When it comes to surprisingly terrible starts to the 2017-18 season, the list has to start with Calgary’s Sam Bennett, for whom the team had such high expectations.
“Sam Bennett,” Glen Gulutzan said before the start of the regular season. “You look at the maturation of these players, and he’s had a good summer. I’ve talked to him a couple of times. So I think that’s the young guy that if I want a big leap, I’d pick him.”
The fourth overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Bennett has shown flashes of the potential he came to the NHL with, but has struggled with consistency. His career started with an 18-goal, 37-point season, but it’s been downhill ever since. Last season he dropped to 26 points and so far this season he’s pointless in 15 games.
So what’s going on with Bennett? Last weekend, Andrew Berkshire took a closer look at Bennett’s struggles by comparing his offensive game from this season to his previous two. The takeaway was that the 21-year-old was getting fewer shots from in close as his chances were gradually coming from further away from the net, and his passes to teammates in the scoring area were less and less successful.
Gulutzan has tried a few things to get Bennett out of his funk this season. He initially started Bennett at the centre spot on the third line and after the team signed Jaromir Jagr, he put the veteran with him.
When Jagr went down with an injury, the team called up Mark Jankowski and placed him at the centre spot on Line 3, sliding Bennett to the left wing.
And with Jagr back in the lineup, rather than returning Bennett to the middle, the team kept Jankowski there and put Jagr on the right side with the two kids.
Still, zero points.
“I just know his compete level, and I’m sure he’s frustrated, and I’m sure he’s trying to do too much. As a player I know it’s a cliché, but ‘less is more,’” Doug Gilmour told Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun. Gilmour was Bennett’s OHL GM with the Kingston Frontenacs. “He’ll come out of it. I know it’s going to affect him mentally because he’s such a strong-willed kid and he wants to succeed, so he’ll come through it.”
When do the Flames and their fans start to get skeptical about what kind of NHL player Bennett is or will be? Or is the sensible move to just stay the course because of the risk that comes in moving a player with so much upside.
“For coaches and general managers, there’s never been more pressure now in a short period of time to take a top-five pick and get him in a situation that fits for him right away,” Nick Kypreos said on Hockey Central at Noon Thursday. “And I don’t think Sam Bennett had that. We saw the struggles in Edmonton with Yakupov. We see the struggles with Galchenyuk in Montreal. Marner here in Toronto.”
Added Doug MacLean: “You gotta consider something reasonably drastic right now.” Last week the former NHL GM said, “I’m not convinced that Sam Bennett might not be better off somewhere else, traded.”
The problem in coming up with any reasonable trade proposals involving Bennett is establishing what his value is. Remember, at just 21 years old, there is still time for him to get on track and re-establish himself as a player with a productive future in the NHL. The Flames would undoubtedly still value him with that kind of potential and not want to get burned by hindsight later on. They’d be selling him ultra-low right now.
But other teams are more likely to be circling this situation, ready to fly in and pluck him for a reduced cost if the Flames ever looked to offload. That’s the trap Calgary can’t fall into.
“I’d be trying to steal him big time,” MacLean said.
On this week’s episode of the Tape to Tape Podcast, we tried to come up with a trade involving the Calgary Flames. Being the 29th-ranked offence in the league, Calgary could of course use some improvement, and they’re very clearly a team trying to win a Stanley Cup in the next few years. The question becomes, how aggressive would they get towards this goal and if moving a 21-year-old fourth overall pick is too risky in the long run.
But looking at the roster there aren’t any obvious trade candidates for the team to move — the name your eyes keep coming back to if the Flames do consider something, though, is Bennett.
If scoring is the only thing Calgary is after, then the Vegas Golden Knights could potentially have James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault, two players with 30-goal upside, available. The problem with them is both are scheduled to become UFAs at the end of the season and are in line to make hefty salaries with someone beyond this season. That may not be the ideal move for Calgary involving Bennett, to say nothing about how Vegas would value him.
Should the Flames consider moving on from Bennett? There is no indication they are yet, and time is certainly on their side. But the longer he struggles, the more we go down the same road we’ve seen in other cities, where the end result is a player who holds no value at all.
“Why?” Kypreos asked about considering moving this player. “Because you don’t want it to turn into a Yakupov where it’s just then a complete disaster. Don’t think that Sam Bennett’s worry isn’t there.”