Lance Bouma hasn’t played since Oct. 13, when he sustained a broken fibula against the St. Louis Blues. He was supposed to be out for at least three months.
We’re just now coming up on the two-month mark, and it seems as though Bouma is progressing faster than expected. He’s started taking part in full practices as of late, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to suit up for an NHL game; after all, that’s a lot of time he’s gone without skating, and this is the highest level of the sport.
Still, it sure sounds as though Bouma’s return to the lineup is going to happen sooner rather than later.
Things have changed since he went down with injury, though. Lines have been shuffled as the Flames have started finding success a little more often than before. So, here’s the big question: where does Bouma fit in on the new-look lineup?
The current lines
Right now, this is what the Flames lineup looks like:
#Flames lines today:
— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) December 7, 2015
That fifth group are all extras, as we know Bouma won’t be joining in, and Josh Jooris and Brandon Bollig have been the most recent healthy scratches as of late.
But Bouma isn’t going to be a healthy scratch when he returns. He also probably isn’t going to displace anybody in the top six. He did take over Sam Bennett’s spot towards the end of the Flames’ playoff run last season, but we’re long past that point; Bennett is surely staying in the top six, and it’s not as though Bouma is going to take over for Gaudreau.
Somebody will need to go
The Flames are currently at 23 roster players, 14 of whom are forwards. When Bouma is activated from the injury reserve, somebody will have to be sent down – and that somebody will almost certainly be a forward.
Markus Granlund can be sent down with ease, as he doesn’t require waivers. It wouldn’t be fair to the prospect, though, who is coming up on the final year of his entry-level contract; and it wouldn’t be smart of the Flames. Granlund will be waiver-eligible next season, so the time to see what they have in him is now: because chances are pretty good he’s in the NHL full time next season no matter what.
(If they did send Granlund back down, then that could open an avenue to get Bouma back in the top six, where Bob Hartley liked him last year, in the form of a Bouma – Bennett – Hudler line.)
That would mean subjecting someone else to waivers, and really, out of all the possibilities, the choice seems obvious: Brandon Bollig. Bollig hasn’t played since Nov. 24, when the Flames lost 5-3 to the Anaheim Ducks, a game in which he only played just 6:24, had a fight, and took a penalty that resulted in the Ducks scoring their first goal of the game. In short: he did not have a good showing, and has not seen any ice since then.
The Flames have played four games since Bollig was in the lineup, going 2-1-1 and only having one truly bad showing since.
And, quite simply, everyone knows Bollig’s greatest asset is his physicality: an area Bouma excels at as well, all the while being younger, having greater scoring potential, and taking fewer penalties. Anything Bollig can do, Bouma can do better (and Micheal Ferland is there to help fill the truculence quota as well, all the while also being better than Bollig).
If it’s Bollig who gets sent down, that takes care of the roster limit – but it doesn’t get Bouma back in the lineup.
So… Mikael Backlund?
Last season, Bouma’s most common linemates were David Jones and Mikael Backlund. The trio played 264:06 together, although individually, Bouma played 380:18 with Jones, and 362:03 with Backlund. It was Backlund, in particular, who really boosted Bouma’s performance, taking him from a 39.1% 5v5 CF without him to a 45.2% 5v5 CF player with him.
The two have a history together, going all the way back to Bouma’s first NHL point being the primary assist on a Backlund goal. Backlund is playing in the bottom six now, and Bouma is suited for a bottom six role. Their contracts will even expire at the same time, so there’s a lot pointing to them being linemates for the foreseeable future.
Right now, it’s a Raymond – Backlund – Frolik line. Mason Raymond, however, has been a frequent target for healthy scratches this season. Replacing him with Bouma seems to be the most seamless solution: it reunites a pairing the coach has a history of liking, and it doesn’t disrupt the rest of the lineup.
The fire sale won’t be on by the time Bouma returns to the lineup. Jiri Hudler will still be playing for the Flames; there won’t suddenly be spots open by default. So assuming the same lines are still in effect when Bouma returns, that’s where I’d expect to see him slotted in.