Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

RFA Profile: Matt Benning continues to fly under the radar

Back in the 2016 off-season, the Oilers made a couple of notable NCAA free agent signings. One of them, Drake Caggiula, was applauded by everyone as the gritty forward was coming off an MVP showing for North Dakota, while the other, Matt Benning, was met with a shrug.

Benning flew under the radar as an NCAA free agent, he flew under the radar during his strong, steady rookie season, and he continues to fly under the radar now as he’s consistently a useful player on the Oilers’ blueline.

Benning was actually drafted by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, so he’s a prospect that Peter Chiarelli had his eye on for quite some time. He didn’t sign an entry-level deal with Boston and ultimately hit the open market where the general manager who originally drafted him inked him to a two-year deal.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In his rookie season, Benning cracked the team out of training camp as the Oilers lacked talent on the right side of the blueline. He slotted in on the team’s third pair and played very effectively with Darnell Nurse in a role featuring 16:37 minutes of ice time per night on average. He also chipped in with 15 points in 62 games. This year, Benning had a slight improvement in his offensive production, putting up 21 points in 73 games.

Offence isn’t really Benning’s game, so his boxcar stats don’t do him justice. While Benning is a fairly smooth player who can move the puck nicely, his calling card really is as a steady, clam presence who controls the gap nicely and isn’t afraid to throw the body. He rarely gets caught out of position and makes smart, sound plays, which makes up for the fact he doesn’t have game-breaking talent.

Matt Benning inks two-year deal in Nashville

Where you can see Benning’s impact, I find, is in his underlying numbers. In his first two seasons in the league, Benning has a +1.8 Corsi For percentage in relation to his teammates. This is while spending a lot of time with Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom, two players who tend to take risks on the ice, whether it be to join the rush or pinch and throw a big hit. Obviously it isn’t a be all, end all piece of analysis, but Benning consistently drives a positive shot attempt differential when on the ice, which is certainly a positive sign.

According to Corsica, Benning’s relative shot attempt differential ranks 30th among all NHL defencemen who have played at least 1,000 even strength minutes over the past two seasons. It puts him in a strata with names like Matt Niskanen, Jaccob Slavin, and Brian Dumoulin, all players who fly under the radar because they don’t put up gaudy offensive numbers but clearly play an effective game on the blueline.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What does this mean for Benning’s next contract? He has three more controls years before he’s able to hit the open market, and given the fact he isn’t much of an offensive producer, I doubt he’ll command a long-term deal. I spoke about this when I talked about Darnell Nurse’s contract last week. Like with Nurse, it seems most likely the Oilers will go the bridge route and sign Benning for a couple of years in the $2.5 million ballpark, which is what you commonly see for these defenders who don’t produce much offensively.

Andreas Athanasiou and Matt Benning will hit the free agent market

Derek Forbort, a defensive defenceman who has roughly the same amount of points the past couple years as Benning does, inked a two-year deal worth $2,525,000 back in October. Other similar players who got longer term deals are Mark Pysyk, who got got a three-year deal worth $2,733,333, and Markus Nutivaara who got a four-year deal worth $2,700,000. Like I said, I’m guessing the Oilers go two years with Benning, but there’s certainly an argument to be made for a longer, const-controlled deal like the one Nutivaara was given by the Blue Jackets.

Matt Benning’s stats

Edmonton’s salary cap situation

Other RFAs:

Ryan Strome, Darnell Nurse, Drake Caggiula

  • Randaman

    Sorry but if he wants 2.5, sign and trade or better yet, don’t sign and trade. He’s slow, takes too many stupid penalties due to poor skating and gets pushed off the puck way too easily.

  • russ99a

    For a “steady calm presence” he sure makes a lot of coverage mistakes. Hitting and holding the gap doesn’t help when the puck keeps going in the net.

    Seems a divisive figure between the pro-Corsi and anti-Corsi groups. If the Oilers are improving the offensive right side D with a more talented player, Benning doesn’t really fit anymore, seems odd to spend good RFA coin to keep him.

      • crabman

        It tells me you aren’t being objective.
        Bear leads Benning in minutes per game, almost all of that is on the pp, and blocked shots/60 that is all. Benning has better numbers in every other category. 1.00pt/60 for Benning, .72pt/60 for Bear even though Bear plays much more pp time. CF and CFrel Benning is much better. Benning has 7.08 hits/60 to Bear’s 2.51 hits/60. Bear is not a better player than Benning today. I think Bear is the better player longterm, maybe even next year after a summer of training but Benning has shown he can play in the bottom pair and have good results. Bear would be better off starting the year in the AHL and playing big minutes.

  • toprightcorner

    The contracts you list are very misleading.

    Pysyk got a 2 year deal at $1.25 for his second contract. The $2.7 you list is his 3rd contract after 5 years of NHL experience

    Forbot signed a 3 year, $860k deal for his second contract.

    Nutivaara is a closer comparison, but 4 years buys a lot more time.

    Benning should not get more than $1.25 for a 2 year bridge. The only way he gets over $2 mill is if it is a 4 year contract. He is under control for 3 more years so he has no leverage. If Nurse gets a bridge, he would at most get $2.5.

    • crabman

      I agree with your assessment of Benning at $1.25M sounds about right. I counted on him making as much as $1.5M, a bit of a buffer, when working out cap space next year. but I think your Nurse cap at $2.5M is lower than he will get. I think a bridge at $3M×2 would be good value, and where I would want it, but wouldn’t be surprised if it came in at $3.3-3.5M×2. I’m looking at a Trouba type deal for Nurse.

        • crabman

          Trouba 2 years ago? I think he is. Trouba 2 years ago wasn’t playing on the top pair. Trouba wasn’t the Jets best defenceman in his contract year like Nurse. Trouba did score a full .10pts/g during his ELC but Nurse had a better contract year. Trouba had 21pts and +10 playing 2nd pairing minutes. Nurse had 26pts and +15 while playing top line minutes.
          I would say Trouba is a very good comparison.

    • crabman

      Benning was top 3 in almost every category among Oilers defencemen except playing time. points, +/-, ga/60, hits, cf%rel. Benning is a very good bottom pair defenceman. He isn’t the problem but he isn’t the solution. They need a better top4 RHD. But Benning in a bottom pair role at a good cap hit isn’t a bad thing.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I’ve always liked Benning’s willingness to hit. He’s usually smart about it and doesn’t put himself out of position/take a penalty. Good addition to the blue line.

  • RexHolez

    If it’s gonna cost 2.5, I say let him walk. He’s ok on a third pairing at the right price.

    Why use forbort as a comparable? It says in the article that forbort is a defensive defenceman with roughly the same amount of points as Benning. So let’s go get forbort then

  • crabman

    I don’t get the hate Benning has received from a portion of the fanbase over the past 2 years. He has been a steady and dependable bottom pairing defender. He doesn’t excel at 1 part of the game but is good in all areas. For that reason I don’t see him developing into a nightly top4 but he is a very good option in a bottom pair role. $2.5M per year is more than the team can afford if they plan on upgrading the right side this offseason. I have been saying $1.5M×1-2 for a while now and think that should be adequate compensation for a #3RHD.

  • bwar

    I guessed a Benning contract around $2 mil the other day. I don’t think anything under $2.5 mil is unreasonable. Yes you’d like to sign him for less but the reality is that $2.5 mil is a contract that has many comparables and will probably be the starting point of any contract talks.

  • crabman

    His dad played 18 games in Edmonton in 1992-93. He is from St. Albert and came home to play for Edmonton. For the GM that drafted him on a team with almost no one that plays his position, RHD. There was an opportunity and familiarity for him here. Seems like a great reason to come to Edmonton to play.
    The Oilers need a number of cheap players because they have a limited amount of cap space. It’s a matter of finding those low cap players that can also fill their roles. Benning in a bottom pair is such a player.