Flames stash Sam Bennett with new deal, cap challenges remain

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All things considered, the Calgary Flames’ new deal with Sam Bennett is well-manicured.

OK, with that mustache humor trimmed away, let’s note that the Flames avoided salary arbitration with Bennett, signing the 23-year-old to a two-year deal that carries a $2.55 million cap hit (so it’s $5.1M total).

Let’s start with the stuff that will push Flames fans from relieved back to possibly unsettled. (No, this isn’t Milan Lucic-related.)

The Flames still have three RFAs to sign: star-agitator Matthew Tkachuk, interesting goalie David Rittich, and hidden gem Andrew Mangiapane, yet Cap Friendly estimates that Calgary only has about $7.4M in cap space remaining.

Now, with 22 roster spots covered in that estimate — including an additional goalie in Jon Gillies — the Flames can make some tweaks to earn some room. Even so, it feels like it’s going to be a tight squeeze, to the point that something has to give. While I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames used some mix of loyalty pitches and RFA leverage to keep Tkachuk’s price down — especially being that Timo Meier gave the Sharks such a sweet deal at $6M a pop — I really don’t think it would be that outrageous to see Tkachuk pester his way to the $7M range by himself.

The good news is that, all things considered, Bennett’s deal doesn’t put the Flames in too big of a bind. It’s not desirable to the level of the Sharks somehow convincing Kevin Labanc to take just $1M for a year, but … hey, perhaps the Sharks are truly unmatched in this regard.

It’s key to judge Bennett as a $2.55M man, not as the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

This has been a pretty strange ride for Bennett, really. He came into the league drawing some mockery for failing to do a pull-up at the 2014 combine, yet some of Bennett’s greatest moments have come when he’s been a hoss:

And, judging by his mustache, Bennett’s also add some Hostetler to his brand. The hits, workout questions, and fights can be more fun to ponder than his iffy production, although sometimes the hits also go too far.

The 2018-19 season more or less tells you what you need to know about Bennett’s production so far. While he did miss time this year (limited to 71 games played), he scored 27 points, one more than the 26 Bennett generated in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

His draft pedigree makes you hope for at least a little bit more, and there are certain metrics that indicate that Bennett has been a little unlucky, such as this RAPM chart from Evolving Wild, which shows a mild disparity between his actual offense, and what his expected production could have been in 2018-19:

At $2.55M, the Flames aren’t paying a particularly big fee for Bennett’s pedigree, which is good because money is tight, and expecting too much more from Bennett would likely come down to building up false hopes.

The price is fine, and now the Flames can redirect their attention to the more important (and more challenging) tasks of locking up their remaining RFAs to team-friendly deals, particularly Tkachuk.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.