For a player as fearless as Sam Bennett, the prospect of heading to arbitration Saturday was no more daunting than a dental appointment.
“I wouldn’t say I was worried about it – I was actually kind of curious about what it was like,” said the Calgary Flames winger of the boardroom bloodbath most players pray to avoid.
“But I’m happy it’s all done.”
The restricted free agent agreed to a two-year deal with the Flames at $2.55 million annually on Wednesday.
His curiosity now matches that of his fan base, wondering if he’ll be on the third line with Milan Lucic and Mark Jankowski as part of a decidedly unpleasant trio to play against.
“For sure I think that’s a possibility,” said Bennett, a left-shot winger who said he’d be comfortable switching to right wing to accommodate the Flames high-priced trade acquisition.
“I think he’s one of the scariest guys to play against in the league. Anytime you get to add a guy like that to your team or especially your line it makes you feel a lot taller.
“He’s one of the most intimidating players I’ve ever played against. That’s something we did need a little bit, and I’m sure he’ll be a good addition. I talked to a few guys and everyone is excited. A couple of guys that know him said he’s a great guy and a great guy in the room.”
Last season the six-foot-one, 195-pound Bennett became a fan favourite by assuming a relative tough-guy role, leading the team with a career-high 93 penalty minutes, which included five fights.
He finished second on the squad in hits, stood up for teammates whenever it was called for and became an aggressive menace many nights.
Credit to the 23-year-old, it was a role he was never asked to play – he simply figured it out.
“That was never discussed – it kind of just came into its own,” said Bennett, whose mindset behind taking the evolved role speaks to maturity and experience that betrays his age.
“At times during the year, you have to do things to help the team win if you’re not producing or getting a chance that way. You’ve got to help the team or you’re really not going to get the opportunity.”
“I think this year I took a lot more physical and aggressive role. I was sticking up for my teammates if the situation presented itself and I was comfortable with that role. Every team needs that.
“I’m definitely not going to change my game – I was happy with the physical play and the aggression this year – that’s part of my game. But I hope to add a little more offensive upside.”
Drafted fourth overall in 2014, the expectation was certainly for Bennett to score at a much higher clip than the 13 goals and 27 points he had last season.
He hasn’t given up on regaining the scoring touch he had in junior, and the team is certainly betting on him to improve in that vein.
“I don’t want to be known as just a physical, aggressive player – I still believe in myself and I can add a lot more offensively,” said the versatile Bennett, who will be an RFA once again when his deal concludes.
Bennett further endeared himself to fans this spring when he led the team in playoff scoring (one goal, four helpers) in a five-game dismissal by Colorado.
He was arguably the Flames best skater, much like four years earlier in the playoffs against Vancouver when he and Micheal Ferland first made names for themselves.
“I thought I played a lot more like myself – a lot more confident,” said Bennett, who has battled confidence issues throughout his four full seasons in the NHL.
“I want to be that aggressive and effective player to start the season and roll from there.”
Even with an inevitable buyout of Michael Stone’s final season, saving $2.33 million in cap space, GM Brad Treliving will almost certainly have to shed salary by way of trade to make the finances work.