Ah, arbitration, or: that time general managers try to make their players cry. Hopefully there will be no tears through the Flames’ rounds, especially because hopefully there will be no arbitration hearings at all. First up for Calgary? Lance Bouma, whose date is set for July 22.
Bouma is probably the Flames’ most controversial restricted free agent, and it’s only gotten more intense since he filed for salary arbitration. While Josh Jooris and Paul Byron are relatively easy to agree upon – both useful enough players, but not exactly big scorers, and should receive modest deals – Bouma’s most recent season complicates things.
Recency bias plays in Bouma’s favour, as he spent the second half of the 2014-15 season playing in the top six. He tripled his goal output from the 2013-14 season, and more than doubled his points. He’s big, he’s gritty, he hits and he blocks shots, all the while taking on those tough defensive zone starts.
In short: he’s a useful player to have. With Bouma’s filing for arbitration, though, a new question arises: for all his uses and sudden, unanticipated improvements from one season to the next, just how much should his new contract be?
Lance Bouma’s case
Bouma’s goal is simple: get money. This is a guy who has been projected as a fourth liner throughout his career, only to suddenly play half a season in the top six, rocket upwards in shooting percentage, and start potting goals. He had a career high in points, and of course, wants to do it again – and wants to get paid as though he can.
Life is short, hockey careers are shorter, and you have to cash in while you can. Especially in Bouma’s case, where he already missed out on an entire season due to a freak knee injury. The more he can get in the now, the better for him; after all, the future is wildly unpredictable.
In 2014-15, Bouma made a mere $775k. That’s a lot of money compared to the rest of us, but next to nothing compared to others who played in the top six. And when you look purely at the offensive numbers from just this past season – the numbers Bouma’s side should really be playing up – there are a couple of good comparables, all in their RFA years, that would net him a decent raise should the arbitrator agree with him.
All numbers are in regards to their 2014-15 seasons.
|Carl Hagelin||26||$2.25 million||17||18||35|
While Coyle and Hayes’ cap hits are low, keep in mind: both will have new deals for next season, giving them cap hits of $3.2 million and $2.3 million, respectively. All together, that averages to about $2.6 million. Bouma’s camp can argue for at least $2 million, and maybe even more. After all, players with just about the same offensive output as him this season – and all on RFA deals – are getting paid that much, so why shouldn’t Bouma?
Not to mention he was the Flames’ highest-scoring forward outside of the top line, and does a lot of other things on the ice, including hitting, blocking shots, and penalty killing. He’s an easy player to love, a bonafide fan favourite, and deserves a substantial raise for all that he does. He was given a “show me” contract, and he showed people.
The Flames’ case
The Flames’ case, meanwhile, is also pretty simple: retain Bouma, but not for a lot of money. While the Flames aren’t up against the cap just yet, they will be soon, and can’t afford to overpay Bouma as a result. This is a player who has had one good offensive season in his career, and that’s it. In all other years prior, he simply has not been a scorer, and should not expect to be paid like one just because of a couple of months.
In this case, the Flames can point to some comparables who posted similar offensive totals as Bouma in 2013-14:
Those cap hits average out to $662,500 – a significantly less favourable number, not to mention a drop in pay for Bouma. That’s not going to happen, but it does establish that arbitration shouldn’t focus on just this past season – which, so far, looks like an anomaly – alone.
In fact, there’s even more to this. Stats supplied by NHL.com are permissible in arbitration files, and what stats did the NHL site just add this season? Fancy ones. Sure, they’re in a database that seems inferior to what’s already being collected, and not nearly as navigable, but they’re there, and can be used.
And they hurt Bouma, because Bouma did not have good advanced stats.
From this past season alone (SAT% being CF%, and SAT% Rel being CF% Rel for us normal people):
|Player||Age||Cap Hit||SAT%||SAT% Rel|
|Casey Cizikas||23||$1 million||50.00||-4.2|
|Joe Colborne||25||$1.275 million||42.92||-1.8|
Colborne, Holland, and Tropp compare to Bouma in standard SAT%, while Cizikas, Deslauriers, and Fraser compare in SAT% Rel. And no matter how you slice it, not many players from this group have particularly good numbers – or particularly high salaries, for that matter. All together, this averages out into about $822,833, which would only give Bouma a slight raise.
What should the final decision be?
Bouma may want to get paid, but honestly, the overall evidence isn’t in his favour. He has one year of success to draw on; the Flames can point to how he’s fared throughout his career, not to mention his abhorrent possession stats, which can now be entered into the arbitration discussion.
Bouma is, no doubt, in line for a raise, but it shouldn’t be a very big one. Something around Colborne’s cap hit would be well-earned; perhaps even more, as Bouma made the NHL earlier in his career, and is a bit more established. This will, after all, be his fourth contract.
The good news is should Bouma go through arbitration, his contract can only be a year or two long, and the Flames can elect to keep it to just one year: the year they won’t have to worry about coming up against the cap. Going to two years would prove risky if the arbitrator rules in Bouma’s favour, but one year is the least painful, even if it results in another “show me” deal as far as Bouma is regarded.
Bouma won’t get term – can’t, if his case goes to arbitration – but his dollar amount will probably be somewhere in the middle. After all, the Flames have a point just as much as Bouma does: while historically he hasn’t been fantastic, he did have a breakout year offensively. Anything from a shade over Colborne’s contract to a shade under $2 million seems perfectly reasonable for both parties.