With Battle of Alberta looming, Bennett's Flames future may soon be clear

Mason Appleton scored twice as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Calgary Flames 4-1.

It’s one thing to scratch Sam Bennett for a Thursday evening spin in Winnipeg. It’s quite another to sit him for the Battle of Alberta.

We’re about to find out a whole lot more about Bennett’s future with the Calgary Flames, as the team prepares for hockey’s version of Tyson/Holyfield.

If, in fact, the organization decides it has no use for the feisty forward in Saturday night’s interprovincial punch-up there’s every reason to believe he has indeed played his last game with the organization that drafted him fourth overall in 2014.

Sitting him a second-straight game, when the NHL’s sexiest rivalry will call for copious amounts of the grit that has become his trademark, will say everything you need to know about how things will proceed.

A 4-1 Flames loss to the Jets Thursday wrapped up a 2-3 road trip that would otherwise prompt Geoff Ward to consider lineup changes, like replacing the struggling Joakim Nordstrom with the hard-hitting Bennett.

However, things are radically different from when we last saw Bennett skating alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan in the dying minutes of Tuesday’s loss.

The team has since gotten some clarity directly from Bennett on his desire for a change of scenery.

He wants out, prompting management to resort to the, ‘If you’re not in, then you are in the way,” mantra.

So he sits.

Assuming he isn’t given another shot with a Saturday assignment, his future rests with an understandably frustrated Brad Treliving.

In part because of the way Bennett’s agent tried to effect change by floating news of his discontent through Elliotte Friedman, you can bet the Flames are in absolutely no hurry to ship him out. Not until the right deal comes along.

The team comes first.

Treliving has not seen anywhere near the payoff he expected since he made Bennett his very first draft pick in Calgary, and he’ll be hellbent on ensuring he maximizes the return on Bennett’s departure.

In the meantime, it’s easy to justify sitting a third-line winger who has one goal, two bad penalties and a minus-5 mark on his stat line thus far.

Unless, of course, your next game is expected to be a slugfest.

Ward didn’t hesitate when asked after Thursday’s loss if it was indeed time for lineup changes.

“Yeah, it’s time for sure," he said. “We’ve got some fresh bodies and we’ll sit down and evaluate this. It’s something we definitely have to consider. We need some energy and we’ve got some guys that are raring to go.”

Is Bennett one of his options?

“It’s a day at a time with him, like it is with everybody else,” said Ward. “We’ll sit down and we’ll explore it and see where it goes.”

In the two games Bennett played following his agent’s tack, the team appeared to try empowering Bennett with several late-game shifts on the 1B line. Alas, as has been the case throughout his seven years of regular-season play in Calgary, it was fruitless. He finished a season-low 11:11 of ice time.

And now this.

No more time to try bolstering his trade value or mending fences, the benching opens up the possibility for this to become more of a distraction.

Before Thursday’s game, Ward wanted to make it clear Bennett was a “healthy scratch” and had no interest in sugar-coating it with false praise when asked about his play this season.

“That’s between Sam and myself actually -- I’m going to keep that between us,” said Ward, who isn’t worried this will cause problems in the room. “It’s not a strained situation -- you can speculate it as much as you want as it being that way, but it’s not.”

The coach held Bennett out of the team’s morning skate, affording him ice time with the taxi squad only after the team had finished.

“Everything that’s going to happen, in terms of where the speculation is going, has to do with Tre and (Bennett’s agent) Darren Ferris,” said Ward. “As far as the relationship between the player and his teammates, and the player and the coaching staff, there’s no strain whatsoever. We’re all good with each other.”

Assuming he’s scratched Saturday, it will be fascinating to see how the Flames allow Bennett to continue interacting with the team, if at all.

Following in the footsteps of trade requests by Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic and Pierre-Luc Dubois, Ferris pulled the same power move with Canadiens client Victor Mete last week.

There was an element of irony as the Flames played Winnipeg while former Jets Laine and Roslovic scored Thursday for the first time as Blue Jackets.

Whether Bennett will be scoring for anyone else anytime soon remains to be seen.

It would be folly to suggest the Flames’ second-straight loss had anything to do with the Bennett news, as the team finally got off to a good start. A brilliant slap-pass by Juuso Valimaki allowed an Andrew Mangiapane re-direct to put the visitors up 1-0 in the final minute of the first.

Three straight goals by the Jets in the second were capped by an empty-netter to land the Flames at 4-5-1 and end Johnny Gaudreau’s nine-game point streak.

Understandably, the post-game Zoom call featured an agitated coach and players.

“It starts with us being harder -- right now we’re soft in a lot of areas of the game,” said Ward. “We’ve got to get better or we can stay bitter, that’s really our choice.”

This isn’t anywhere close to the start the Calgary Flames were hoping for. And the road ahead presents plenty of obstacles.

With, or without, Bennett.

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