennett hit his potential, it’s not crazy to think that this could be a Top 5 team every year in the NHL, but alas things don’t always work out.
The only way that it might make sense to bring Bennett back is if the Flames end up making a run in the playoffs and Bennett becomes a sizable part of it. More playoff disappointment in Calgary should lead to change and he is a prime target for it. Even then, perhaps it would make more long term sense for the Flames to capitalize on the increase in value a run would give him.
Regardless of how the playoffs turn out, it is time to finally have a resolution to the Sam Bennett saga in Calgary. It’s not working here, I hope for his sake his career bounces back well somewhere else. I will re-visit this article post playoffs to see if my opinion has changed at all.
For now though, the Flames need to make a difficult decision and get what they can for him and in the process write off the crap-shoot that was their 2014 draft class.
by Michael MacGillivray