Flames hoping to end Bennett trade chatter with top-line role

Sam Bennett talked about scoring against the Oilers, breaking down his first goal of the season.

From healthy scratch to a starting assignment alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

There couldn’t possibly be a destination in the league more attractive to Sam Bennett than that.

The suspense surrounding whether Bennett had possibly played his last game as a member of the Calgary Flames ended during warmup of Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, with No. 93 skating alongside the two faces of the franchise.

On paper it has long been the perfect spot for the former 18-goal scorer who is capable of adding energy, pugnacity and some finish.

In reality, it has rarely worked.

On Saturday it did, giving hope to Flames fans that Bennett’s trade request can be ignored, or eventually even rescinded.

That’s the organization’s goal, as this club has no desire nor imminent plans to part with its annual playoff MVP.

If only he could find a way to play a productive role on such a lofty perch.

That doesn’t mean piling up points befitting a fourth-overall pick — it means playing a supporting role, helping defensively and doing it consistently.

That last part is key for a 24-year-old who has generally saved his ability to take advantage of opportunities like these for the post-season.

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Perhaps Saturday’s look-see represents a fresh start.

Three shots on goal, three hits, two blocked shots and the game’s insurance marker in just 11:29 of ice time represents the type of stat line Bennett and the Flames would be ecstatic with on a regular basis.

Him fitting in on their right side could complete the ideal top nine for a club that has had a tough time finding permanent homes for Bennett and newbies Josh Leivo and Dominik Simon.

The top trio of Elias Lindholm between Matthew Tkachuk and Dillon Dube is as close to a fixture as this bunch has, giving fans a glimpse of what could very well be the big line for years to come. No changes needed there.

On Saturday, the third line Bennett generally patrols saw Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane married with Milan Lucic for a trial that gave the game its star threesome. Not only did they limit Connor McDavid to one even-strength assist (he also scored on the power play), but they also turned the game on its heels with two goals as part of a seven-point outing.

As hard as coach Geoff Ward has tried hard to use Simon and/or Leivo with Monahan and Gaudreau, there’s no chance he could consider meddling on Tuesday against Winnipeg with the three lines that paced Calgary to its emotional 6-4 win. Monday’s practice confirmed that.

“We’re going to give it some time and see how it is,” said Ward when asked how long Bennett would stay with a pair that has only had consistent success with Lindholm and Jiri Hudler.

“The one thing with our lineup is we’re trying to find some continuity where we can keep guys together for a while. That’s happened with a few of the lines, but with a couple others we’re still tinkering a bit. The quicker we can get lines the better, instead of switching around a lot.”

So why now, after all these years of the club using Bennett sparingly with the big boys?

“We just felt like we needed some energy in our lineup the other night. We felt like going with a hunch he may be the guy to play with those two guys, and he had a good game,” said Ward, who is looking for someone with speed, forechecking prowess and an ability to hang onto the puck.

“All the guys we’ve tried there so far have had attributes that we felt may have fit, and now it’s just coming down to who can actually get some consistency playing there, and number two, giving them the opportunity to gel for a bit.”

Sure, it’s just one game, but if Bennett can play well enough to stay by their sides he’s isn’t going anywhere via trade this season.

Nor would he want to.

This team’s success this year will be measured entirely on its playoff performance, so why would the GM seriously consider swapping out his perennial playoff MVP?

Not happening — unless, of course, Bennett becomes a disruptive force in the locker room.

So far he hasn’t been, as he’s still a popular teammate whose trade wishes haven’t caused rifts with the lads.

They understand the business side of this, as well as Bennett’s wishes to play a more prominent role.

It doesn’t matter to them if his motivation is to up his trade value or to simply make good on the situation he’s in, as long as he is a good soldier who stands up for teammates and plays with heart and intensity, they’ll continue to be happy to have him in the fold.

“They’re one of the best duos in the league and I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to keep playing with them,” said Bennett, whose beef with the club revolves around not getting enough legitimate opportunities like these.

“I’ve just got to take advantage of that and I think we’re going to have some success. I’ve got a couple opportunities here and there (with them) — they usually don’t last too long, so I’m hoping it’s not going to be short-lived. Hopefully we can build some chemistry and work together.

Hopefully I get to play with them for a while.”

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It’s now up to him to live up to his side of all this.

If he can, the team’s current goal of keeping Bennett here until the summer can be met.

With one year left on his $2.55 million contract and arbitration rights on his horizon, it has long been clear Bennett is the most likely candidate to be plucked by Seattle in the upcoming expansion draft.

With only seven forwards able to be protected, one would be foolish to think Bennett would bump out anyone on a list that includes Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Backlund, Mangiapane, or Dube. (Lucic will undoubtedly waive his no movement clause and won’t have to be protected.)

Getting from here to there shouldn’t be an issue as the team is in no hurry to trade him, nor is there a lucrative market out there for him, keeping in mind that whatever you get in return — outside of draft picks — can’t be protected.

The asset will likely be lost either way.

As Kevin Bieksa said so brilliantly on Saturday’s broadcast, “If you want to be traded, be tradable.”

Funny thing is, if he does just that it’s quite likely Bennett and the team won’t think his departure is an option anymore.


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