Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett signed a two-year bridge deal last week, earning an AAV of $2.55 million per season. For a Flames team tight against the salary cap and a young forward looking to capitalize on the deal, this could work out to be a perfect fit. The onus on Bennett to earn his big payout in two years falls to his ability to score while providing responsible, physical, third line minutes.
Setting the Benchmark
Working backwards from his rookie season, where he notched career-highs in goals, assists, and points, Bennett is looking to rekindle his scoring touch these next two seasons. Registering a positive plus/minus season for the first time must also be on his list of goals for the season as he fine-tunes his role within the Flames roster.
Growing His Offence
After a promising first year, Bennett found the sophomore slump the following season and held those slumping numbers consistently for the past three seasons. Flames fans have been generally disappointed after his 18-goal, 18-assist rookie year, obviously hoping for the young center-turned-winger to only improve as he settled into the pace of the NHL. However, patience is a virtue and his decline could prove to be exactly what the Flames needed at this time.
Because of Bennett’s limited scoring production, Flames general manager Brad Treliving was able to offer a very team-friendly contract to the 23-year-old. With the Flames pushing for the Stanley Cup over the next few seasons, this bridge contract could be a perfect fit for both sides. Bennett will be playing for his big term, big payout contract, and the Flames, in turn, receive a forward capable of scoring and adding solid physical presence in a third-line role.
Along with other Flames, fans will expect Bennett to take another step forward with his game, primarily in the goal-scoring department where he has failed to reproduce his career-best 18 goals. It’s not unreasonable to hope for a 20-goal season and the assists to match. Bennett is more than capable of putting together a 40-point season on the third line of the best team in the Western Conference last year.
Bennett plays a hybrid role between skill and grit. Finding the balance between the two like fellow teammate Matthew Tkachuk determines his effectiveness on any given night. The primary role of a hard-nosed player is to agitate other teams and force them into turnovers. Bennett’s ability to win battles along the boards is greatly aided by his puck skills, but what needs improvement is his decision-making when he forces a turnover in the defensive zone. Head coach Bill Peters is looking to send players over the boards who he can trust to take care of the puck in the defensive zone.
Last season, Bennett posted a minus-13 giveaway/takeaway differential, a significant decrease from the 2017-18 season where he was a plus-22 in this department. Working towards righting that figure will be a focus for Bennett this season, especially in the defensive zone where turnovers are often pulled out of the net shortly after. In addition to that stat, Bennett is no doubt aware of the fact that he has never had a positive plus/minus season. Despite the Flames’ plus-66 goal differential, Bennett found himself with the worst plus/minus on the team last year, posting a minus-six in 71 games.
The physical presence that Bennett brings is amplified even more so on a Flames team that lacks physicality through the lineup, though that should be aided this season with the addition of Milan Lucic. Bennett’s strong presence up front was best felt in the playoffs against the speedy Colorado Avalanche. He was regarded as one of the Flames’ best players through the series, often serving as the only spark in a shell-shocked lineup.
When battles escalate, Bennett digs in deeper, much to the delight of his teammates and Flames fans alike. Players love a teammate who fills that role without a moment’s hesitation and Bennett is just that player for a Flames team in desperate need of that kind of attitude. He simply doesn’t shy away. The Flames need players to perform these roles and this new contract is Bennett’s short term reward for playing that role.
Tying It All Together
The biggest task for Bennett these next two seasons will be finding the intersection of skill and physicality and applying it consistently night in and night out. Players of this ilk are fortunate in this regard because of their ability to fall back on other parts of their game.
Remaining impactful on a regular basis is an easier task when part of your game is simply working hard and forcing other teams into mistakes. If Bennett is eyeing a big payout contract in two years, however, he will need to find a way to score on a more consistent basis while keeping his physical edge sharp.