This summer, all of the high profile Calgary Flames restricted free agents have last names starting with the letter B. As we start our case studies on Calgary’s pending free agents, we’re going to focus in on two of them. I don’t really need to go too in depth into Mikael Backlund’s case, because you know I love him and it’s also been previously covered. The Flames have two other killer bees who need contracts, though, in Lance Bouma and Paul Byron. As it turns out, both of their negotiations should be extremely interesting.
Bouma and Byron prove to be very interesting for different reasons. Bouma is coming off by far the best season he’s ever had as a professional, or as a junior for that matter. Byron, on the other hand, was plagued by injuries and a negative perception that wasn’t necessarily earned. The interest in the former lies in what his contract will end up looking like. Intriguing with the latter, however, is whether he’ll get a contract at all.
2014-2015 stats: 78 GP, 16 G, 18 A, 34 PTS, 54 PIM, +10
2014-2015 cap hit: $775,000
Bouma was perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire 2014-2015 campaign. I don’t think anyone saw his 16 goals or 34 points coming, and I don’t think anyone had him penciled in to be averaging 14:00 per night. He was one of, oh, seemingly every player to have a career season, but Bouma’s came far more out of thin air than anyone else. For a guy who’s career WHL year in Vancouver was 14 goals and 43 points, this past NHL season didn’t fit the script in any way, shape, or form.
And that is precisely why the Flames have to be very careful with this next contract extension. Bouma absolutely deserves a new deal and a raise, but Calgary has to very much guard against signing a contract based on loyalty and intangibles. A steady dose of those cold, hard facts has to be administered as well.
Offensively, Bouma had an outlier season, plain and simple. To look at his 16 goals this season and then extrapolate that as a benchmark total going forward would be extremely premature and rather unfair to the player. Bouma’s shooting percentage of 15.4% was third on the Flames and about seven percentage points higher than the league average. That’s an extremely large variance and the largest explanation as to why his goal total took such a massive leap.
Even more telling is Bouma’s professional numbers in the same category. Prior to this season, his NHL shooting percentage sat at 5.1%. His career AHL shooting percentage over parts of three seasons was 9.0%, a number far more in line with the norm. 5.1% is low for a legit NHLer, which I believe Bouma is, so I’m not saying that’s your all-telling number, either. I guess what I’m saying is, there’s nothing to suggest Bouma has any Jiri Hudler or Alex Tanguay in him. Those guys are career double digit shooters, so they’re no fluke. It’s far easier to believe Bouma’s numbers this season were far more related to good fortune than anything else.
Bouma’s possession numbers won’t knock your socks off either. The numbers are misleading, however. Bouma had the second lowest offensive zone start on the team at 34.6%, so his Corsi for percentage of 41.69% isn’t all telling. Whatever the circumstance, though, a raw Corsi number of -18.27 just doesn’t translate to 16 goals without a lot of help from the percentages.
The guy is a warrior, I’m definitely not going to undersell his importance to the team. He was sixth in the league among forwards with 82 blocked shots, he sells out for his teammates, and he’s one of the most popular guys in the locker room. I think Bouma is a solid bottom six forward in this league right now and will continue to be for a number of years to come. To sign him to a deal with the words “top six” in the conversation, though, is a mistake. That’s what Calgary has to make sure they don’t do.
Verdict: I’d give Bouma a two year deal at around $2.5 million total, for an average cap hit of $1.25 million. He’s earned more than a one year deal, but to be giving a ton of term right now isn’t the way to go. Could you go three years or bump the cap hit a little bit? Yeah, there’s a little wiggle room there, but not a ton. I love what Bouma brings, but he’s not the only hard working, heart and soul guy in the league. The Flames have to remember that during this negotiation.
2014-2015 stats: 57 GP, 6 G, 13 A, 19 PTS, 8 PIM, -2
2014-2015 cap hit: $600,000
Ahh yes, Paul Byron. This is a player who’s always been one of my favourites, but I sometimes find myself on an island with fellow media folk when talking about him. I think Byron is a quality NHL forward, I think he helps you win hockey games, and I think Calgary needs to re-sign him. Unfortunately, some unfounded negative perceptions and the lack of an extra foot in the height department might make that a difficult sell for some, including the people that matter.
The NHL lists Byron at 5’7 and 153 pounds. That’s a problem on any team, but on a Flames team that has frequently mentioned getting bigger, it’s an even bigger obstacle. Throw in ridiculous perceptions like “Byron can’t score on breakaways” and “he skates around but accomplishes nothing”, and you can see why there are detractors out there. These false observations and his true lack of NHL size don’t change the most important fact, though: he’s an effective player.
First off, let’s dispel this breakaway thing. Yeah, Byron had a bunch of golden opportunities in alone this season and he didn’t score on them. No, that doesn’t mean he lacks “breakaway skill” or the killer instinct to finish goals. Sometimes guys just have weird seasons where certain things don’t go for them. Byron had one of those this season in those situations. Oh, and let’s not forget…continually putting yourself in those spots to even be having this conversation is inherently a good thing.
Byron is never going to put up mind blowing offensive numbers, but his six goals and 19 points were respectable totals, especially when you consider his bargain price. But it’s the things that don’t show up on the scoresheet that really win the day for me.
Once again, his possession numbers were amongst the best on the team. At 46.39%, his Corsi for rating was fourth best on the team, behind only Josh Jooris, Jiri Hudler, and Johnny Gaudreau. He was third in the same category during the 2013-2014 season, too. Furthermore, Byron is also an above average penalty killer. This past season, Byron averaged 1:18 of penalty kill time per game, which put him third among Flames forwards. He’s speedy and can create separation from defenders with his strong burst ability.
Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane are small NHL forwards who make you forget about that with their incredibly high level skill. Just because Byron doesn’t have those same gifts doesn’t mean he’s too small to play the NHL game, though. Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe are both solid players who contribute by being smart, aware, and quietly effective. I think Byron is in that very same mold and has a decent NHL career ahead of him. The question is, will the Flames factor in as that career progresses?
Verdict: Here’s the best part about Byron: you don’t have to pay him much or harness yourself to a long contract. He made $600,000 last year after not being qualified by the team and signing back as a UFA. The same deal, or one extremely close to it, is very much in the cards. My question is, why the hell not? At best, he gives you solid NHL minutes on a very affordable, one year deal. If I’m totally, completely, horrifyingly wrong with my assessment on Byron, then you have a veteran playing in the AHL for one more year. So I’ll ask again…why the hell not?