Maybe it’s the moustache he rocks in the playoffs, but Sam Bennett seems more experienced than he really is. The Calgary Flames left winger just signed a two-year contract with the franchise, but will still be a restricted free agent once the pact ends in the summer of 2021.
Bennett’s new contract will pay him an average of $2.5 million per season and after avoiding arbitration with this deal, he will remain eligible for the process once the two years is up.
Bennett was taken fourth overall by the Flames in 2014 and after missing most of the next regular season with a shoulder injury, he hooked up with Calgary for the playoffs, putting up four points in 11 games. Since then, he’s been a mainstay with the Flames, though not necessarily in the role that was expected of him.
A prolific scorer in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs, Bennett’s career-high through four NHL campaigns has been 36 points, which he achieved in his rookie season. Instead, he has found himself in a shutdown role for the Flames, going head-to-head with the likes of Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar and William Karlsson every night. He most often played with Mikael Backlund and Mark Jankowski, but also saw time with Matthew Tkachuk and James Neal. Bennett has also found a tough side, most notably in a fight with tough dude Darnell Nurse of the rival Edmonton Oilers. Bennett threw down five times this past season, quite the turn for a player who only fought twice in his entire junior career.
Based on his draft position, it would be nice to see Bennett hit the scoresheet a little more often next season, but given how much firepower the Flames have with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, not to mention Tkachuk, it’s not as much of a concern as it could be.
With the addition of Milan Lucic to the lineup, the Flames will certainly be tougher next season and that was a concern after Calgary was pushed out of the first round of the playoffs by Colorado, despite beating the Avs in the regular season standings by 17 points. While Bennett doesn’t need to fight, team toughness can be very important in the playoffs - just look at the burly final between St. Louis and Boston. That being said, all of Bennett’s fights are organic, not staged (that doesn’t happen much anymore anyway).
In general, Calgary wants Bennett on the ice, providing that two-way game that resulted in positive possession this past season. But what does the future hold?
This new contract is a nice placeholder and gives both Bennett and the Flames a little more time to assess his overarching role on the team. Is he a third-liner, or is there still some upside that would make him more of a second-liner in the future? The best part of it all for Bennett is that he has excellent leverage for the next contract.
Because of his age and service, Bennett could hypothetically take the Flames to arbitration for a one-year deal in the summer of 2022. After that, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. So if Calgary wants to hold onto the versatile forward, they’d have to offer a long-term deal before that happens.
In the meantime, the goal in Calgary is to win a Stanley Cup and a heightened offensive performance from Bennett would help the cause. Long-term, it would help his own financial cause, too.