With free agency only days away, teams have begun last-minute efforts to keep their prized assets off the open market.
The Florida Panthers succeeded in this area by retaining one of their emerging young forwards, agreeing to terms with Sam Bennett on a four-year contract extension worth an average annual value of $4.4 million.
The details of the agreement, such as a no-movement clause or salary structure, have yet to be determined.
Bennett found new life in Florida after arriving from the Calgary Flames at the 2021 trade deadline. The 25-year-old broke out spectacularly in his new surroundings, racking up 15 points in 10 games as a member of the Panthers that dwarfed the 12 points in 38 games he had managed as a Flame earlier that season.
Bennett just stop there, either. Continuing his torrid scoring pace into the playoffs, Bennett emerged as one of the Panthers’ top performers with five points in the team’s five-game first-round series loss to the eventual Cup Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Impressive debut with the Panthers aside, however, evaluating Bennet is a difficult endeavor.
Bennett had been on his way out of Calgary for quite some time before eventually departing, never quite managing to find a role on any one line for years and even sitting as a healthy scratch for multiple games last season. Unsurprisingly, Bennett’s play took a steady path downwards amid his uncertain and sporadic usage, ultimately opening the door for the Panthers to nab the former top-five pick for only a second-rounder and a prospect.
In committing both significant money and term to Bennett, general manager, Bill Zito is taking a noted risk. Keep in mind, Bennett played only 123 minutes in a Panthers uniform. And while those were a spectacular 123 minutes, they are also preceded by years of uneven results that ultimately earned him the ire of his previous employer.
What the Panthers are banking on with this extension is that Bennett’s true self is the player they saw in Florida, not the one who watched the odd game from the press box in Calgary.
They’re certainly paying him like the former. The hope is he doesn’t perform like the latter.