Matt Benning 2023 player review: A steal at $1.25M

Matt Benning admirably filled the role of depth defenseman for the San Jose Sharks in the 2022-23 season and was an asset to the team on the penalty kill.

Matt Benning 2023 player review: A steal at $1.25M

When the San Jose Sharks signed Matt Benning in the offseason, Sharks fans were underwhelmed, to say the least. After all, they were still smarting from the loss of Brent Burns, whose offensive output was irreplaceable (though Erik Karlsson did his best this season) and Benning seemed like a poor consolation prize.

In fact, in our preseason preview last year, Sie Morley described Benning's four-year contract as "plugging a long-term hole" in the Sharks' defensive depth chart. Not exactly the ringing endorsement you want to hear on a team that has a long way to go before it's back in playoff contention.

Benning's 2022-23 production

However, hindsight is 20/20 and when you look at Benning's season, you can't help feeling like he's a steal. He was not signed to be a scoring machine to help make up for the points lost in Burns' departure. He was signed to be a steadying defensive defenseman and that's what he did.

Games Played G A P PIM +/- SOG Shooting %
77 1 23 24 26 -18 58 1.7%

Benning put up 24 points this season. That's a career high. This was Benning's seventh season in the NHL (four seasons with Edmonton, two seasons with Nashville) and he played more games this season (77) than he did in any previous season.

What's more, he hit a milestone on March 20, scoring his 100th NHL point.

But the success of Benning's season should not be judged on his point totals and offensive contributions. Those are merely extras. It's how he performed on defense that adds value to the team.

Benning's RAPM 2022-23

It is important to note that Benning played with Marc-Edouard Vlasic more than any other defenseman. The duo was San Jose's "shutdown" pairing and had more defensive zone starts than any other combo. The pairing was also tops on the team in neutral zone starts.

When you look at Benning's RAPM (the plus/minus stat that's adjusted for things out of the player's control such as zone starts, opponents, etc.) it reiterates the fact that Benning is all about that D.

The chart on the left, which looks at Benning's impact in 5-on-5 situations, shows that Benning does not help the team in goals for per 60 minutes. Let's be honest, not many of the team's defensemen outside of Erik Karlsson did this season. However, Benning is better than league average on defense. When it comes to expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60), Benning is an asset, performing a cut above your average NHLer.

Benning's other assets

While the 28-year-old Benning did not fill the scoring hole left in the Burns trade, he did help fill some of the minutes that Burns used to eat up for the team. Benning was rarely paired with Erik Karlsson this season, which makes his usage even more important to the Sharks.

Benning averaged 19:47 of ice time this season according to Rotowire. What's more, he took on those tough, shorthanded minutes, averaging 2:49 per game. Benning played a big role in the Sharks' penalty kill, which was among the top kills in the league all season long. It finished seventh best in the NHL at 82.4% but hovered at first or second in the league earlier in the season.

Benning blocked 125 shots this season, many of those coming shorthanded. It was something that impressed Sharks' Assistant Coach Ryan Warsofsky, who oversaw the team's penalty kill this past season.

“He blocks that shot in Montreal [on Nov. 29], it's 1-0 on a 5-on-3. That saves the game. That's a game-changing play. He's a warrior. He does whatever you ask,” Warsofsky told San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng in February.

Additionally, Benning was a disciplined player. The Athletic's Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn used their combined statistical knowledge to create in-depth player cards for every player in the league. Updated at the beginning of April, Benning's player card shows he ranks in the 95th percentile league-wide in penalty differential. That means he drew more penalties than he took when compared to other NHL players.

Benning's future with the Sharks

Benning was brought in last offseason to fill a hole in the Sharks' lineup. San Jose lacked defensive depth in 2021-22. Without a lot of cap room to work with, Sharks General Manager Mike Grier locked in an experienced NHL defenseman. Grier didn't need a top-pairing defenseman, he needed a reliable one. He found that in Benning.

At $1.25 million AAV through 2026-27, Benning is a steal. The Athletic's player card estimates Benning's work this past season was worth nearly four times that. At 28 (29 on May 25), Benning is in his prime, which means we are less likely to see the statistical drop-off that you sometimes experience with older players.

What's more, if over the next few years, the younger defensemen in the Sharks' pipeline develop into full-time NHL players, Benning's contract is very moveable. Contending teams are always looking for insurance on the blueline and $1.25 million is a small price to pay for Benning's reliability. Even if he is not traded and simply fills the role of a seventh defenseman for the Sharks in the final year of his contract, the $1.25 million is something the Sharks will be able to manage financially.

Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out the player reviews for the San Jose Sharks. We realize there were a lot of guys rotating into and out of the lineup and some of the key depth players were traded. As a result, Fear the Fin plans to focus on the players that are 1) still with the Sharks and 2) played 20 or more games for San Jose this season.