It's usually not something you hear about this late in the season -- a rookie and team having to deal with the potential of knocking a season off of an entry-level contract as the first-year player prepares to play his 10th game in the NHL. For Sam Bennett and the Calgary Flames, however, Tuesday's Game 3 against the Anaheim Ducks will burn the first season of his contract.
"Contracts don't matter to us," Calgary coach Bob Hartley told the Flames website Monday. "We're a pro organization, a very classy organization, and never have I had a conversation with [general manager] Brad Treliving or [president of hockey operations] Brian Burke about the contract of Sam Bennett. They always allow me to play the players that we feel will help us win.
"Sam Bennett will be in the lineup [Tuesday]."
Bennett, 18, has suited up for the past nine contests with the Flames, including the six games of their first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, a series which Bennett contributed two goals and three points in the Flames 4-2 series victory.
Had a shoulder injury not sidelined Bennett earlier in the season, though, it's more than likely the first year of his deal already would have been burned by the Flames. It wasn't until Feb. 21 of this season that Bennett was sent back to junior, as he was given the chance to stay with Calgary throughout the duration of his recovery from injury. Before being returned to the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, Bennett had actually practiced with the Flames to rehab his injury.
Often times, by the time the first month of the regular season is coming to a close, teams will make their decisions about what to do with rookies -- keep them and spend the first year of the contract or return them to junior and allow that first year to roll over to the following season. Bennett is the rare case where his ability has him out of major junior and thrust into the NHL's post-season.
While shedding a year of Bennett's contract in exchange for him suiting up in Game 3 might not seem like a big deal, it will lead to his ability to head for unrestricted free agency earlier in his career and, if Bennett reaches his tremendous potential, could end up costing the Flames a pretty penny. That's the risk for Calgary. For Bennett, though? He's not worried about what his 10th game means.
"It's just another game, so I'm not really going to worry about it," Bennett told the Flames website. "I don't think anything has changed. I've been told to be ready, just like I was the nine games before."
Calgary trails Anaheim 2-0 in the series as they head back to Calgary for Tuesday night's Game 3.