Everyone is talking about Sam Bennett. For good reason. He’s the Calgary Flames franchise’s highest ever draft pick, and he’s been playing damn good hockey in Florida since his trade to the Panthers last year.
But Bennett isn’t the only former Flame making his Saddledome debut in the Panthers uniform. Ryan Lomberg also makes his return to the rink he called home for his first taste of the NHL.
The 27-year-old winger joined the Panthers as a free agent before last season after a handful of years as a member of the Calgary Flames organization. He played just 11 NHL games with the Flames but was an important piece of the American Hockey League group as he worked his way toward the top level.
Although they left the Flames in different ways – Bennett via trade for a second-round pick and prospect – they both felt more important as parts of the plan for their new organization than they did with their previous one.
“There was definitely a different interest level between Florida and Calgary,’’ Lomberg told our colleague at Florida Hockey Now from a hotel room in Banff on Monday. “Florida was interested in me coming over and helping the team win, and Calgary … I didn’t feel they were trying to make sure I remained on their team. I was still kind of an in-between guy for them.
“However they wanted to view it, it is what it is. I couldn’t be happier with where I am now. Everything has been great for me in Florida. It has been a long journey, but I am where I want to be. I am happy with how things worked out.”
Former Flames both felt the cold shoulder in Calgary
Both Bennett and Lomberg are thriving in the warm hands of the Panthers in south Florida after feeling a bit of that cold shoulder in Calgary.
“I think after a certain amount of time, I just got put in a role and never really got the opportunity to succeed in a top-six role like I’m playing right now,” Bennett told Eric Francis on Sportsnet 960 radio on Monday. “Sometimes that happens and that’s just the way it is and you just need a fresh start.”
For Bennett, the fresh start means playing alongside one of the most skilled wingers in the league, the under-rated Jonathan Huberdeau. The connection was instant, and Bennett is off to the best start of his NHL career with 15 goals and 23 points in 29 games.
Lomberg has already posted his career highs with four goals and 11 points in 26 appearances. The Florida fan favourite’s journey was much different than Bennett’s. Taken fourth overall in 2014, Bennett was expected to jump in and become a top six forward immediately. Lomberg was destined for bottom-six impact. Lomberg wasn’t drafted but made the most of his invitations to the Calgary Flames development camps to earn a contract.
He had one assist and 32 penalty minutes in his 11 games with the Flames in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but has carved out a nice niche in Florida with six goals and 15 points to go with 113 PIMs as a speedy, energetic and aggressive piece of a fourth line alongside Patric Hornqvist and Eetu Luostarinen.
He sure fits the mold of a Darryl Sutter player.
So does Bennett.
Did Calgary Flames make a mistake dealing Bennett?
Perhaps the Calgary Flames got a little caught up in the fresh start mentality. After Sutter signed on as the new head coach, Bennett’s value to the team jumped. Playing a more important role and seeing results, Bennett considered the idea of being traded while
“When I was playing under Darryl, loved it,” Bennett said. “I really liked playing for him. He was giving me a lot more opportunity and I was really happy playing under him. I thought things were turning around for me for sure.
“I didn’t think I was going to get traded at the deadline after Darryl came in. I knew there was still a chance, but it seemed like I wasn’t going to.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have been. But whether you think Bennett didn’t live up to his billing because of a lack of opportunity or his inability to earn more, the past is irreversible. And both Bennett and Lomberg wouldn’t change it if they could.
As key players on one of the league’s top teams, why would they?