The Edmonton Oilers have agreed to re-sign defenseman Matt Benning to a two-year contract, avoiding restricted free agency with the 24-year old. Ryan Rishaug of TSN gives us the financial details, reporting that the deal will carry a $1.9MM average annual value with Benning earning $1.8MM in the first season, and $2.0MM in the second.
Benning was one of the only Oilers defensemen to take a step forward this season, and finished tied with both Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell with 21 points despite only playing in 73 games. The former Northeastern University standout has now been a solid depth defenseman for two years, logging positive possession results and respectable point totals in just 16-17 minutes a night. While several other defenders took substantial steps backwards resulting in real struggles for the Oilers, not a lot of that can be laid at the feet of Benning who could likely have argued for an even bigger raise had given up more years. He’ll still finish this contract as a restricted free agent, giving the Oilers at least one more year of control.
It’s contracts like these that will allow the Oilers to compete in the face of huge cap hits for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Benning is a quality player that could likely take on a bit more responsibility, but is still earning a relatively low amount. The team needs to find more players like this through the college ranks or entry draft, and fill out the fringes of the roster with more talent. McDavid proved that he can’t carry the team on his back, as even with an 108-point season the team missed the playoffs badly.
For Benning, this gives him a chance to remain with his hometown team for at least another two years and compete for a bigger role going forward. While the team has been rumored to be targeting a right-handed defenseman in free agency or trade, if they can’t find it Benning might be asked to do more. The team also has Darnell Nurse still to negotiate with, which could really complicate things for the team’s defensive group. With close to $20MM now sunk into five defenders, Nurse’s deal could make the blue line for the Oilers a bit too expensive, given how they performed last season. It could also stop them from acquiring any help, unless they decide to move out one of the bigger contracts like Klefbom or Andrej Sekera. Either way, things aren’t finished developing for the Oilers and where Benning fits in is still very unclear.