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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

What are the odds?: Lance Bouma edition

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.

Alongside Bennett

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.

  • Stu Cazz

    If Vegas does not select him and a trade for a draft choice cannot be consumated over the summer then I suggest you keep him as a regular 4th liner. Yes his production has been disappointing but you cannot deny that Bouma is a hard worker and provides energy. With any luck he will have a bit of a comeback year and provide us with a chip at the trade deadline.

      • Stu Cazz

        Having 12 guys that try and score pretty goals every night simply does not work. You need high energy crashers and bangers that open up space for your scorers. That was my point….

        • KH44

          How does a fourth line ‘crash and banger’ open up space for skilled players? They play ten minutes a night while the skill guys rest. Four lines that can play and score are fair more valuable. It is better to have a young player with some potential that is developing instead of a ‘crash and banger’.

          • Stu Cazz

            High energy 3rd and 4th liners wear teams down. They also get you 10-15 goals a year, are played in several situations defensively as well as PK both at home and on the road and are paid low end dollars to help achieve salary cap objectives. When was the last time a team was successful with 12 pretty boys all trying to score goals?

    • I find it dubious that he provides energy when he spent a fair bit of time scratched and/or injured over the last two seasons. Just because he works hard doesn’t justify a roster spot for him when his ceiling, relative to others chomping at the bit, is significantly lower than folks who may have an opportunity to provide value.

      Romanticizing what he does “well” versus the what he is unable to do (provide legitimate impacts in shot generation, goal generation, shot suppression, or goal suppression) is a really bad way of managing your salary cap.

  • Kevin R

    Vegas may still give us a 4th for him, chances are they are going to have a boat load of picks & will need bottom players that aren’t over the hill & have some functionality & experience.

    • freethe flames

      The $10m line has two major problems; one they are over paid and that angers all of us, two even if they were paid 1/2 of that salary they are not a very good line in today’s NHL. We would be better of today and tomorrow if that line was full of kids wanting to earn a job. Lomberg/Lazar/Hathaway would all bring more energy and snarl than the $10m line. The otheroption would be the more skilled group of Shinkaruk, Klimchuk and Poirier(yes I know he has had 2 bad AHL years but a guy can still be hopeful). Then add guys like Mangiapane and there are plenty of options to bring a different look to the 4th line. I have intentionally left Janko out as I see him being a better fit with the top 3 lines this year.

      But back to the question of Bouma; if you can’t trade him then I think the best would be for him to be in AHL. There is no use buying him out.

      • deantheraven

        I really hope to see the ‘other option’. Poirier has always been a guy I’d like to see more of. Hope this season he gets his chance and makes it. Shinkaruk should probably be higher in the rotation if he makes the team. Klimchuk would fit on the 4th but all these guys are L-shooting. Maybe 1 of them makes the 4th line with Stajan or F Ham and Hathaway. Too many prospects and not enough roster spots…