As Heart of Midlothian let third place slip from their grasp in the final three months of last season, the absences of Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett and Beni Baningime were felt and noted.

Between them they made 33 appearances, none of them coming after Christmas Eve when Gordon and Halkett suffered season-ending injuries in a draw with Dundee United. In Baningime's case, he didn't feature once all season.

All three are now back fit. Baningime has been a regular in recent weeks, while Halkett made his first appearance at the weekend as a second half substitute in the loss to Aberdeen. As reported by Hearts Standard on Monday, both Baningime and Halkett have been offered new deals by the club. 

The pair, along with Gordon and four other first-team players, are out of contract at the end of the season. At the time of writing, Hearts were still awaiting an answer but the reaction to the offers was somewhat mixed, certainly on social media. There was a mixture of 'good move from the club' to 'why are the club wanting to extend their deals?'.

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The skepticism largely focused on the players' injury records.

Now, Hearts fans have a frustration around injuries. Last season was a case in point when a number of the club's key players were missing at various stages of the campaign. Go back to 2018/19 when the team started the season excellently, when Steven Naismith was a player, but they would then have to contend with injuries to important members of the squad.

Yet, losing both to freedom of contract would be a sore one to take and a blow.

Let's start with Halkett. Hearts Standard understands the centre-back has a clause in his contract whereby if makes a certain number of appearances it triggers a contract extension. It is unclear as to whether that would be possible having missed the first four months of the season. 

However, the theory that the 28-year-old is injury prone isn't true. Prior to last season's struggles, he had averaged 38.5 games in the previous six campaigns, three with Livingston and three with Hearts. That number would likely have gone beyond 40 if it wasn't for two shortened seasons due to Covid.

Halkett came into the 2021/22 campaign in arguably his best condition and it showed with a totemic performance and a Scotland call-up. His importance to the team was clear last season through his absence. Frankie Kent has slotted in excellently so far, ensuring he does not need to be rushed back.

But this is a player, should he be available on a free, who will be wanted by the majority of top-flight sides. He is tried and trusted in the Scottish Premiership. He is the type of individual you want around the team for his know-how and experience, as much for his aerial ability, physical attributes and defensive qualities. His departure would weaken Hearts and strengthen any team he goes to.

As for Baningime, he has responded well to his setback at the start of the season having missed the entire 2022/23 campaign. The 25-year-old has started the last eight matches, playing the full 90 minutes in the previous five.

The midfielder, in his first season at Tynecastle Park, was attracting significant interest from clubs in England. He is a talented No.6 and the best in that role at Hearts.

There is a view held by some that he is too negative, too safe in his play. It's true that he is not going to create goals or bomb forward with the ball or make a lot of supporting runs, with one instance standing out against Aberdeen, but he balances that with his composure on the ball and the control he brings to the midfield. Qualities which are recognised within the club. Baningime is a player who team-mates can trust in possession. Just like every player, there requires a balance within the team to bring out their very best.

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From a personal point of view, Baningime could see extending his Hearts stay as a sensible move, knowing he can continue to build game time and consistency. Now 25, he has still to reach the 60-appearance mark at first-team level.

Losing a player of his quality for free would be a sore one to take. Especially knowing that should he get back to the best he has shown in maroon there would be plenty of interest from down south and the possible riches that could bring the club.

In general, there would be a frustration from both fans and the club to lose two key first-team players. Especially two who have returned to full fitness following long injury lay-offs. Therefore there is plenty sense behind the contract offers.