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How Simon Benoit turned a one-year “prove it” deal into a three-year extension

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Photo credit:© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
19 days ago
When you look at the list of players the Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired in recent memory, it’s hard to think of anybody who saw such a rapid and sudden increase in both reliability in dependability and reliability alike the way Simon Benoit did.
Maybe it has to do with the longing for a physical presence, or in Benoit’s own words, someone to “bang bodies” on the back end. Maybe it’s the blue-collar manner in which he turned a one-year deal with a team that had a populous defensive depth chart and wound up becoming one of their most reliable defencemen at certain points of the season. Maybe it’s his unwavering love for milk. In reality, it’s probably a combination of these three things, and really, it doesn’t matter what got the job done – they all contributed to a new contract extension for the 25-year-old defenceman.
On Friday morning, after the Leafs beat the playoff-hopeful Washington Capitals 5-1 at home, they announced the re-signing of Benoit to a three-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $1.35 million. This comes after the former Anaheim Ducks blueliner inked a one-year deal a hair above league million at $775,000 back in August. With players like Mark Giordano, Conor Timmins, and William Lagesson on the depth chart ahead of him at the time, he was realistically around ninth on the team’s depth chart. He did have an extra element of physicality to his game, giving him an edge over the aforementioned players, but throwing the body can only get you so far in today’s game. If you can’t keep up with pace and find yourself puck-watching more often than puck-moving, you won’t last.
To further make things difficult for the Laval, Quebec native, he didn’t exactly hit the ground running to kick off the season. He missed much of training camp with a back injury, and in his first preseason game back, he took three penalties and didn’t look like he was on the same level as some of his counterparts. It wasn’t enough to crack the Leafs’ roster at the start of the season, and he was subsequently waived along with players like Bobby McMann and Martin Jones (doesn’t that sound hilarious to say right now?).
Luckily for the Leafs, he cleared, and although it took about a month into the regular season, he finally got his shot with the Leafs on November 6 in the wake of injuries to players like Jake McCabe and Timothy Liljegren. As John Klingberg eventually hit the injured reserve as well, the team became more dependent on him, and he wound up being called on more than he probably expected. He’s seen his ice time climb as high as 22:49 throughout the season, and while his one goal and four assists on the season don’t leave much to write home about offensively, he leads the team in hits with 205 through 54 games. He’s also fifth on the team in blocked shots and has some strong underlying numbers as well, sitting at fifth among Maple Leafs defencemen with a 51.76 expected goals-for rating (xGF%) at five-on-five and a goals-for percentage (GF%) of 54.10 at five-on-five.
https://twitter.com/Sportsnet/status/1770604439205740805/video/1
Not only does the contract reward Benoit for his efforts this season, but it also gives the Leafs a cost-effective bottom-pair defenceman with the likely departures of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie this offseason. It’s safe to say that he’ll slot in on the left side in a bottom-pair role behind Morgan Rielly and Jake McCabe next season, but it’s also foolishly early to try and make a prediction like that before we see what the defence looks like going into 2024-25.
As he said he would back in September when he signed the contract, Benoit “made his spot” and turned a feel-good story into some security and a regular role with the team moving forward. Tidy bit of business on both sides.

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