As we inch closer to the start of NHL training camps next week, there are still a few difference-making RFAs who don’t have a contract. We looked at some of those players and their situations on Tuesday, but the most interesting case among them could be Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames.
The fourth-overall selection of the 2014 draft, Bennett hasn’t developed in the NHL as expected so far. He saw a 10-point dip last season, falling to 26 points in 81 games, and hasn’t found a home on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Currently fitting on the third line as a centre, it’s hard to gauge what a player with this kind of production and pedigree is worth on the NHL’s market. Especially one without arbitration rights and, therefore, not a ton of leverage.
“The communication has been good, it’s been frequent, it’s finding a spot to land on where everybody’s comfortable with the deal,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said on Sportsnet 960 The Fan’s Boomer in the Morning. “We have a thought in our mind that we think makes sense, they have one in theirs and now it’s just trying to get to something that works for everybody. I’m not discouraged. Like any of these things you keep out the background noise and stay focused on getting a deal and I feel pretty comfortable we will.
“There’s a sense on both sides — both sides want to get something done.”
As players around the league are beginning to return to their team’s cities for informal, optional skates, Bennett is not with his Flames teammates. This is not at all unusual for a player without a contract, but a reminder how close we are to training camp.
Treliving pointed out the importance of having a player attend training camp to get fully prepared for the start of the season, and the historical precedence for those who miss out on pre-season or the start of the regular season.
“History has shown that missing time, or people who don’t get there on time, usually it’s not a good thing,” Treliving said. “To get ready for an NHL season is difficult. You gotta get the reps, you gotta get playing at NHL pace, you gotta get doing it every day prior to the start of the season. So to get (a contract) done is one thing, we obviously want to get it done in time where Sam can join us.”
Just last season the Flames went through something similar with RFA Johnny Gaudreau, although he was a surefire top-line player coming off a 78-point season. In 2016, there were a number of big RFA deals signed including Mark Scheifele‘s eight-year, $49-million deal, Filip Forsberg‘s six-year, $36-million deal and Nathan MacKinnon‘s seven-year, $44.1-million deal.
Treliving pointed out that while the two situations are similar in that a couple of Flames RFAs are without a contract late in the summer, they’re very different beyond that. In Gaudreau’s case, the league market for those types of players was being defined by all the deals around him, and helped them get to the six-year deal worth $40.5 million that was signed just two days before the start of the regular season.
And not only that, but the fact Gaudreau missed training camp wasn’t as big of a deal as it would be for Bennett, considering the World Cup of Hockey brought him up to speed.
Bennett won’t have that luxury so if he misses camp he’ll start behind the eight-ball. Treliving thinks that will be a motivating factor for both sides as neither one wants Bennett to arrive late.
“Each day you try to bridge the gap and not only that, but you’re trying to support your position and with every day that goes by or with every contract the market becomes a little more solidified. Yeah, I think there are some days when you don’t make a lot of progress, but I think we’re closing in around that time. Lots of times the calendar dictates.
“At the end of the day, Sam’s a hockey player and you get to this time you’ve been training all summer,” Treliving continued. “I think if we don’t have everybody here already we’re pretty close, so you get itchy to get going and I know Sam’s the same way, but we all have to let the business side take care of itself.”