Lance Bouma’s time in professional hockey has gone from great to… less so.
Bouma was a feel good story, making the NHL just a couple of seasons after being drafted and cracking the lineup every now and then. Remember his first NHL goal? It was the same game Jarome Iginla scored his 500th – maybe he wasn’t on the same caliber as Iggy, but he had a bright future ahead of him. It looked as though he was to stay in the NHL when the lockout season happened, and then suffered a season-ending knee injury after just three AHL games – but he came back the following season, looking every bit the functional bottom six player he had the potential to be.
A career season followed, as he ended up playing in the top six in 2014-15. It wasn’t to last, though: his shooting percentage collapsed, injuries resumed plaguing him, and after getting his payday, his play unceremoniously dropped.
That brings us to this upcoming season, and the final year of his contract, with how he’ll be spending it still a mystery. Let’s run down the possibilities.
Back with Backlund
Playing alongside Mikael Backlund worked once before, didn’t it? It helped get him the three-year, $6.6 million deal he’s about to close out. And while Bouma hasn’t been able to replicate that level of play since, maybe going back on Backlund’s wing would help?
Sure, it’s possible – but not only is it not likely, it’s not worth it. There’s no point in hindering Backlund in the hopes he can make an inferior linemate better, especially not now that we know just how well he plays when he has two excellent linemates by his sides in the 3M line. Bouma’s time on Backlund’s wing should be over for good, and it’s probably accepted by now that Bouma won’t be worth that deal the Flames signed him to.
If Kris Versteeg and/or Alex Chiasson aren’t back, Sam Bennett could still probably stand to get some new linemates. And maybe Bouma could be the guy? They did play about 75 5v5 minutes alongside each other in 2016-17, and hey, both are physical, truculent players. There could maybe be a fit…
Except they didn’t work out too well alongside one another this past season, and Bouma won’t be the answer to Bennett’s need for quality linemates. There’s not much point to trying it again, even as an experiment. The only way this would happen is if Bennett ends up back on the fourth line – and that wouldn’t do anybody any good.
Claimed in the expansion draft
At 27, Bouma isn’t all that old. He’s still got his legs under him, he’s physical, he’s tough, he’s truculent, he offers potential hope in the way of maybe being able to replicate that 2014-15 season under better circumstances, and with just one year left on his deal, he’s not a big commitment. It’s entirely possible Vegas picks Bouma, but probably not all that likely – the Flames should still be leaving better players unprotected.
In the pressbox
Is Bouma one of the 12 best forwards on the Flames? Probably not, all things considered. That’s not to say he’s completely without value – he can still fill in in case of injury or need for a shakeup – but if someone better is available to play, then what’s the excuse for dressing Bouma on a semi-regular shift on the fourth line? If he can’t help on the ice, it might be better for the team if he’s watching from above.
On the fourth line
When Bouma entered the NHL, he was a fourth liner. That hasn’t really changed. At the very least, he’s physical enough to garner some love, and while the past two seasons haven’t gone his way, he maybe could be good for 10 or so points again. Besides, Bouma is also entrusted to kill penalties, so it would seem the Flames do believe he does have some value on the ice. Not enough to play above the fourth line, but it’s not as though other teams don’t have fourth liners just like him. It’s still a position of need, and Bouma has been filling it these past couple of seasons – what’s one more?
In the AHL
This one may be more of a reach for likeliest possible scenarios. Call it an inkling. Last season, Brandon Bollig should have been sent down to the AHL, but it wasn’t exactly predictable that the Flames would do that – and then it happened.
Bouma is a younger, more expensive, marginally better Bollig. Bollig’s contract is no longer a concern. Bouma’s still is for another year, as is the roster spot he will occupy – unless he ends up back in the AHL for the first time since 2012.
The Flames would get a bit of saving on his cap hit if they bury him, but the biggest reason to send him down would be for the roster spot. This isn’t even necessarily a Garnet Hathaway situation – though Hathaway plays a different wing, he offers essentially everything Bouma does, all the while being significantly cheaper and a little bit younger – but a general prospect situation.
The fourth line isn’t a glorious position, but that’s in part because the Flames have made it that way. They have the chance to not just be able to roll four lines, but to have skilled players on every line who can all contribute, albeit some much more than others. If a prospective winger – say a Hunter Shinkaruk or Morgan Klimchuk, or even Emile Poirier or Andrew Mangiapane – pushes their way into the NHL, why would you obstruct him by keeping Bouma around? It wouldn’t benefit the Flames in the short nor the long term.
Bouma’s roster spot should be considered up for grabs. And it shouldn’t take too much to grab it.
What’s going to happen?
If a prospect shows he deserves to be in the NHL, then Bouma should probably be the casualty, and it wouldn’t be entirely undeserved.
If that doesn’t happen, however, then it’s easy to see Bouma splitting time on both the fourth line and in the pressbox, as he did last season (though he was mostly on the fourth line or injured).
The Flames should have internal options to upgrade their lineup now, though. So while the default of the fourth line is particularly easy to see, and will in fact likely happen (particularly if ownership isn’t comfortable with another player buried), Stockton could be the preferred landing spot.