The Flames last bit of business this summer is to get RFA Lance Bouma under contract. It’s mildly surprising negotiations have dragged in this manner because from the outside it seems like an easy re-up: Bouma’s well liked by the organization for his intangibles, but he doesn’t have much leverage beyond that. He has less than 2 NHL seasons worth of hockey under his belt in the show and his counting stats reflect a player of his, uh, role (5 goals, 15 points total).
Usually guys of this ilk get a modest raise over their ELC since there isn’t much to argue over. However, given the lack of a deal and the fact it’s the middle of August, let’s take a closer look at Bouma’s results from last year to see what the Flames might have on their hands.
Although he was spotted higher up the rotation on occasion, Bouma mostly skated on the 3rd and 4th line for Calgary last season. He averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time per game over 78 games, including a team leading (amongst forwards) 2:01 short handed. Unlike tough guys like Kevin Westgarth and Brian McGrattan, who were heavily sheltered by Bob Hartley, Bouma was deployed in an almost exclusively defensive role by the Flames bench boss, with a near team low zone start ratio of 38.8%. Keep in mind he also played nearly 180 minutes at ES with Brian McGrattan. And as much as everyone likes Big Ern, the Flames fighter tends to drag down his regular linemate’s results. For exmaple, Bouma’s corsi rate sunk to 38% with McGrattan and was a more respectable 45.9% away from him.
His deployment in 2013-14 no doubt reflects the sort of utility shut-down player Bouma may become as an NHLer, but it was a bit beyond the 24 year old in his first full season. His corsi ratio ended up at 43.3%, or a -3.4% relative corsi. That’s not terrible given the relative difficulty of his assignment (for context, Sean Monahan’s relative rate was slightly worse in much easier minutes), but it also means Bouma has some ways to go before he’s a legitimately beyond replacement level since he has limited offensive upside.
This reality is reflected in his results on the PK. One of the most predictive stats for PP success over the long term is shot volume (SF/60). As such, the goal on the PK is to suppress shots against as much as possible. Here’s how the Flames four most frequent PK forward did in terms of SA/60 at 4on5 last season:
As you can see, Bouma was 3rd out of 4 skaters, edging out Stajan (who struggled quite a bit), but was well back of the dynamic Lee Stempniak and Mikael Backlund**. Again, this certainly isn’t a grave indictment of Bouma given his age and package of skills, but it suggests some improvement if he’s going to drag himself beyond a minimum wage down the line. In order to be considered anything more than a 7 minute/night bang and crasher, Bouma will have to get a bit better at pushing the play and suppressing opposition shots short handed.
**Aside – Backlund was by far the best regular Flames skater on the PK by this measure last year.
Bouma played in relatively difficult circumstances, got kinda beat up a bit (though it could have been much worse) and was middling at best on the PK, despite his propensity for blocking shots and hammering bodies. The former Vancouver Giants captain has some things on his side, however: he can skate fairly well, he hits like a freight train and he has better hands than your typical fighter or Mike Brown type agitator. He’s also got a reputation for being likable, coachable and a good dressing room guy which are pretty much required traits of any bottom rotation forward who wants to stick around the league.
Bouma could become an anchor on a utility forward unit that effectively soaks up defensive zone match-ups, freeing up the top of the rotation to take the high ground. On the other hand, he could also plateau and remain a fungible grinder who spends his career bouncing around the league as a 4th line injury plug-in. Beyond giving him some room on account of his pedigree in the organization and decent package of skills, the Flames can’t really be sure which it will be with Bouma quite yet.
Why is this taking so long then?
That’s the question at this point. The parties can’t really be battling too much over money – Bouma’s agent has no real ammunition on that front, aside from maybe blocked shot and PK ice time. I doubt the team is worried about his arbitration rights next year either – Bouma’s not a threat to get a big arb award.
I assume the sticking point is length of contract, though it’s difficult to guess which side is arguing for term. Personally I’d be pressing for a one-way deal at 3+ years if I was Bouma’s agent. A glance at the Flames organizational depth is enough to convince anyone there is going to be a lot of competition for support role roster spots over the next few years. Beyond offensive guys like John Gaudreau, Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier, there is also “two way” players including Corban Knight, Max Rienhart, Bill Arnold, Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski who could make a case to usurp Bouma should he get injured or falter. To say nothing of DEL recruit David Wolf, who is also a tough guy with better hands than your average fighter (hopefully).
As his agent then, I’d be looking for a firm commitment from the team for my client. Particularly since he can’t exactly drive for a big payday and that isn’t likely to change dramatically in the short-term.
That’s mere speculation however.
Bouma’s an interesting player. I like him and think it’s possible he could carve out a niche as a defensive specialist given his frame, attitude and skating ability. That said, he still has a lot to prove at this level and he’s going have to fend off a lot of strong competition for a bottom-6 roster spot over the next couple of years.
I’ve been asked if fans should worry about a lack of a deal for Bouma this late in the off-season. The obvious answer is no: whatever the contentious issues between the player and org, they are unlikely to be dire or drastic. Sometimes these negotiations happen to drag into the dog days of summer and are lengthened by external forces like vacations and a lack of urgency. A lot of Flames kids have been inked in late August, early September over the years to no ill-effect.