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Monday, May 04, 2015

An Absolute No Brainer: Yes, Sam Bennett Will Play his 10th NHL Game

The idea, to be frank, is laughable.

The Calgary Flames are coming home to the Saddledome where they've gone a perfect 3-0 in the playoffs. They're coming off a much-improved effort in game 2 against Anaheim in which despite losing 3-0, it could be argued they held the slight edge in play over the Ducks over the final 40 minutes. They've scored one goal in the series and it was scored by Sam Bennett, whose three goals is tied with Jiri Hudler for the team lead.

Bennett has been averaging nearly 15 minutes of ice time, he's been one of Calgary's better forwards throughout the post-season, they are not and I repeat, they ARE NOT going to suddenly wave a white flag on the season by taking Bennett out of the line-up and sitting him in the press box due to contractual implications.

Burn a year of his contract? Hey, it's a far less damaging outcome than burning your entire team philosophy.
  • Always Earned, Never Given? How about Despite Earned, Wasn't Given
  • Never Quit?  How about We Quit

Of course, the reason this is a conversation topic today is the Flames highly-touted 18-year-old forward is sitting at nine games. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement states that if a player appears in 10 or more NHL games in a season (regular season and playoffs combined), that is a considered a full season in terms of  service time.

In other words, if he does not play any more games this season, his nine games so far are treated like a free trial period -- just like an introductory free month to Netflix, and his three-year entry level contract will slide by a year and would not kick in until the 2015-16 season.

On the other hand, if he does play in Calgary's next game on Tuesday, his contract begins this season instead and he'd now have only two years remaining after this season before he'll require another contract.

Here are five reasons why I don't think general manager Brad Treliving cares, nor should care:


1. Sends a Positive and Lasting Message

Think about how powerful and genuine the message would be to the current team, other Flames prospects and future Calgary draft picks when Treliving demonstrates that the organization's commitment is 100 percent about winning over nickel-and-diming players over contract technicalities.

All teams will state that they're committed to winning first, but sometimes you do wonder if such declarations are merely lip service. Well, this is a chance to walk that talk and it would put Treliving and the entire organization in a very favourable light from a player's perspective. If you're an unrestricted free agent looking for a new city this summer and you want a team that is committed to winning. Hey, let me check in with Calgary, because I remember what they did with Bennett.

On the flipside, imagine the repurcussions of not playing him. Calgary will come out looking like an absolute cheapskate. Chintzy, cheap, however you want to describe it, such tact certainly won't score you any points with the players, that's for sure. Plus, the current regime will come off looking hypocritical also.

Suddenly your priority is money after the entire management team and coaching staff have been spouting the same message all year about winning and making the playoffs as the primary priority. That would label the Flames organization with a stigma as long as Treliving is in the GM's chair and even beyond that. Reputations, especially poor ones, can be hard to shed.


2. Quicker into Contract No. 2 Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

When elite players come off their entry-level contract, they typically have three full NHL seasons on their resume. The salary they command on that second contract will reflect that.

In Bennett's case, he will have two and just a little bit of a third.

Truth is, Bennett will inevitably be a much better player when he turns 22 in June 2018 then he will be when he turns 21 in June 2017. Get him into that next bridge deal one year sooner -- in 2017, and you're going to be one year ahead of the inevitable inflation that happens every summer. Plus, he's a year younger and he also should command less money given he's only played two full-seasons at that point instead of three.


3. Quicker into his Long-term Deal Also Not a Bad Thing

Assuming you bridge him with the above deal of two or three years, bringing him within a year or two of unrestricted free agency, it's that next contract -- deal No. 3, which takes him right through his prime that is the real expensive one for the team.

If his career develops as everyone around Calgary hopes and fully expects and we don't have any reason to think otherwise given his first month in the NHL, Bennett could very likely end up being the team's best player. In that scenario, you're going to take him out long term with that third contract.

By starting the clock one year earlier, you will reach that point one year earlier than you would have ideally preferred but the benefits to the team are still the same as stated in point No. 2.

Bennett is into that deal one year earlier so in terms of inflation, you potentially are signing him to discount compared to what he would command a year later. While his past resume becomes less of a factor at this point -- five seasons versus four-and-a bit, you're still talking about signing a guy to potentially a seven or eight-year deal at age 23 instead of age 24. It's just one year but who knows what that age 24 season could end up being. Heck, he might win the scoring title that season as at that stage in his development, his career arc is still going up but he's closer to his prime.


4. Buy Goodwill with Your Star

Bennett is your meal ticket. He's the highest draft pick Calgary has ever had and he potentially could have been the first overall pick last June before the Flames were lucky to get him at No. 4.  You know his competitiveness. You know how fiery he is. Sitting him out in game 3 of the playoffs after all he did to rehab his shoulder, to make it back to Calgary, to work his way into the line-up and make a difference, that would be a kick in the gut that he would always remember.

Sure, dress it up however you like, 'Oh, we wanted to get Drew Shore back in there as he was pretty good in game 1', you're not fooling anyone. We've all watched the games. Bennett has easily been among the Flames six most impactful forwards and any suggestion otherwise would ring hollow and reek of insincerity.

Instead, you play him Tuesday, you play him Friday and you keep on playing him as long as the series continues and you do so knowing that next contract negotiation, maybe you've earned some brownie points from the Bennett camp. Next contract or the one after that, or maybe both, perhaps Bennett takes into consideration the commitment and faith Calgary showed in him in the 2015 playoffs by continuing to play him and burning that year when they didn't have to. Perhaps that goodwill down the road ends up helping the team when it comes to potentially keeping Bennett for a little less than market value in order for Calgary to keep the rest of its nucleus together in order to help them win, as they've always been committed to doing.


5. Increase the Chances of Winning this Series

Calgary has never fallen behind a series 2-0 and then come back to win. Take that and the reality that doing so requires the Flames to win four of their next five games and the task lying ahead for Calgary is monumental. Yet, it's not impossible.

This has been a season of firsts, a season of seeing things we've never seen happen before, a season of expect the unexpected. Why should fans expect anything other than more of the unexpected at this point?

The Saddledome has been a special place for the Flames most of the season and especially in the playoffs. It should not surprise anyone if next Saturday, Calgary is flying back to Anaheim with the series tied 2-2.

But, for a chance at that happening, Bennett will need to be a part of it. Calgary does not have a lot of secondary scoring. Heck, they hardly have any primary scoring at the moment. Bennett has established himself as a key piece to this team right now and in order to stay true to that never-quit slogan, Calgary needs to keep on icing the best line-up they can every night and to win game 3, that includes No. 63.


Final Thoughts

Always Earned, Never Given.

Never Quit.

After seven months of living these mottos, abandoning them in May when you're down to the NHL's final eight teams would be the type of manoeuvre that would not just ruin your credibility as a general manager, coach, and organization, it would crush it, never mind the impact that could have on Bennett's long-term relationship with the team.

As I see it, the roles are actually reversed. If you're going to think long-term with Bennett, think big picture, then it's a no-brainer. Get him back in the line-up and demonstrate to everyone that this organization's commitment is to winning. Period.

The first step in actually winning, is demonstrating you're serious about winning and I can't think of a more powerful way to do it than to burn Bennett's contract for the sake of him playing as few as two additional games.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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