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Monday, June 08, 2015

Bouma has Shown his Commitment to the Team, Time for the Flames to Return the Favour

It took until August 27 late last summer before restricted free agent Lance Bouma and the Calgary Flames finally came to terms on a one-year deal.

The thrifty salary of $775,000 -- just $225,000 above the NHL's minimum wage and akin to what you would expect to pay for a NHL player if you were to pick one up at Winners -- was general manager Brad Treliving's way of challenging Bouma to prove in 2014-15 that he could do it again.

So, he did as asked, and a whole lot more.

To go with his usual complement of hits and blocked shots, Bouma had a breakout season offensively. One year after notching five goals and 15 points, the farm kid from Provost, Alberta, racked up 16 goals and 34 points in the same number of games.

With all of his goals coming at even-strength, he found himself in new and pretty swanky company. Others around the league in the 16 even-strength goals club included Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Daniel Sedin, Alex Steen, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, TJ Oshie and teammate Johnny Gaudreau.

"From Lance’s standpoint, it’s a one-year deal to go out and build upon what he did last year," Treliving told Calgary Herald reporter Kristen Odland at the time of last year's signing. "If he does that, he’s back looking for more a year from now."

As a restricted free agent once again, you bet the 25-year-old is looking for more. More money and more term and deservedly so.

While there's a school of thought out there with some that there are lots of Lance Boumas in the sea and signing him for longer than two years would be a mistake, I could not disagree more. If I'm GM, I would not hesitate for a second to sign Bouma to a long-term deal.


5 Reasons to Lock up Lance Bouma

1. He Earned It, Plus to Send the Right Message

You asked him to go out and prove it again and he did. 'Rewarding' him with another one or two-year deal with a modest raise to something in the vicinity of $1.25 million annually would be like getting a puck in the face for Bouma. Also, what about the optics to the rest of the organization, as well as the league and potential free agents?

Thanks kid for selflessly diving in front of all those bullets from the blue-line. Thanks for recklessly hurtling your body all over the ice. Here's a cheap two-year deal. Now go to the Dollar Store and pick yourself up some Band-Aids and ice packs.

Pucks leave bruises that eventually go away. This is the kind of thing that leaves a scar.

Over the last two years, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf is the only NHL forward, who has stopped more rubber with his body.

Blocked Shots - Past Two Seasons:

1. Ryan Getzlaf ANA, 182
2. Lance Bouma CGY, 169
3. Boyd Gordon EDM, 168
4. Drew Miller DET, 162
5. Nick Bonino VCR, 158


For those, who tend to automatically equate a high volume of blocked shots to being a poor player trapped in his own end all the time, the name at the top of the list suggests it's not nearly that simple.

Also with Bouma, consider that nearly one-third of his blocked shots (compared to around one-sixth for Getzlaf) came while his team was shorthanded, often taking away dangerous scoring chances.

To sum up Bouma's nightly sacrifice, dedication and commitment to the team in a single visual, it would be that fat, broken finger of his that he revealed on locker clean-out day. Eight screws and a plate all stuffed under the skin of the wounded finger. I saw it and let me tell you, it looked like an extra large Spolumbo’s sausage.


2. Key Penalty Killer

Among Flames forwards, Bouma led Calgary in shorthanded ice time last season. Bouma was usually the first over the boards and by year-end, he had logged over 138 minutes on the penalty kill. Next, way, way back was Matt Stajan at just over 80 minutes. Bouma also led all Calgary forwards in PK ice time in 2013-14.

On the penalty kill over the past two seasons, Bouma had 55 blocked shots, which is second in the league behind Detroit's Drew Miller (68). When you’re blocking shots on the PK as a forward, those are typically coming from close range too. You’re essentially a goalie only the firing range is 30-feet closer and you're wearing less armour.

Factor in the amount of penalty killing time for Bouma (i.e. 300 minutes compared to Miller’s 490 minutes) and on a ratio basis, Bouma blocks more shots than any forward in the league and it’s not even close.

Blocked Shots Per Two Minutes of PK time - Past Two Seasons:

1. Lance Bouma CGY, 0.37
2. Logan Couture SJ, 0.31
3. Michal Handzus CHI, 0.30
4. Michael Raffl PHI, 0.30
5. Tommy Wingels SJ, 0.28


Calgary led the NHL when it came to fewest times shorthanded last season. When the Flames have been on the penalty kill the past two seasons, Bouma has been their most trusted forward with Stajan and Backlund – both over 200 minutes -- rounding out the top three.

Of those three, Bouma has been on the ice for a PP goal against every 8:35 of PK time, which is right between Stajan (8:19) and Backlund (8:40).

You wonder how much the team missed having a healthy Bouma to send over the boards for the PK in the post-season. In their two playoff series, the Flames got torched for nine power play goals on 34 chances. That was a 73.5 percent success rate compared to 80.6 percent during the regular season.


3. Physical Presence

Bouma is exactly the type of player that the Flames want to have more of, not less of. Big, strong, physical, selflessly hitting everything that moves. He’s tenacious on the forecheck, makes opposing defencemen skitterish with the puck, which then leads to giveaways.

Bouma is a player built for playoffs. How do we know? Well, technically we don't yet, other than to acknowledge the impact Micheal Ferland had against the Vancouver Canucks. You saw the games, further explanation isn’t needed. Bouma is built out of that same mould or more so, Ferland is built out of Bouma’s mould.

The Flames were delighted to get both Ferland and Bouma in the line-up together for games 4 and 5 against Anaheim, Treliving spoke at length about how much Bouma’s return changed the complexion of Calgary’s line-up in terms of overall size. Unfortunately, it didn’t come until it was too late and given the condition of Bouma’s finger, it wasn’t what it could have been either.

When it comes to body checks, Bouma was the team-leader in hits over the past two seasons and ranked 12th in the NHL with 445 (and ranked 7th in 2014-15 in particular).

If you pare down the list to exclude the infrequently deployed fourth liners, Bouma climbs even higher:

Hits per Minute of Ice Time (minimum 1,000 minutes, 13+ mins per game) - Past Two Seasons:

1. Cal Clutterbuck NYI, 0.299
2. Adam Lowry WPG, 0.235
3. Blake Comeau CBJ/PIT, 0.229
4. Lance Bouma CGY, 0.211
5. Matt Hendricks NSH/EDM, 0.206


Hits are not the be all and end all of statistics, for sure, but playing in the Western Conference where you have heavy teams like the Anaheim Ducks, Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings to contend with in your chase for a playoff spot, it's an ingredient you need in your line-up.

It's not to say all 12 forwards need to be built that way or need to play that way but the ability to wear down the opposition defence over the course of a game, or especially a playoff series should not be underestimated. It also creates more space and time for the more skilled players on the team, which Calgary suddenly has a bunch of.


4. Emerging Two-Way Game

Is Bouma going to score 20 goals next season?  Doubt it. But can he be someone that can be regularly counted on to score 10-12 each year? Why not.

One could look at the jump in his shooting percentage from 5.1 to 15.5 percent the past two seasons and blindly dismiss it as all fluke. While last year's clip is not sustainable, you also cannot ignore or discount the work Bouma has been putting in to improve his offensive skills, such as working in the off-season with renowned NHL shooting and skills coach Tim Turk.

In this terrific insightful piece from last February from Calgary Sun reporter Randy Sportak, Turk talked about the types of things he specifically worked on with Bouma, while lauding the Flames winger for his willingness to listen and be taught and for his focus on making himself better.

Check out some of Bouma's goals during the second half of last season.

These are goal scorer's goals that he's scoring, they're not bouncing into the net off his ass.

Also noteworthy was the timing of Bouma's goals, 12 of his 16 goals came in the third period with four of them being game-winning goals. Some will argue there is no such thing as clutch or having an ability to step up and score a big goal but I'm not one of those guys. It's human nature that some players handle the pressure of tied games, down a goal, up by one goal in the third period, better than others. Bouma appears to have the even-keel demeanour that makes him effective in those scenarios.


5. Character, Leadership

Since its top of mind right now with Chicago in the Stanley Cup final, let's switch subjects for a minute and look at Jonathan Toews. If you were to compare his stats only, you may wonder why this guy is so heralded. Here he is playing on one of the best teams in the NHL and often alongside one of the NHL's most offensively creative players in Patrick Kane, yet Toews is just 22nd in the league in goals and 23rd in points. Good numbers but far from dominating.

Yet, if you were starting up a hockey team from scratch and could pick anyone, how many guys would be on your list ahead of Toews? You could probably count them on one hand. He may even be top three.

A huge reason Toews is the player he is, is his character, heart and leadership. You can't plot it on a graph but it is a quality that for some players is just as important as how fast they can skate, how hard they shoot, and how good they are defensively. In fact, you could argue it'seven more important because while the other three can be improved through teaching and practice, character is often something you're either born with or not.

In life, you just know who the natural leaders are. You know who they are in your group of friends, you know who they are at school or at work, you know who they are on your hockey team -- be it PeeWee, Midget or the NHL.

The WHL's Vancouver Giants knew who it was in their dressing room too, which is why in his third season, Bouma was given an 'A' and then he wore the 'C' the year after.

Remember in January when Bouma and Brian McGrattan dressed up in Sumo suits and crashed the Hockey Night in Canada Interview with Matt Stajan? That was all Bouma's idea.

My understanding is that away from the ice, Bouma is one of those guys that gets the players together.

Why do teams take the time to interview prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine? It's to try and assess their character.

A factor in how successful the Flames were this season was how tight the team was under captain Mark Giordano and the 'never quit' culture of hard work that was instilled. For that recipe to work, you need the right ingredients.


Time to Get it Done

Treliving was forthright when describing Bouma's value to the team at his year-end address and how much they missed him when his injury forced him to miss the first nine games of the post-season.
"We really missed Lance. People can talk about how he had a breakthrough season in terms of production, Land does a lot of things outside of what's shown on the score sheet to make you win. There are players you need in your line-up that help you win and I think Lance Bouma is one of those guys. His parents, I hope, don't watch games most nights because they'd spend most of the night with their eyes closed as I do. The toll he puts on his body, Lance is a guy that helps you win."

Of all Calgary's RFAs, Bouma really should be the easiest to sign because he is what he is. Unless he's determined to re-invent himself as an offensive catalyst given his goal output last year -- something I saw no evidence of during his scrum on locker clean-out day, you lock this guy up.

I'd say four years minimum and I'd have no issue going five years. As Treliving said, these are guys you win with.

Chicago's got Andrew Shaw, Tampa Bay's got Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. These are not players lighting up the scoresheet but they've been instrumental in each team getting to the Stanley Cup Final.

Bouma's game is virtually slump-resistant. If you pay him like a guy that could get you 10 goals, but will give you 15 minutes of honest hockey, be a key physical force, useful penalty killer, a leader both on and off the ice, what's the risk? What element of his game is prone to a slump? His goal production is about it. So it drops to eight goals one season. Given the work he's putting in, it probably rebounds to 12 or 13 the next year. It's all ebb and flow.

There have been plenty of guys drafted by the Flames over the last decade that that been bigger than Bouma, more skilled, and selected higher, who never came close to panning out.

If you look at his overall tool kit, it would be a mistake to assume there are plenty of players like Bouma out there. If there were, the Flames would have already gone out and added a bunch more. They're simply not.

Lock him up to a number that works for both sides. Given his style of play, term could be pretty attractive trade-off for this player. If you can get it done at four years for $9-million or five years for $11.5-million, make him part of your club for the next four or five years and be glad that you did.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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2 comments:

  1. Good stuff, Darren . . .

    Even if Bouma's goals/points production tails off somewhat, he is still the kind of player every team needs,

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think these are also all reasons I would trade him for a young D prospect and picks or something. The value will never be higher.

    ReplyDelete