Arbitration case file: What might Lance Bouma’s next contract be worth?

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.

Player Age Cap Hit Goals Assists Points
Charlie Coyle 22 $900,000 11 24 35
Carl Hagelin 26 $2.25 million 17 18 35
Jimmy Hayes 25 $925,000 19 16 35
Lance Bouma 24 $775,000 16 18 34

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:

Player Age Cap Hit Goals Assists Points
Mark Arcobello 25 $600,000 4 14 18
Brian Flynn 25 $637,500 6 7 13
Dale Weise 25 $750,000 6 10 16
Lance Bouma 23 $577,500 5 10 15

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
Nicolas Deslauriers 23 $637,000 34.10 -4.4
Matt Fraser 24 $625,000 45.82 -3.2
Peter Holland 24 $775,000 43.81 -2.9
Corey Tropp 25 $625,000 38.52 -10.5
Lance Bouma 24 $775,000 41.63 -4

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.

    • CofRed4Life

      Agreed. If it’s more than $1.75 million and/or more than 2 years, I won’t be very happy. $1.5 million seems to be a fair raise. How would you guys like a 100% salary increase for a good year? I know I would!

    • SmellOfVictory

      I’d do that for 3 years. Even if he sticks on the 4th line for the rest of his career, that’s not a gross overpayment, and it gives him some financial security.

  • CofRed4Life

    Enough for some new teeth. Blocking shots while chewing on the mouth guard? Would like to see him under $2million a year for 3-4 years. Hopefully he continues to progress but wouldn’t want to pay too much in case he turns into a Laurie Korpikoski.

  • T&A4Flames

    Let him know that if it goes to arbitration, CGY will go for a 1year term. This way they’re protected. If he gets rewarded something ridiculous like $2mil, we can do it for the year, before Gio, Mony, Gaudreau and possibly Hudler get raises. If he shows last year wasn’t an anomaly, and he scores big again, the risk is removed somewhat and he can sign for a 30-40 point guy. Or, he’s an asset that could bring a decent rerun for us. If he falls back to the norm of his previous #’s, then he signs for a generous 4th line rate.

    Maybe his camp pulls back and settles for something like 3years $3mil total contract.

  • Parallex

    The number I top out at is 1.95. That’s what Dwight King got from L.A. on the eve of his arbitration case… and Dwight King had a better case to make then Bouma does so I’d probably come in at 1.5-1.75.

    That’s a 100% raise for Bouma so nothing for him to be unhappy about there.

  • Greg

    Tbh, I like the guy but with the logjam of forwards on the roster, I’d like to see the flames move him and try to capitalize on his career season for maybe a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

    Moving him and colbourne for more future picks, and creating space for Byron and Jooris, should help keep moving the possession needle in the right direction.

    • Parallex

      3.8M They’re locked into anything lower. Hence why they should elect the one year deal (rather then two) for arbitration. Cap is fine for this year… year after might be tricky.

  • T&A4Flames

    Bouma gonna get paid!! Old man Burke wants guys like this to marry his daughter, so he’ll cave and overpay.

    Then he’ll cast away Gaudreau after next year when the rest of the organization realizes 10 games in he’s a little muffin who got real lucky last year.

  • hulkingloooooob

    rewarding flames players under the nothing given, everything earned mantra, i think giving lance $2 for a year, or 1.5 – 1.7 for 2 years is more then fair, won’t effect us on the cap crunch much and shows others that indeed there can be a decent pay off for hard workers. and who works harder then Booms? not to mention all those pucks he takes with that lovely smiling grimace. this guy is all heart and soul and reflects the kind of culture we want to encourage. give him the dough please!

  • hulkingloooooob

    Everyone liked what Lance brought last year & we dearly missed him for all those games he was injured in the playoffs. He’s a bottom 6 forward, is homegrown, give him a 3 year deal at 1.5mill per & put this one to rest. I know what to expect from Lance next year, right now, we really don’t know what Jooris brings next year or even Ferland or Colborne for that matter. Sign him, he is a core bottom 6 player on this team as we transition to a contender.

  • clib542

    Nick Bonino had a similar increase in production. I know if I had a choice between the two who I would take.

    Bonino cap hit is 1.9 million. Bouma shouldnt be near it.

    Also, anything over 2 years is too much.

  • Skuehler

    This article doesn’t talk about how the best hockey scouts have said they McDavid is the best player they’ve seen in 40 years. I refuse to read. Happy McDavid day everyone!!

  • supra steve

    As much as I like the job Treliving is doing…not signing Buoma long term last year when he had the opportunity could become an issue. Instead he chose to offer him another gap contract….I’m hearing Buoma is prepared to test the open market.

  • supra steve

    As much as I like the job Treliving is doing…not signing Buoma long term last year when he had the opportunity could become an issue. Instead he chose to offer him another gap contract….I’m hearing Buoma is prepared to test the open market.

  • supra steve

    Bouma knows he will never have a better scenario than right now to cash in, last season was a shot in the pan for him, of which he’ll never be able to repeat.

    He’s trying to be opportunistic and milk this for whatever he can. Unfortunately for him calgary just needs to wait it out to arbitration where at a max they’re on the hook for two years…during that two year period his stats will come back down to earth while he’s back playing on the 3rd and 4th lines where he belongs

    • supra steve

      I agree.. I think Lance knows 17 goals are not going to happen frequently…if ever again. But at the same time dude was a warrior for us (I hear his finger was a horror show after he blocked that shot) hope he takes 3 years at 1.5ish. If he mixed in the odd scrap someone would pay him like Prust though.