When it comes to offseason decisions for the Edmonton Oilers, one choice that I’ll be watching is to see what Ken Holland plans to do with pending RFA Matt Benning. In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday (Sunday Edition), I want to know how you’d handle the Oilers’ current third-pairing RHD.
With just over $8 million worth of cap space available as of this post, Ken Holland doesn’t have a whole lot of space to play with when it comes to handling the major items on his offseason to-do list. Ethan Bear still needs to be re-signed, he needs a new goalie, a third-line centre, an extension for Nugent-Hopkins, the list goes on and on… So when it comes to the handling and future of restricted free-agent, Matt Benning, an interesting decision is going to have to be made sooner than later. In terms of what he provides to the team, I actually think Benning is a solid bet to be the third pairing RHD, but what I don’t know is if the math can work in favour of keeping him around.
Looking back on his time with the Oilers, Cam Lewis summarized Benning’s first four years in Edmonton in a recent RFA profile:
There was hope after that nice rookie season that Benning could take another step forward and turn into that much-coveted top-four, right-handed defenceman, but that hasn’t happened. Whenever Benning has been moved up the depth chart to take on more minutes or to face more difficult competition, he’s struggled with the task.
That isn’t a knock on Benning. He just is what he is — a thoroughly solid, two-way, third-pairing defenceman.
Throughout the entirety of Benning’s NHL career, he’s managed to outscore his opponents when he’s on the ice. Most recently, in 2019-20, he had the second-best goal differential at even-strength on the Oilers (23-to-16) behind only Kailer Yamamoto. For his career, he owns an impressive 158-to-129 goal differential.
A few weeks ago, Gregor looked at the need for change on the back end before the start of next season and assessed Benning’s spot in the equation:
Benning needs to be qualified at $2 million. I don’t see that happening so either he signs at a lower salary, gets traded or tests the market. I like Benning more than most. He is a smart player, a good passer, has a great shot and is the best open ice hitter on the team. His foot speed is a challenge at times, but he takes good angles and rarely do we see him get blown by. However, with Evan Bouchard likely to the third pairing right defender, I’m not sure where Benning fits.
Ideally, Holland is able to trade him for something, rather than let him walk as a free agent. I think Benning will have value because teams are always looking for right shot defenders, and on a team that was outscored 511-450 (-61) over the past three seasons at 5×5, Benning managed to be +19 (116-97). I see him as a solid third pairing defender, who could help out a PP if given the opportunity.
This is where you come in. If there’s one thing that Oilers fans know how to do better than anything else it’s fixing this hockey team, and that’s why I’m asking you to put on your Holland Hat and make the call on Matt Benning’s future with the franchise. Maybe you think that Ken Holland should just walk away from the best 83 since Hemsky and allow him to test free agency, knowing that it may not be the best asset management but ultimately necessary because of the spend it would take to keep him? Maybe you’d qualify him simply to maintain his rights and look to trade him entirely, possibly recouping some assets? Do they extend him, knowing he’ll provide reasonably sound defensive minutes on the third pairing provided that he can stay healthy? Maybe you’ve got an idea in that big ol’ brain of yours that I haven’t even thought of and your wizardry is going to bend space and time?
In today’s What Would You Do Wednesday (Sunday edition), I’m asking you to put on your GM’s cap, pull out your calculator and roster sheet, and make the call on what you would do with defenceman Matt Benning?
BENNING’S NHL CAREER SO FAR