Looking to make the leap: Sam Bennett

6 Comments

While some might argue Sam Bennett already made “the leap,” it’s important to remember he only played 12 games last year — 11 of which came in the playoffs.

So more of a hop than a leap, really.

Which is why we’re profiling the 19-year-old here. For all the promise Bennett showed in ’14-15 — three postseason goals, boundless energy, quality net-front presence — this is the year where he’ll try to establish himself as a full-time NHLer because, despite that stellar spring cameo, Bennett isn’t guaranteed a roster spot this fall.

“It’s still the NHL,” Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy told NHL.com in July. “There are no givens. You play bad in training camp, and that’s not good.

“[Bennett’s] mindset is he’s going to do this and this and this, but you just don’t want to feel like it’s going to be given. You want him to know he has to come and earn it. It’s earned, not given.”

Taken fourth overall by Calgary in 2014, Bennett really hasn’t played much hockey in the last 12 months. A torn labrum in his left shoulder limited him to 15 games with OHL Kingston last year, and from there he transitioned straight his 12-game stint with Calgary. Heck, Bennett was green enough to take part in the Flames’ prospect development camp last month, which further illustrated just how inexperienced he is.

“I’m still only 19 years old,” he explained. “I think there is tons that I still need to learn.”

It’s worth noting that, after last year’s impressive showing, the Flames know the stakes have been raised. Prized offseason acquisitions Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik have raised expectations and, at center, Bennett will be in tough for minutes with the likes of Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris and Matt Stajan — all of whom are older, and more experienced.

That said, Bennett thinks what he showed in the postseason is proof he’s ready for a full-time gig.

“I feel like I proved myself in the playoffs,” Bennett said. “Obviously it’s not going to change the way I act or anything.

“I’m still going to work as hard as I can to make this team again.”

Under Pressure: Dougie Hamilton

5 Comments

First, there was the big trade.

Then, the big contract.

Now? The big expectations.

That’s what d-man Dougie Hamilton faces this season, his first in Calgary, after this summer’s blockbuster move from Boston and his subsequent contract — all six years and $34.5 million of it.

“I think the expectations are going to be higher,” Hamilton admitted earlier this summer, per the Calgary Sun. “But I think in Boston there’s a lot of scrutiny from fans and expectations for me when I came in, being a top-10 pick.

“I think I handled that fine and think it’ll be the same here, just have fun and play my game.”

Though the Flames and GM Brad Treliving have been quick to classify the 22-year-old Hamilton as an “emerging talent” and remind everyone he’s still young, there will be pressure on Hamilton produce, probably more than the 10 goals and 42 points he notched in Boston last year (which, by most measures, was a pretty productive season.)

There’s also that price tag.

At $5.75 million, Hamilton will be the highest-paid Flame — at least in terms of cap hit — next season. That’s ahead of a slew of older, more experienced veterans, including captain and team leader Mark Giordano (who, it must be mentioned, needs a new deal himself) and last year’s leading scorer, Jiri Hudler.

As for other challenges? Oh, you know: Develop rapport with a different defensive partner, get comfortable in new surroundings, make the switch from Eastern to Western Conference and establish a relationship with a fairly demanding head coach. Stuff that most veteran players would find overwhelming, let alone a guy with less than 200 NHL games on his resume.

Which is probably why Hamilton, like Treliving, also trying to temper expectations.

“You can’t really put too much pressure on yourself, better to just do your best and try to be as consistent as you can,” he explained. “It’s interesting. I’m still 22 and there’s a long future ahead, so I think there’s a lot of development.

“I think I have that ceiling that hasn’t been hit and hopefully do my best to reach my potential.”

It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

6 Comments

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Calgary Flames.

Calgary’s 2014-15 campaign could be summed up with one word:

Overachieving.

Heading into the season with low expectations and riding a five-year playoff drought, the Flames surprised everyone not just by making the postseason — squeezing out the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in the process — but also winning their first series in 11 years. Impressively, Calgary did this without the services of captain and top defenseman Mark Giordano, who was lost for the year in late February with a torn biceps.

Individuals exceeded expectations as well.

Bob Hartley, in the last year of his contract, earned himself a two-year extension and then won the Jack Adams as coach of the year. Jiri Hudler smashed his career-high in points, with 76, and went on to capture the Lady Byng. Johnny Gaudreau, who wasn’t even on Bovada’s preseason list of Calder favorites, finished as one of three finalists for rookie of the year.

So, needless to say… it was a pretty stellar year in Cowtown.

Off-season recap

GM Brad Treliving’s second summer in Calgary was by far his most exciting. His boldest move, no question, was orchestrating the blockbuster deal that saw ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton come aboard for a package of draft picks; Treliving then wasted little time locking up the 22-year-old blueliner, inking him to a six-year, $34.5 million deal.

In free agency, Treliving continued to make significant moves. Former Winnipeg forward Michael Frolik was brought aboard for five years at $21.5 million, and the club opted to bring back goalie Karri Ramo for another year in tandem with Jonas Hiller.

The Flames also re-upped with a few of their quality RFAs — Mikael Backlund, Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris, Paul Byron — and might’ve scored the steal of the draft when Swedish d-man Oliver Kylington, who some had pegged as a potential first-rounder, slipped to them at No. 60.

The only thing Treliving hasn’t done yet, it seems, is sign off on his “No. 1 priority” for the summer — an extension for Giordano. The veteran d-man still has a year left on his deal, so there doesn’t appear to be any rush, but it is worth noting that reports suggested Giordano’s initial ask was for a whopping $9 million per season.

If those contract talks go sideways, they could take the shine off what’s been an otherwise sparkling summer.

Bruins in talks with veteran d-man Zidlicky

19 Comments

Per TVA, Boston GM Don Sweeney said he’s had discussions about bringing defenseman Marek Zidlicky to Boston.

Zidlicky, 38, split last year between New Jersey and Detroit, and showed relatively well upon getting dealt to the playoff-bound Wings. He had 11 points in 21 regular season games — averaging over 18 minutes a night — but was a bit of a disappointment in the playoffs, going scoreless in the first six games of the Tampa Bay series before missing Game 7 with an injury.

The former Wild and Predators blueliner has played each of the last two seasons on one-year, $3 million deals with an additional $1M in performance bonuses.

In Boston, Zidlicky would provide even more veteran experience to a group that already includes 38-year-old Zdeno Chara and 34-year-old Dennis Seidenberg. He’d also fill some of the offensive and PP duties that Dougie Hamilton had prior to his trade to Calgary.

While some are clamoring for the B’s to go younger to fill the Hamilton void — like, say, still-unsigned UFA Cody Franson — Zidlicky would likely be a cheaper option, and one seeking less term.

Related: B’s among five or six teams in on Franson, who’s ‘sick of doing one-year deals’

Jacobs feels firing Chiarelli was right move, cites cap management

32 Comments

If Peter Chiarelli was more like the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stan Bowman, perhaps he would still be the Boston Bruins general manager.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs thinks Chiarelli has “a great hockey mind,” but ultimately Boston found itself in a difficult situation.

“It’s a cap environment we find ourselves in here, and you’ve got to look to the future,” Jacobs told CSN New England. “If you watch the success of the Chicago team, and I do admire them quite a bit, they dealt with their high-priced players early on and kept creating room. Every year, there was a change, not too unlike the change we see here (this year). We see some great players going elsewhere. Even to this year, you see very successful teams have met that problem.

“We didn’t deal with it in a timely enough manner and we found ourselves in a cap position that wasn’t attractive for us.”

As Jacobs alluded to, new Bruins GM Don Sweeney traded away Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic this summer in moves that improved the Bruins’ cap situation. Although Jacobs said that the decision to fire Chiarelli was ultimately made by his son, Charlie, and team president Cam Neely, the Bruins owner does feel that Chiarelli “wasn’t prepared to make the changes that needed to be made.”

Of course, a willingness to trade good players to avoid getting into cap problems isn’t everything. Sweeney’s era with Boston will ultimately be dictated in large part based on the return on those deals as well as Boston’s success in the draft because the thing about maintaining a high level of play as Chicago has is that you’ll need capable replacements for those you were forced to part ways with.