Brad Treliving has only been an NHL general manager for a little over a year, but it’s been a hell of a year. Misappropriated cap space aside, his early blunders can be forgiven; especially after the off-season he’s just had.
Without giving up any meaningful assets, Treliving has upgraded the Flames’ top four defence and top six forward group for years to come. He has altered the course of this franchise, and seriously sped up the rebuild.
Before that, he passed an earlier test by re-signing Mikael Backlund. This was an obvious one because of Backlund’s RFA status, but at the same time, it’s easy to lose those kinds of guys for nothing. Instead, following the end of the season, Treliving identified Backlund as a core player, and made sure to hold on to him.
That brings us to his next test: another RFA, one Lance Bouma.
An odd bridge deal
Since joining the Flames in the second half of the 2011-12 season, Bouma has looked like an NHLer. Unfortunately, he lost his entire 2012-13 season thanks to injury early into the year, and didn’t get to dress again until 2013-14.
Signed to a one-year, $577,500 deal after his entry level deal expired, Bouma went on to spend the entire year in the NHL. He scored five goals and 15 points, and averaged 12:36 minutes a game: modest fourth liner numbers. He clearly belonged, but his role wasn’t big.
Bouma’s new contract took a really long time to get done. He was the last Flames RFA to get his new deal, waiting all the way until the end of July 2014. Eventually, an amount was settled on: one year, $775,000.
It seemed kind of odd. Why all that time to hammer out an incredibly basic deal for someone who looked pretty established as a fourth liner?
Turns out, the real winner of the deal was Bouma. Because he’s due for a new contract, and with it, a raise.
A deceptive season
This isn’t to say Bouma doesn’t deserve a raise. He absolutely does. He should have been paid more than his $775,00 last season. He should’ve been getting at least, say, $1.25 million – Brandon Bollig money – to play a role he, the younger player, was already better at.
This is to say that he doesn’t deserve to be paid as a 30-point scorer.
Bouma exploded for a 16 goal, 34 point season. His average ice time bumped up to 14:01 – not a big increase from the earlier year, but a reflection of his promotion. Bouma started the year in the bottom six, but was placed on Backlund’s wing around the All-Star break, and only left it due to injury.
He also shot at 15.4%. This isn’t a Sean Monahan case of “maybe he’s just an accurate shooter” – Monahan has two seasons under his belt of 15.7% and 16.2% shooting percentages. Prior to his own breakout, in 2013-14 Bouma shot at 6.1%. As far as we know right now, Monahan is just an accurate guy; Bouma, on the other hand, has had one good season and one more in line with expectations.
Never bet on an unproven guy to repeat a good performance. If you’re a pessimist, then you acquire someone else in addition to your guy. Worst case scenario, you have one good guy and one bad; best case scenario, you have two good guys. If you’re optimistic about things, though, and your guy with the one good season flops, then you’re pretty much screwed.
Bouma couldn’t even score 16 goals as an overager in the WHL. When it comes to a new contract on a team running towards the cap, you don’t immediately pay him like he can do it again.
If I may reuse some #content:
Bouma is Prust. Do not overvalue Bouma.
— ari (@thirtyfourseven) July 1, 2015
This is a team that cannot afford to overpay
The Flames were one of the least expensive NHL teams. They had a lot of cap space to play with: so much, in fact, that they offered to take salary dumps from other teams in exchange for rebuilding assets (Cam Ward, Mike Ribeiro, and Mike Richards all come to mind over the course of the last year).
That was before Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik. Calgary’s two biggest acquisitions this summer cost them a little over $10 million, and that’s with five RFAs who may all count against the cap still to sign. And there isn’t a lot of room left.
Of the five RFAs left, Bouma is the only one who can command a substantial raise. Josh Jooris has only played one season, Paul Byron just hasn’t been able to establish himself, Micheal Ferland is brand new to the NHL, and Drew Shore was barely even touched.
Bouma, however, has been through that already. His “show-me” deal was last season, and he showed a lot of people.
Thing is, he’s going to have to show people again, because in Bouma’s case, there is zero reason to believe he can repeat. Maybe next year there will be, but right now, there isn’t.
To offer a cautionary tale: the Chicago Blackhawks are currently going through cap hell, in part because of Bryan Bickell, an okay third liner who has a $4 million cap hit thanks to a 17-point post-season. He’s the fifth most expensive forward on a Blackhawks team loaded with talent. He’s part of the reason they lost Brandon Saad, and you definitely want Saad on your team over Bickell every single time.
Don’t let Lance Bouma become Brandon Prust. Don’t let Lance Bouma become Bryan Bickell. Don’t let just one good, potentially fluke season screw the team over. That’s Treliving’s next test.