Breaking down the annual Sam Bennett performance cycle

Sam Bennett has been a source of frustration to Calgary Flames fans for years. With expectations high seemingly every year, many are left wondering what happened by the end of most (regular) seasons. This cycle, the “Vicious Bennett Cycle”, is something every Flames fan is familiar with, even if the phenomenon is generally unnamed. The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Bennett plays poorly in the regular season
  2. Bennett plays great in the playoffs
  3. Renewed offseason hope that he might live up to his initial draft expectations
  4. Return to step one

Let’s take a look at each step and see if there is any possibility the cycle might break this upcoming season.

Step One: The Regular season

In step one, Bennett plays poorly in the regular season. Below is a quick snapshot of his regular season stats over his career. All stats are 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, which include corsi for, goals for, expected goals for, and offensive zone start percentages.

YearCF%GF%xGF%OZS%Playoffs?
2015-1648.450.835.058.7No
2016-1748.737.746.962.5Yes
2017-1852.240.752.168.4No
2018-1953.647.653.060.1Yes
2019-2049.548.052.550.8Yes

Over the last three seasons, Bennett has established himself as a fairly reliable bottom six player. His underlying numbers show he does an alright job of this, and taking away his draft position and playoff excellence he would almost certainly be viewed as nothing more than a versatile third line forward.

Throughout his career, the majority of his shifts have started in the offensive zone, with a career-low 50.8% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone in 2019-20. Even with his relatively easy offensive deployment, Bennett has only really begun to have success in his underlying numbers in the last three seasons, having strong xGF% numbers in each of those years.

Despite his success creating chances, he contributes very little on the scoresheet, with underwhelming point and GF% numbers throughout his career. He set a career high in points in his rookie season with 36.

So, where does the hype come from?

Step Two: The Playoffs

The legend of playoff Sam Bennett and his unrivaled facial hair grows with each passing playoff.

Known for upping his intensity and throwing big hits in the playoffs, his playoff pace of 19 points in 30 playoff games would give him over 50 points over the course of a full 82 game season.

YearCF%GF%xGF%OZS%
2014-1545.438.147.264.4
2016-1746.733.634.861.9
2018-1938.750.036.485.0
2019-2049.863.854.648.8

Interestingly, his underlying numbers are actually worse in the playoffs, despite much higher point production on a per game basis. This difference can likely be attributed to a higher playoff shooting percentage of 15.5%, compared to a 10.3% percentage in the regular season over the course of his career.

Essentially, shooting luck can explain much of Bennett’s playoff success. This propensity for putting up points in the playoffs is the cause of the next step in the Bennett cycle:

Step Three: Renewed offseason hope

This step requires no statistical analysis. Hope and optimism are not categories measured by hockey analytics, and ranking times fans have been disappointed by Bennett seems needlessly cruel.

What can be said instead is this; the combination of his draft position and his tendency to up his game when the stakes are highest make Bennett an easy target for unrealistic expectations. This is where we stand today, in the stage off offseason hope.

After one of Bennett’s strongest postseason performances ever, fans and management wait anxiously to see which Bennett will show up in the regular season. Will it be the usual regular season Bennett, reliable but unremarkable? Or a version of Playoffs Bennett, who is instead less reliable, but much more remarkable? The answer is also in the cycle.

Step Four: Repeat

Back to step one, it’s expected that Bennett may have a poor regular season. A disappointing return to his typical regular season form has followed each of his last three playoff performances. If the cycle holds, this year will be no different.

The hard truth is that even with improved underlying numbers in the playoffs this past season, the improvement only brought those numbers in line with his usual regular season performance. Combined with a high shooting percentage, he managed to produce eight points across ten games, but that pace is unsustainable.

When his shooting percentage inevitably returns to his career average, his point totals will too, just as they have so many times before. Bennett is a useful player in the bottom six, but its time to stop raising our hopes based off of playoff luck and draft position, and accept the player that he is.

The Bennett Cycle is undefeated so far, and there is no reason to start betting against it now. The only person that will bet against it is Bennett himself, and he has good reason to change the narrative, as he could cash in big time, it being a contract year for him after all.


Featured photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

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