Since Jordie Benn is not an elite puck-moving defenceman that either lights up the scoresheet or plays regularly on the first pairing, the decision to sign Jordie Benn has not been the subject of much discussion this offseason. However, Jordie Benn’s contribution will be missed if he does not return next season.
Jordie Benn’s 2018-19 campaign was much better than 2017-18, a season where he struggled when used predominantly in the top two pairings. In 2018-19, he served primarily as a third-pairing option where he registered a career high in goals (five) and points (22) and was also plus 15. Before Kulak emerged as the partner for Jeff Petry on the second pairing, Benn was often slotted next to Petry. At 31, Jordie is a very solid third pairing defenceman who can temporarily move up the lineup if necessary.
The Canadiens’ current defence corps is unbalanced. The right side is in good shape with veterans Shea Weber and Jeff Petry anchoring a formidable group that also includes Christian Folin, with prospects Noah Juulsen (who may be more than just a prospect), Cale Fleury, and Josh Brook knocking on the door. The left side is another matter. Absent a move by Marc Bergevin, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak seem to have the inside track on the first two pairings with the left side’s third pairing defender undetermined if Benn does not return. There are other options in the organization (for example, Mike Reilly or Xavier Ouellet) but none of those internal options could be reasonably expected to perform consistently and at the same level that Benn has over his time with the Canadiens.
The decision on Benn will most likely come down to cap hit and term. Evolving Hockey has projected Jordie Benn’s next contract at four years with a cap hit of just under $3.5 million per season. Benn has been a bargain for the Canadiens up until now with a cap hit of $1.1 million over the past few years. As a reliable and durable veteran with solid performance metrics and a reasonable cap hit, Benn has delivered real value for the Canadiens to date.
However, if Benn’s next contract is anywhere near the projected salary and term, Marc Bergevin will have to evaluate other options. Benn has struggled to move up the lineup in the past and, in a league where puck movement and speed are paramount, signing the solid but relatively unspectacular 31-year-old Benn for that salary and term is probably not in the best interests of the Canadiens. That is particularly so as Benn approaches his mid-30s.
Jordie Benn also owes it to himself to maximize the money and term of his next contract. This could be Benn’s last contract and it will most certainly be the most valuable contract that he will sign in his career. In other words, although Benn loves Montreal and the fan base certainly respects him, the interests of the team and the player do not converge.
This does mean that Bergevin must shore up the left side of the defence corps. With no internal options available this coming season, a trade or a free agent must be pursued. There are several left-handed defencemen rumoured to be available via trade such as T.J. Brodie, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nick Leddy. Gostisbehere is signed until 2023 with a cap hit of $4.5 million. Brodie is signed for another season with a cap hit of just over $4.8 million. Leddy has a cap hit of $5.5 million but is signed through 2022. If the Habs trade for help on the left side, there is the minor detail about who the Canadiens will surrender in order to acquire any of them or another left-handed defender.
Another option is free agency with Jake Gardiner available. With the term and salary that Gardiner may command in the open market (estimated at just over $6.8 million for a seven-year term by Evolving Hockey), this option may be prohibitive. Subject to the players that will have to go the other way, the trade route may be the better option for the Canadiens.
Last week, GM Marc Bergevin indicated that Benn was going to see what his options were in free agency. Even if he decides to circle back to Montreal, it’s time to let him go.