Whether you love him or you hate him, it appears as though Sam Bennett‘s time in Calgary may be reaching its end. Through his agent it has emerged that Bennett is looking for a change of scenery and for an increased role with a new team. And, while there are definitely two sides to why the organization’s highest ever draft pick, and Brad Treliving’s first ever pick, did not work out, it may make the most sense to try and recoup something for him as opposed to not qualify him at the end of the season.
With the mandatory two-week quarantine for a player coming across the border, it likely makes more sense to trade for a player within Canada as opposed to one from the States. But, as with any trade, a number of names have already emerged as potential pieces coming the other way. Let’s breakdown how that would work.
Victor Mete – Montreal Canadiens
Bennett and Victor Mete are both represented by Darren Ferris, and both Bennett and Mete’s announcement looking for a new home emerged at around the same time. Because of the timing and the same agent, a swap deal has been in the news recently.
Mete was a fourth round draft pick of the Habs in 2016, and won the Memorial Cup with Matthew Tkachuk and Tyler Parsons with the London Knights that year. He made the Habs out of junior following an impressive training camp, and found his way into 49 games. Unfortunately he suffered an injury, which kept him out of the lineup for the rest of the season.
From there, he has bounced between the AHL and NHL, and has only appeared in two NHL game so far this season. The Habs have kept him on their taxi squad, believing he will be claimed should they put him on waivers to play in Laval of the AHL.
Just 22 years old, Mete has appeared in 171 NHL games, and clearly has a lot of promise, but he has some defects that need some work. Scouts have noted that while he is quick and decent defensively, he is easy to knock off the puck. On top of that, his shot needs some work, finding the net just four times in his career.
Is he what the Flames need right now? Probably not. They already have Oliver Kylington, Connor Mackey, and Michael Stone sitting on the taxi squad, and unless they think that his upside is better than Nikita Nesterov‘s or Kylington’s, he probably is not something that the Flames would want coming back this way.
Also, what Bennett has accomplished in his NHL career far surpasses what Mete has in his. The Canadiens would need to seriously sweeten the pot.
Jake Virtanen – Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen and Bennett have a lot in common. Both were very high draft picks of their respective organizations, both were highly touted picks who were expected to become cornerstone pieces of their respective franchises, and both have not turned out the way their respective teams imagined.
Virtanen’s path has been a bit different from Bennett’s, spending a good chunk of his development in the AHL before making it in the NHL. However, Virtanen has been plagued with issues both on and off the ice. On the ice, he has struggled to make an impact right until last season. He has typically been a bottom six player, but put up 36 points in 69 games last year and appeared to have finally turned the corner.
His underlying numbers based on these charts from HockeyViz.com do not jump off the page either. When on the ice, the team struggles defensively (bottom row) and have not been exceptional offensively, with the exception of last season (top row). For reference, here are Bennett’s numbers, not eye-popping but much better.
However, off the ice Virtanen has struggled to be coached. He has shown up to training camp out of shape and has had his work ethic questioned. He has played in 10 games this season, but has been scratched for three so far, and it appears the Canucks are keen to move on from him.
For the Flames, Virtanen would fill a hole. He is a right shot right winger with an excellent shot, and would be just one more former Canuck to make the move to Calgary this season. Both he and Bennett have shown flashes of brilliance in their career, and both could be excellent with a change of scenery. However, Virtanen has not been nearly as good in his NHL career as Bennett, that unless the Flames got a sweetener alongside Virtanen, this is not a great deal.
While both players earn the exact same salary at $2.55M, Virtanen has an extra year on his deal. If Virtanen does not make an impact with the Flames this season, they cannot just cut bait with him the way that they could with Bennett at the end of the year. It is a lot of money to be paying a guy to not be in the lineup if he doesn’t fit. Barring the Canucks throwing in a sweetener, he is probably not a fit with the Flames.
Phillip Danault – Montreal Canadiens
This one came out earlier this week from Grant McCagg of Recrutes.com. A former Habs scout, McCagg argued that the Habs need to look to move on from Phillip Danault , who has been a key part of their organization since 2016. Danault has finished in the top-seven in Selke Trophy voting twice, and has been a top-six player for the Canadiens his entire career. He currently is slotted on the top line.
McCagg made the argument that the Habs are undergoing a major transformation, and that their younger players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki are quickly overtaking Danault both offensively and defensively. The Habs should look to move Danault now rather than later.
It has also emerged from Mathias Brunet of LaPresse that Danault has rejected his latest contract with the team. He is in the last year of his current deal, which pays his $3.3M per season. He will no doubt be looking for an increase and a longer term deal in his next contract, be that in Montreal or elsewhere.
When a top line centre becomes available on the market, teams always look at it. And with GM Brad Treliving’s track record, you best believe he has asked after the former first round pick. That said, it seems hard seeing this as a one for one going to Montreal. Bennett is not the same player as Danault by a country mile, and it is almost guaranteed that if the Flames want Danault, they will need to move someone else along with him.
On top of that, the salaries don’t match up. The Flames would need the Habs to either retain some salary or would have to move another piece alongside Bennett to make up the approximately $800k difference between the two players’ salaries. The Flames will also need to offer Danault a new contract as part of the deal or risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
Then there is the question of fit. The Flames would have three potential top line centres in Danault, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm to compliment Derek Ryan and Mikael Backlund. The Flames would need to move one of them either to the wing or trade them elsewhere in order to make it all fit in the lineup.
What about Seattle?
This is the final piece. If the Flames move Bennett to Montreal for Danault, their expansion draft planning gets more complicated. Assuming the Flames sign Danault as part of the deal, they will leave either Andrew Mangiapane or Dillon Dube exposed, and Seattle will absolutely snag whichever one the Flames do not protect.
The Kraken will likely take Bennett in the expansion draft if the Flames do not trade him this season. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Kraken will happily take a guy who has decent underlying numbers and can be a strong bottom six guy.
The downside is that the Flames will lose him for absolutely nothing. That isn’t great asset management on their part, but maybe the path of least resistance for all parties, and they’ll lose someone in the expansion draft regardless. The Flames then get the rest of the season out of Bennett, and do not have to dig into their taxi squad for depth in the lineup. They are then able to utilize him in their potential playoff run, when he looks best.
Could the Flames trade him for Picks?
The other option is that the Flames can trade him for a draft pick or two. It seems unlikely that the Flames would get more than a third round pick, or a second round pick if they are very, very lucky. Teams are much more cautious about trading away future picks on projects than they were when the Flames traded for Curtis Lazar in 2017.
It will be hard to trade him across the border because of the quarantine period, and on top of that, the Flames lose his services for the remainder of the season. That would mean Joakim Nordstrom will likely slot into the Flames’ roster on a full time basis, unless the Flames feel Glenn Gawdin is ready for a full-time NHL role. Either way, this (at least temporarily) makes the Flames worse. Bennett isn’t perfect but he is far from the worst player on the roster.
What to do now?
At the end of the day, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. If the Flames move him, they would need a piece who is at least as good coming back the other way, but then would need to think about potentially protecting that player in the expansion draft. If they do not move Bennett, they have a disgruntled player who wants out on their hands, and will likely lose him to Seattle.
There are some interesting names being floated through the rumour mills, but each comes with some additional complications. GM Brad Treliving and team will have to use some magic to make all parties happy, make the Flames better (or at least not worse), remain cap compliant, and not lose any new acquisitions to Seattle in the expansion draft.
Perhaps the Flames keep using Bennett as they have. Perhaps they elevate him and truly see what he can do on the top line for an extended period of time. Right now, a trade doesn’t seem like the best option, so all we can do is wait and see what happens.