When Lance Bouma scored a career-high 16 goals and 34 points last season, expectations evidently went up. He was rewarded for his efforts with a three-year, $2.2 million annual average deal: numbers reflecting an expectation of at least similar production levels.
After all, even though Bouma plays with a ton of heart, he isn’t the only player in the league to do so. Brandon Bollig is a similar guy, and he carries a cap hit of $1.25 million because he is, simply, not as good.
Only this season, in Bouma’s first with his new contract, he hasn’t had the chance to prove he can meet the expectations set the previous year. And it’s not his fault in the slightest.
When somebody plays a game as physical as Bouma does, injuries aren’t exactly surprising. The injuries Bouma has suffered this season, keeping him out for weeks to months at a time, aren’t even really the result of physical play, though; they’re fluke injuries that could have happened to just about anybody.
First, Bouma broke his leg in just the third game of the season off a weird, indirect hit Ryan Reaves delivered. He passed the puck, was looking to continue moving north, and Reaves hit him in a way that resulted in an awkward fall against the boards.
That was enough to already derail his season, as Bouma missed 30 games early on. It takes time to catch up to the rest of your teammates, particularly when your injury leaves you unable to skate for an extended period of time. Since his return, Bouma was primarily skating fourth line minutes.
At least until he got injured again. Just eight games into his return, Bouma suffered a cut to his leg against the San Jose Sharks. It was another fluke play that could have happened to virtually anybody, but it happened to him – and it’s expected it will keep him out for another 1.5-3 weeks, meaning likely anywhere from 3-10 games.
That’s potentially 40 games Bouma has lost due to injury, and it’ll only be early February if that happens. Half of a season gone, just like that, thanks to two fluke plays.
Bouma only has one goal through the 11 games he’s been able to play: an empty netter. Through those 11 games, he’s averaged 11:16 on the ice: his lowest since his rookie season, in part because he had to be eased back into a lineup that was playing on without him the first three months of the season.
There’s virtually no chance he’s able to match his 2014-15 totals, and it’s due to injuries completely out of his control. Consider this year a mulligan for him – what’s important is getting him back to 100%, and ensuring he has a good finish to the season, whether he scores any more points or not.
Not the first time this has happened
The 2012-13 NHL season started off with a lockout, meaning several players spent the end of 2012 in the AHL. Bouma, who had played 27 NHL games in 2011-12 and was probably a good bet to make the NHL team that year, was one of them.
He played just three games for the Abbotsford Heat before his entire season was over due to a hit on the boards that necessitated surgery for both his MCL and ACL. As his teammates returned to the NHL in 2013, he was left with rehab and forced to wait for October of that year.
How did Bouma respond after missing basically an entire year? He played his first full season in the NHL: 78 games throughout 2013-14, scoring five goals and 15 points in a bottom six role. It wasn’t incredible, but it was an indication the kid was officially an NHLer, and potentially, a valuable depth player. That’s not a bad response from someone who had essentially just missed an entire year of development.
Chances are we’ll have to wait until 2016-17 to see if Bouma can take the next step forward, but there’s always a possibility he can surprise through what will be left of early 2016.
Hopefully he can make the best of it – there are still another two years on his contract after this one, after all.