The big drama of the previous offseason was how the Calgary Flames would re-sign Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. The entire saga was dragged out over the summer, and involved a lot of nervousness, ridiculous trade rumours, a Kanye West tweet, and a surprisingly cheap deal right at the eve of the season.
This year is Sam Bennett‘s year, and it should go smoother. With a projected $22.5M available this upcoming offseason, there’s plenty of space to get a deal done. He also doesn’t have two 60-point seasons under his belt, so he should come in significantly cheaper. At best, he could come 75% off.
The Flames have a few options when it comes to Bennett, but they also have a few things that should concern them. Let’s take a look.
The bridge contract
As already mentioned, one of the reasons Bennett will come cheap is because of his lack of points production. Last year, he was a very good possession player playing with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik.
This year? It’s been rough. Glen Gulutzan moved Bennett back to his natural position at centre, with mixed results. Part of the problem has been that he spends more time with Alex Chiasson, Deryk Engelland, Troy Brouwer, and Dennis Wideman, which is less than ideal. The anchors he is attached to has quite clearly affected his play this year.
But he is also part of the problem. Bennett is fourth on the team for OZS%, but has a -3.28 CFrel%, hanging out around guys like Garnet Hathaway and Lance Bouma. Visually, he is clearly not the same player he was last year, and it looks like he’s taken a step backwards.
Which is fair to expect from someone who is still eligible for the CHL. Even with some significant NHL experience, Bennett is still suffering from growing pains. By giving him a bridge contract, the team can give him space to live up to his potential at a cheap cost. They can also keep him as an RFA, which allows for more flexibility.
It also helps with Brad Treliving’s staggering plan, assuming it is a two-year deal. When this potential bridge contract expires, Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma will be off the books, and the only other player (as of right now) that will need re-signing is Mikael Backlund.
The flip side of a bridge contract is that the contract that comes after is usually pricey. If the Flames go this route, it is possible that they have to give Bennett a contract that at least matches Monahan and Gaudreau’s. If he truly is going to be the best centre on this team, then it could be even more pricey.
That would be a problem because that contract would be up for discussion when the Flames will probably be a pricey and high quality team. They will most likely run into a similar situation as last offseason, but with more of a cap crunch. This brings us to option number two…
The long term
One of Treliving’s least discussed successes is extending T.J. Brodie. Signed in 2014-15, Brodie’s contract lasts five years at $4.65M AAV. With this, he locked up a core player who is now among the best at his position for term and money way below market price. He can easily do this with Bennett.
Perhaps a better example would be Wayne Simmonds’ contract. For six years at $3.975M AAV, the Flyers locked up one of the game’s all-stars at great value. Simmonds gets paid good cash as he goes through his prime, and the team does not suffer a major cap hit. This should be the goal for Bennett: go for length and spread out the cash.
The Simmonds comparable works well when considering his career history. His stint in L.A. indicated that he was a burgeoning star, but still had some flaws in his game. He was a -4.62 CFrel% in his final year with the Kings, and only made a moderate improvement points-wise from his second season. It took another year, but Simmonds did hit his full potential. You might even say that he is still not in his prime.
Looking for a Simmonds contract complicates the staggering plan though. If the team goes for six years, his contract would expire at the same time as Monahan’s. If they go for five, Bennett’s would expire at the same time as Gaudreau and Giordano’s. Four, and you run into Frolik and Brodie. You can disregard the plan, but that may force the team to choose between one and the other at some point down the road.
Of course, the major problem is what we touched on earlier: what if Bennett is actually bad? I don’t believe he is, but if that is true, this contract becomes a major pain for the franchise. When the team enters a stage where every dollar counts, it’s going to be tough to live with a player that is making $3-4M per year for four or five years. That would be even worse if the contract can’t be moved.
Bennett is not going to be rolling in money come October 2017, but he should be well off. Personally, I believe in Bennett’s potential, and if I had the power, I would definitely seek to sign him to a Simmonds-style contract. Treliving could also bring the price down a few million dollars, perhaps going for five years and $20M. That can buy him at least one million pairs of sunglasses.
However, it’s better for the franchise to go with a bridge contract and then a major extension. There’s a few too many question marks around Bennett right now to justify long term. With a few of the more important core players in their primes right now, it’s better to save cash and bring in win-now players. Signing Bennett to a bridge deal lets the team accomplish that.