Through four games this season, young Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett has just one point. He has yet to score a goal and has taken just six shots. He is seeing just over ten minutes of ice time per game, down more than four minutes from his career average. Bennett is currently on pace for just over 20 points on the year. It seems like a disappointing start and perhaps just an aberration for the 2014 fourth overall pick. In reality, it is par for the course for the 22-year-old forward. Since his strong 36-point rookie campaign in 2015-16, Bennett has failed to improve his production and has seen less and less ice time. This is simply a continuation of the trend.
To say that Bennett has failed to live up to the expectations of his lofty draft position would be to understate the issue. Drafted ahead of the likes of William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dylan Larkin, and David Pastrnak in 2014, the Flames certainly expected far more out of Bennett thus far. His overall production is decreasing, he has never cracked 20 goals or 20 assists in a season, and a center when drafted now plays almost exclusively on the wing. Bennett has simply not at all been what the Flames thought they were getting at fourth overall. Meanwhile, the team is without a playoff win in the three years since Bennett became a regular and patience is running out in Calgary. Bennett has shown flashes of immense ability, but has lacked consistency and, more than anything, has been a poor fit in the Flames’ system. With the hire of new head coach Bill Peters, many expected a turnaround from Bennett this year, but it has been far from it so far. It would seem that Bennett’s time in Calgary is almost up, right?
Wrong, in fact. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman led off his latest edition of “31 Thoughts” by acknowledging the trade interest in Bennett, but doubting that GM Brad Treliving and the Flames were ready to move on. Calgary is wary of trading Bennett while his value is at its lowest to a team seeking to buy low on the talented forward and finally find a way to get the most out of his ability. Friedman expanded on his comments with Sportsnet Radio 960 in Calgary, stating that the Flames appear to be obsessed with avoiding the mistake that provincial rivals the Edmonton Oilers made in trading away Taylor Hall at well below his true value. Hall was also struggling to meet the expectations of his draft slot, first overall in 2010, and it was compounded by the team’s struggles as well. Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson and is now the reigning Hart Trophy winner and a top ten forward in the league. The Flames could certainly use a Larsson-caliber piece in their pursuit of a playoff berth this season, but not at the cost of losing a player that they still believe has untapped potential.
That is not to say that the team hasn’t considered offers, though. Friedman states that, while no deal was ever close, Calgary went “far down the road” in trade talks with several teams. Friedman specifically names the Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, and Tampa Bay Lightning as teams that he knows have had interest in Bennett before and, especially in the case of Anaheim and Montreal, likely continue to. The fact that Bennett is perceived as being available via trade would seem to indicate that the Flames continue to field offers for the young forward, even if they aren’t actively selling. While Friedman doesn’t see it happening, Bennett’s play so far this year is trending towards 2018-19 being a new career low. With a year remaining on his contract beyond this season, giving a new team the time to attempt to turn his development around, a poor season for Bennett could see Calgary finally give up on their once-top prospect. It’s fair to want to avoid giving up on potential, particularly for a disappointing return, but a point is fast approaching when Bennett can no longer be seriously compared to a player like Hall.