Several months after his trade demand went public, Sam Bennett was singing a different tune Wednesday.
Asked if he has altered his stance, he spoke glowingly of Darryl Sutter, who came in last month and saddled the Calgary Flames winger with slightly more ice time and responsibility than Geoff Ward did.
"I’m happy playing under Darryl," said Bennett. "I think I’ve gotten more opportunity and I’ve been able to play my game a little bit more."
Has the new coach breathed new life into him, in terms of how he looks at his future in Calgary?
"Ya, absolutely," he said. "I want to have a big role and important role to help this team win. When I’m playing more I’m playing better and can help the team have success. It definitely makes it fun and makes me enjoy coming to the rink when I have a big role. I’ve definitely been in a better mindset."
Sutter confirmed that in his mind the suggestion that Bennett wants out is old news.
"We went past that the first time I talked to Sam here, so that’s out of the question," said Sutter, who has long been a fan of the type of gritty player Bennett is. "Sam and I are on the same page and away he goes."
It’s an interesting twist to one of the only plotlines linking the Flames to Monday’s trade deadline.
The Flames were never much interested in responding to a suggestion floated by agent Darren Ferris that the 24-year-old wanted a chance to expand his role elsewhere.
Bennett is one of the only Flames with a history of elevating his play in the post-season, which was always what this team’s season was supposed to be measured by.
With that in mind the third-line winger would have been a valuable piece to keep, which was easy to do as he remained a good soldier who is well liked in the dressing room and wasn’t a distraction.
But with the Flames losing eight of nine to be all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race it must be tempting for GM Brad Treliving to consider cashing in on a player whose playoff prowess would garner the Flames a bigger return than any of his rentals like Derek Ryan, David Rittich or Joakim Nordstrom.
Alas, Bennett isn’t a rental, as he’s a restricted free agent with one year left before he hits unrestricted status.
The likeliest outcome for Bennett has long revolved around him being snapped up by Seattle in this summer’s expansion draft, making Treliving’s decision on Bennett’s immediate fate an interesting one.
After all, the model the Flames have long been working on to protect forwards Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan from Seattle is almost certain to be disrupted in what promises to be an off-season of significant change in Calgary.
"I’ve been happy with Sam," said Sutter. "I think he’s played all three positions for us. I’ve been able to get him into some penalty killing situations, which I think he could thrive in going forward. Taking faceoffs for us. He’s played hurt and he’s played with some pace to his game."
Bennett’s role remains as a bottom six forward, where he has four goals, 10 points and is a team-low minus-16 in 37 games.
When Backlund missed a recent game against the Oilers Sutter called on Bennett to play centre against Edmonton’s top two lines and gave him rare time on the power play.
This is the time of year he’s typically known as Playoff Sam Bennett, where the intensity, feistiness and junior scoring prowess that made him a fourth pick overall seem to magically resurface, making him such a frustrating study every regular season.
Whether he’s traded or not, he will continue to headline potential Flames moves due to a playoff reputation that makes him a rare commodity that has to be enticing for contenders looking to add depth for the playoffs.
“I guess if people are saying that that’s a good thing,” said Bennett, who anchored the Flames' best playoff line last year with Dube and Milan Lucic, scoring five times and adding three assists in 10 games.
"I pride myself on showing up in big games and battling hard every night and I found a way to elevate a little bit in the playoffs."