Over the last couple of weeks, it has felt like Sam Bennett has had one skate out the door in Calgary. The Flames forward, although he denies formally requesting a trade, was believed to be upset with his role in Calgary and wanting out. This reportedly came as a surprise to the team initially, but it also seemed like they too were working toward moving Bennett, an idea fueled by a healthy scratch for the young forward days after the news emerged. Yet, as Daniel Austin writes for the Calgary Sun, it has suddenly grown very quiet on the Bennett front.
Part of this change, Austin notes, is simply because Bennett’s trade drama also aligned with several injuries up front for the Flames. Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm, and most recently Mikael Backlund have all been sidelined for various lengths of time. The Flames need Bennett in the lineup right now. The other major change is where exactly in the lineup Bennett has been playing. Amidst the chaos of Bennett’s unknown future with the team, head coach Geoff Ward made the decision to move Bennett to the top line with stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Bennett responded to the promotion with his first two goals of the season over the past four games. While Bennett is still struggling this season relative to his past seasons, his teammates, and his expectations as a top-five NHL Draft pick, his play has noticeably picked up of late.
The question of course, as posed by The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek last week, is why the lineup change was made. Was Ward honestly trying to repair the relationship with Bennett by showing him that the organization trusts him and sees his top-six upside despite his recent struggles and historic inability to hold down the role? Possibly, but it does sound like somewhat of a stretch. The alternative reason could be, in light of Bennett’s desire to leave Calgary, that the team decided to showcase his ability for a while in an effort to maximize a possible return. Given that injuries had shuffled the lineup anyhow, this seems like a very plausible reason for the timing of the move.
The underlying issue for the Flames is that, while they honestly may not want to trade Bennett, both sides stand to benefit. As Duhatschek writes, Bennett represented an impending Expansion Draft problem well before his trade request. The Flames can protect, at most, seven forwards from selection in the draft. With a deep and talented forward corps, Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, and of course Matthew Tkachuk are already locks for protection while Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane also seem like safe bets. If Milan Lucic does not waive his No-Movement Clause, that is your group of seven. Even if he does waive, Calgary will still have to decide between Bennett and the younger, more dynamic Dillon Dube. Whichever of the two they don’t protect seems very likely to be the selection of the Seattle Kraken. As a result, the Flames have to wonder why they would keep a disgruntled Bennett this season to either lose him in expansion or to lose Dube instead and hope Bennett’s production and attitude improve moving forward.
Bennett allegedly wants out of Calgary and the Flames have a very valid reason to trade him. Yet, it has grown quiet on the rumor mill. It could be the timing of injuries or the team wanting to extend Bennett’s stint on the top line as they field offers. Either way, this situation seems far from resolved. Without a major boost in production this season or another major injury or transactional shake-up to the roster, it is difficult to see the relationship between Bennett and Flames lasting the season.