Calgary Flames: This is an impactful year for Sam Bennett

Even the best teams in the NHL switch their rosters up on a regular basis. While some make their big moves in February (the Penguins are the most extreme example), those who are trying to reach Pittsburgh’s pedestal will need as many moves as possible to gain ground. The Calgary Flames certainly did that over the summer.

As Calgary attempts to make some noise in the playoffs, there are a lot of questions as to how the roster will look after the trade deadline or even before the regular season. While some players are guaranteed to be on the roster regardless of what happens, Sam Bennett’s season could go in any direction.

The potential for him to be the best scorer on the team is still there, which is why the team drafted him fourth overall in 2014. He was actually the top North American skater heading into the draft before being passed for Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, and Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl emerged as the best player out of those four in 2016-2017, but Connor McDavid heavily influenced those 77 points, and the German product will now have to live up to an eight-year, $ 68 million contract. As the Oilers prepare for an economic nightmare, the Flames are looking to avoid overpaying potential and cause a similar issue. That makes 2017-2018 a crucial year for Bennett.

As of now, Bennett is a restricted free agent and has yet to sign a new contract with the Flames. He will likely sign before or shortly after the start of the season, but the amount of money for the next contract is more of a mystery. Brad Treliving has to decide whether to give him a huge contract to match his draft stock (not recommended without further action) or go cheap after a pedestrian 13-goal, 13-assist, -16 +/- campaign in 2016-2017. The former option is a deeper consideration after he scored two of Calgary’s nine goals in the playoffs.

Another option is a sign-and-trade, which would be a surprise after the Flames protected him from the Vegas expansion draft. The Anaheim Ducks have expressed interest in Bennett, but Treliving would likely ask for a lot in return. Not only was Bennett a projected centerpiece in 2014, but the Flames are also in need of draft picks following the Mike Smith and Travis Hamonic trades. With the Ducks lacking high picks following five straight division championships and showing no signs of a dropoff, it may be hard for the Ducks to give Calgary an acceptable value.

This is a milder version of Jonathan Drouin, who was considered an awful bust until the 2016 playoffs. After adding an excellent campaign last season, the Lightning got a hefty return after sending Drouin to Montreal. Bennett, meanwhile, has shown no sign of being in Glen Gulutzan’s doghouse despite underwhelming thus far, and the 21-year-old may be primed for a huge breakout well before his expected prime.

Unless Treliving gets an undeniable offer for the phenom, he would benefit with patience. The Boston Bruins failed in that department after trading Tyler Seguin away in 2013, and Tampa Bay has yet to determine their fate from the Drouin trade.

Provided that Bennett is still in Fire Red, however, #88 is in for a pivotal season. A considerably improved season would either cement his place with the Flames or give the team a heftier return in a trade. It is much too soon to label Bennett as a bust, especially since he has the ability to score four times in a game like in early 2016, but the Flames are trying to contend for a Stanley Cup and need to decide how they can get there.

Bennett’s 2017-2018 could ultimately determine whether the Flames continue to rise or plateau at mediocrity in a bottom-heavy Pacific Division.

Yardbarker: NHL

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