Stu Cowan: Jordie Benn hopes his days with Canadiens aren t over
|Montreal Gazette 08 Apr 2019 at 13:45|
“It’s not going through my mind now, but I hope it’s not my last game here,” Benn said after the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-5 in a shootout Saturday night at the Bell Centre to end their season. “The boys are great. We had a great year. It’s just one of those things that the East was a powerhouse this year and we got cut a little short.”
The Canadiens finished with a 44-30-8 record, finishing two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who took the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens’ 96 points ties an NHL record for the most points by a team not making the playoffs.
Benn is one of five players on the Canadiens’ roster who can become unrestricted free agents on July 1, along with fellow defenceman Christian Folin, forwards Jordan Weal and Nate Thompson, and goalie Antti Niemi. Defencemen Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly can become restricted free agents, along with forwards Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon.
Montreal Canadiens’ Jordie Benn fires a shot from the point between New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson, left, and Jordan Eberle during third period in Montreal on March 21, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Benn, 31, finished the season with 5-17-22 totals in 81 games — setting career highs in goals and points — and was plus-15 while averaging 18:12 of ice time, including 2:47 on the penalty-kill.
“After last season, it was a long year,” Benn said. “To bounce back the way I did, I think I played pretty well. I don’t know what everybody else thinks, but I don’t really care. I think I had a fairly good year.
“I think I was moving the puck quicker, moving my feet,” Benn added. “We talked about that quite a bit. It’s just one of those things that if you’re not moving your feet, you get caught in positions you don’t want to get caught in. Obviously, you have some games where you’re not moving your feet and you can see it. My game is just not the same when I’m not moving my feet. Making that first pass, giving it to the forwards and letting them do the work I think is the biggest thing I can do.”
Benn is most effective when being used as a third-pairing defenceman. That’s where he finished the season, playing alongside the 28-year-old Folin, and they were an effective duo for the most part. It would make sense for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin to try to re-sign them both because they shouldn’t cost a lot. Benn is coming off a three-year, US$3.3-million contract, while Folin had a one-year, US$800,000 deal. Bergevin will probably re-sign the 25-year-old Kulak, who was a very pleasant surprise this season after being acquired from the Calgary Flames on Oct. 1 in exchange for defencemen Matt Taormina and Rinat Valiev. Kulak is coming off a one-year, US$900,000 contract and definitely deserves a raise.
It will be interesting to see what Bergevin does with Reilly, who obviously fell out of favour with head coach Claude Julien and was a healthy scratch for the last 13 games and 18 of the last 19. Reilly couldn’t even get in the lineup for the season finale, which was meaningless in the standings. Expect Bergevin to re-sign Armia and Lehkonen, and also make an offer to Weal, but you have to figure Thompson, Niemi and Hudon’s days with the Canadiens are over. Hudon was a healthy scratch for the final 22 games and 25 of the last 27.
“Me and Kuly played great and then he got the opportunity to play with Petey (Jeff Petry),” Benn said. “Me and Foli, I thought we played good. We talked to each other a lot. We helped each other out there and it turned out well for us.”
Benn showed he can still be an effective defenceman when used properly and his mistakes are never caused by a lack of effort. He’s a battler. Benn gives a lot of credit for his success this season to new defence coach Luke Richardson.
“He was awesome,” Benn said. “Just unbelievable. He’s just a calming factor back there. It’s just one of those things where he understands the game, he understands how fast it is now. It’s nice in practices and off the ice where he can sit you down and show you video. It was huge for us.
“He’s one of those guys that when he’s talking, you’re listening,” Benn added. “You know how long he played for (21 seasons in the NHL) and how hard he played. He understands what’s going on. He’s just one of those guys, everything he says you’re like a sponge. You take it all in and he was huge for us.”
Benn is optimistic about what the future holds for the Canadiens.
“You look at all our young guys and, obviously, you can’t take away from the older guys that are here,” he said. “We’ve got some top-end guys. Obviously, (Carey Price) Pricey’s unbelievable. People should be excited for next year.”
Benn hopes to be a part of it.