Thursday, July 23, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Perspectives on the Bouma Contract

It's not unusual for the Flames to be the hot topic in Calgary. It's that way every day from September through the middle of April when the hockey season is on. Or make that right into mid-May this year.

It's also not unusual for the Flames to take a spin as the city's hot topic in the summer. The draft always creates quite a stir, as does July 1 and free agency. Then, of course, you have the excitement around the prospects coming to town for development camp in early July.

But once you get into late July, usually hockey has finally hit the back burner. People turn their focus to cursing at the Blue Jays, catching up on the honey-do list at home -- all those household projects that piled up during the winter, hitting the golf course, doing some camping and just enjoying Calgary's short summer.

Well, all hell broke loose on the hockey front today. Less than 24 hours before an arbitrator's decision would have come in, the Flames chose not to wait and see but instead sign Lance Bouma to a 3-year/$6.6 million contract -- a cap hit of a contentious $2.2 million annually.

"Ultimately we wanted Lance with the Calgary Flames," said assistant general manager Brad Pascall on Thursday, filling in for GM Brad Treliving, who was unavailable due to a speaking engagement. "He's a multi-dimensional player, who we like, who the coaches like and who fits our DNA."

When the news broke, some fans loved it, other fans hated it. Fist pumps on one side, broken fists on the other. Man, the passion in this city around this deal was mind-blowing. Emotional takes, angry shots fired at those with an opposing view. People were fired up big time. It divided the city and resulted in the most polarizing conversation topic I've seen in quite some time -- or at least since the Sven Baertschi trade, anyway.

In this special edition of Eight From 80 Feet, I thought I'd chime in with my own eight thoughts on the controversial signing. My mission here isn't to choose sides, but rather provide some alternate perspectives or food for thought. Hope you're hungry.


1. Bouma Was in the Power Position

The most common sentiment after the contract was announced was, "I would have been way happier with $1.75 million per season." Of course you would have. The Flames would have preferred that too. However, that was never, ever going to happen.

Ultimately, Bouma was in line for an arbitration ruling of $2 million annually, give or take. We know that because that's how NHL arbitration works. With Bouma requesting $2.5 million and the Flames offering $1.5 million, and with arbitrators keen to stay in the good books of both the NHLPA and the teams (arbitration cases pay well), they inevitably arrive at a figure that splits the difference.

Sure, a staggered salary increase of $1.7 million this year, $1.9 next year and $2.1 in year three would have been more budget-friendly for a team that is closing in on the salary cap, but that's not what the market price was. I'd love to pay less for gas too, but unfortunately I have to pay what the price at the pump is when it's time to fill up.

NHL salary prices fluctuate throughout a year. The best example is free agency where prices are always more -- like gas prices before a long weekend. The Flames would have liked to sign Jonas Hiller for an average salary of $3.5 million last summer, but to get him, the price was $4.5 million.

Same thing with Bouma. Based on his entire career, $1.7 or $1.8 million is probably the more fitting figure but that wasn't an option. Are you better off with Bouma for a little bit extra money or without him? That's the mindset you need to have.


2. Nobody Knows What Comes Next

Spoiler Alert: Nobody knows how many goals Bouma will score next season. Nobody.

Will he score 16 goals again? I doubt it.

Will he revert to scoring five goals like he did the year prior in his first full NHL season? I doubt it.

My guess is he probably settles in at round 10 goals but again, you just never know.

What I do know is 16 goals is a lot of goals to score just by being lucky. There were a bunch of beauties in there too, here are some of Bouma's second half snipes:

Plus, in the off-season, he diligently works at his offensive game with shooting and skills coach Tim Turk. Bouma's improvement was noted by Turk in this Calgary Sun article last February.

"At the end of the day, he had 16 goals and you can't take those away from him. Those are tangible results," Pascall said. "Lance proved with his career high in goals and points that he had taken a step in that area. We hope that continues but at the same time, Lance offers a number of intangibles other than scoring."

None of this comes with any assurances he'll ever score 16 again but there's enough good things going on here that it seems unlikely last year was merely his Tim Jackman year as one fan suggested, referring to when Jackman -- at age 30 -- scored 10 goals in 2010-11, then scored only once the following season.

It's also been suggested that Bouma only scored that many goals because he was playing alongside Mikael Backlund. OK, then play him alongside Backlund. Sounds like two-thirds of a pretty decent third line if you move Bennett to centre behind Sean Monahan.

I know that predictive modeling would suggest that if a player wasn't a huge scorer in junior (Bouma was on pace for a career-best 18 goals in his final year with Vancouver) he won't be in the NHL either. I'm sure that's frequently the case but if you're wondering if guys can bloom later in their career, the guy wearing No. 5 in the Flames dressing room is proof of that.

Also not to be forgotten is Bouma lost almost his entire third pro season due to a serious knee injury. Losing a full year at age 22 is going to throw a wrench into anyone's development.


3. Money Changes Everything

I'm always looking for an opportunity to drop an 80s music reference and when it comes to Bouma, Cyndi Lauper come to mind because it seems money really has changed everything.

Last year at the thrifty wage of $775,000, there was a whole lot for fans to like.
  • There he was dressing up in a sumo suit with Brian McGrattan to crash Matt Stajan's nationally televised Hockey Night in Canada post-game interview.
  • Or, there he is hamming it up on camera as the guy in charge of cooking and putting food in the guts of his roommate Sean Monahan
  • Or, after shattering a finger late in the season, there he is returning late in the playoffs with a hardware store full of metal buried under the skin of his index finger

Meanwhile on the ice, he's out there diving in front of pucks like he's protecting the president. Skate, arm, leg, head, whatever he can stick out to try and block a puck, he does. Of course he's got inflated blocked shots totals, he's not giving it the ol' flamingo like many, he's hurtling himself in front of pucks while with many others, their only 'blocked shots' come when the puck accidentally hits them.

Bouma also plays an energizing physical game. Fans love seeing him fly in on the forecheck and staple someone to the end boards. Sure, he can be a bit reckless, but it's part of the fun. Everything Micheal Ferland was doing to be effective against Vancouver, that's the impact Bouma could have brought too that series had he not been injured.

Then there was his unexpected offence and clutch offence. Twelve of his 16 goals last season came in the third period with four of them being game-winning goals. His goals were big goals. His goals were celebrated goals.

Add in he was Calgary's most counted on penalty killing forward and you would think Bouma is the type of blue-collar player that fans would adore and stick by thick and thin. A friendly, unassuming, farm kid from Provost Alberta.

But alas, the burden of money. Now the charm is gone, the skeptics are out, and the expectations have risen. Fans expect more although given how grossly underpaid he was last year -- he made just $25,000 more than Devin Setoguchi, you'd think he may have banked some goodwill.

However, if today is any indication, it seems he has not. At least with some.


4. He's Not Being Paid to Repeat 16 goals

It's been stated ad nauseum that last year was an aberration, that his shooting percentage is unsustainable, that he's never going to score that many goals again.

That may be correct but nor should that be anyone's realistic expectation either.

Excluding players on entry level contracts, there are 26 NHL players under contract for this season that scored 15 or 16 even-strength goals last year. Remove Bouma and the average salary of the other 25 is $4.34 million.

There's a notion that Bouma will have to put up another 16 goals to validate his contract. I'm not buying it. If he puts up another 16 goals, he'd be a flat-out filthy steal at just $2.2 million.

Add in the other areas in which Bouma provides value to the team (detailed in this earlier post) and if Bouma scores 10 goals, you're getting what you paid for. He's certainly not going to be a bargain any longer like the ridiculous bang-for-the buck Calgary got last year, but he's not hurting your team either.

"First off, he does the little things that are asked of him like blocking shots, making hits, and making people aware of when he's on the ice," said Pascall. "He plays on our penalty kill, he's a solid defensive zone player. When you build a team, you're looking for guys that can contribute in all those areas and we feel Lance fits what we're trying to build and we're happy to have him with us for the next three years."


5. The NHL is a Four-Line Game Now

The NHL is faster than it’s ever been before and what has also evolved is a need for a team to be able to roll four lines. Listening to Treliving speak, he frequently refers to his forward breakdown as a top nine and a functional fourth line. Regardless of how you slice and dice it, you need a dozen good players in your line-up every night.

While you’re going to need to pay your young stars like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett and pay them a lot, you also need to surround them with players that can fill roles and be solid contributors. If your plan is to fill out the bottom six forwards with a blend of guys on their entry level contracts and/or cheap unwanted scraps from free agency that others didn't want, that's not a very good plan.

For one, while Bennett and Monahan made big impacts while on their ELC, that's far from the norm. Those guys were top draft picks. Typically guys aren't ready to make an NHL impact until they're off their ELCs and are already in the $1 million dollar range and up. Bouma, a sure thing at $2.2 million, should not throw off the team budget. You can't have six $2 million players in your bottom six, but you should have room for at least a couple.

Similarly, trying to find cheap free agents to fill out the roster is no easy task either. If you can sign a veteran NHLer for $1.5 million in free agency, he's going to have warts. You'll strike out more often than you'll strike gold when you resort to bargain shopping.

"When you're playing within a salary cap system, you have to find a way to fit everybody in and we're pleased with the deal we have today," Pascall said. "You need players like Lance Bouma. We believe Lance can contribute to a winning team, that he's a good fit for us both from a budget standpoint but more importantly, from an on and off-ice standpoint."


6. You Gambled and Lost, Now Pay Up

Here's a point that people overlook. Let's not forget that Calgary didn't need to be in this position.

Last summer, Bouma would have gladly accepted a multi-year contract and this whole saga never would have happened. To refresh your memory, it wasn't until late August when Bouma finally settled for the so-called 'show me' contract of 1 year for $775,000.

Why did it take so long to get a deal done last summer? He wanted a better deal. A little term would have been nice. Players hate one-year deals. It's safe to assume if the Flames had offered up a 2 year/$2.2 million deal, that he would have been all over it and now he'd be heading into this season with a $1.1-million cap hit. Heck, it may have even been less than that.

Instead, Bouma goes out, erupts for 16 goals and the Flames have to ante up as a result. It's all part of the risk/reward decision-making that goes with being the guy in the GM chair.

That said, lament all you want about Bouma's salary coming up, the Flames got one helluva deal financially last year. When I'm grocery shopping, I love bargains too but sometimes you just have to buy things that are regular price -- like a carton of milk -- because you need milk.

So while you could say this one backfired on the Flames, they did reap the benefits last year. Plus, more often than not, the cautious approach with player contracts in regards to term is usually the responsible approach and ends up being the smart play so it's tough to be critical the rare occasion where it doesn't work out.


7. What if the Third Year Gamble Pays Off?

Just for the sake of argument, let's say Treliving suspected a two-year, $4.2 million ruling was coming in arbitration (e.g. $2M in 2015-16, $2.2M in 2016-17). It's a contract that would have taken Bouma to UFA status.

What Treliving has done with this deal is bought out one of Bouma's UFA years at a cost of $2.4 million. Sure, it could backfire and many are thinking it will. But I really don't see it as that risky or reckless of a gamble.

If you consider the league salary cap will keep going up and with that, so will average NHL salaries, I'd say there's more than a decent chance that a 27-year-old Bouma would command more than $2.4 million on the open market come July 1, 2017.

Teams covet size, especially physical players that can also contribute in other facets. Even if Bouma musters only 8 to 10 goals over each of the next couple years, I bet he can still fetch over $2.5 million in free agency. Heck, Derek Dorsett just signed a four-year deal worth $2.65 million annually. Even Raffi Torres is making $2 million.

Even if Bouma's goal scoring dries up and he becomes a $1.5 million player and nothing more, three years term is not going to doom this hockey club. This contract will never be an albatross that prevents them from winning the Cup.

People bring up Brandon Prust and Bryan Bickell as comparable players that got over paid. But there's a difference, both of those were four years in term and both were for higher AAV -- Prust at $2.5 million and Bickell at $4 million. Term is what kills teams and four years versus three is more significant than it sounds.


8. Treliving's Goodwill Evaporates

Treliving was already in pretty good stead with the Flames fan base. After all, he got out early and got TJ Brodie inked to an economical five-year extension. He extended coach Bob Hartley before the season was up -- and before the Jack Adams landed on his mantel. He got a second round pick for disgruntled Sven Baertschi, who declared he wasn't going to re-sign with Calgary anyway. Then there was the heist with the Washington Capitals as Curtis Glencross was dealt for a second and a third round draft pick. Glencross ending up a frequent healthy scratch with the Capitals.

Of course, then there's his team making the playoffs for the first time in six years and reaching the second round for only the second time since 1989.

The streak continued this summer. Getting Mikael Backlund re-signed for below market value. Trading for Dougie Hamilton the day of the draft -- then later signing him for cheaper than he reportedly had been asking for. Trading up to grab Oliver Kylington at the draft was viewed as yet another coup. Then on July 1, Treliving inked arguably the most sought-after player on the free agent market in Michael Frolik.

In Brad we Trust. 

#Trelieber

Treliving was the talk of the town. Hell, he was the talk of the league. The common fans loved him. The advanced stats community had embraced him. He has been the king of the castle in Flames nation for several months.

But today -- in an inferno -- that castle burned down. The same guy that was so smart, so shrewd, so savvy right up until yesterday, suddenly became dumb as a fence post over night in signing Bouma to that outrageous contract. Hey Brad, did they warn you that the old fan base can be rather fickle? Welcome to a hockey market. Do you miss Arizona? Maybe a tiny bit?

One would have thought he would have built up some trust, a little bit of slack. Nope, it seems not.

Man, tough crowd.


Final Thoughts

If this whole exercise has taught us anything, you may want to book the day off work the day that Mark Giordano signs because man, we're merely talking about Bouma today. Giordano's contract is going to be for three or four times that salary and the outlash will be at least that much more magnified.

There's a school of thought out there that there are lots of Boumas in the sea, that he is easily replaceable. Is that really true? I got curious myself so I conducted a search of all NHL forwards the other day that met the following minimum criteria -- all attributes that make up part of what Bouma is and what makes him effective:
  • Size - 6-foot-0 or taller (Bouma is 6-foot-1)
  • Physicality - At least 200 hits (Bouma had 264)
  • Penalty Killer - Averaged at least 1:20 PK TOI (Bouma was 1:46)
  • Goals - 9 or more goals (Bouma had 16)
  • Points - 18 or more points (Bouma had 34)

There were only four NHL players that fit that description last year:
  • Bouma
  • Troy Brouwer
  • Andrew Ladd
  • David Backes

I'm not saying Bouma is interchangeable with any of those guys. I'm not suggesting that at all. All three I'd take over Bouma in a heartbeat (and they get paid more, by no coincidence).

What I'm saying is for a low maintenance guy with coveted size, who plays a punishing, physical brand of hockey, who also plays a big role on the penalty kill and can chip in some offence, those multi-functional players aren't nearly as plentiful around the league as you might think.

Also, if you believe in such a thing and I do, Bouma strikes me as a player whose value would rise in the post-season. He'd be one of those guys that becomes more noticeable as the intensity ratchets up and the physicality increases.

The bottom line is the deal is done. It's official. Debate it all you want, but nothing is changing now.

Next, we sit back and see if Bouma is embraced for all the admirable qualities he does have -- despite his blemishes -- or if that segment of fans upset today will harbour bitterness because he signed the deal he did and choose to dwell on those imperfections.

It would be a shame if it's the latter. But that's not up to me.



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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12 comments:

  1. "If your plan is to fill out the bottom six forwards with a blend of guys on their entry level contracts and/or cheap unwanted scraps from free agency that others didn't want, that's not a very good plan."

    Seems like that model is working pretty well for Chicago.

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    1. Not sure I follow. If Chicago's top six were Toews, Kane, Richards, Hossa, Saad and Sharp, that leaves these guys in the bottom six (shown with 2014-15 salary):
      - Shaw ($2M)
      - Bickell ($4M)
      - Versteeg ($4.4M)
      - Vermette ($3.75M)

      They had a guy like Teravainen on his ELC and did have a couple inexpensive "scraps" as I called them in Kruger and Desjardins but my point was all six can't be of that ilk, nor were they with the Blackhawks.

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    2. Chicago is essentually a team with a highly paid core, with the rest of the line-up consisting of ELC/cost-controlled talent making less then they should and reclamation projects. That's pretty close to what you said was a "bad plan" and they've got three cups in the last 6 years.

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    3. Firstly, I did not say "bad plan" as you quoted me. I said "not a very good plan". To me, there's a difference. I had a lasagna from Save-On the other day. It wasn't very good, as in I've had better. But it wasn't bad.

      Secondly, is Bouma at $2.2M not a similar situation to Shaw at $2M? Surely you're not suggesting Bickell is cost-controlled talent making less than he should.

      Anyway, Flames management's opinion and that's really what you should be concerned about, who cares what I have to say -- they're the ones pressing the buttons, is that you need guys like Lance Bouma. Pascall's exact quote is in that same section. That's the opinion that matters and who you should be taking issue with.

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    4. I'm not taking issue with you... I just think that securing your high-end talent and filling out your depth with value contracts (either cost-controlled or reclamation projects) doesn't seem like "not a very good" idea. Sounds pretty decent to me actually as you're assured of keeping your impact players and stocking the rest of the line-up with guy that have more upside.

      You can't overpay your depth guys and expect long lasting success.

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    5. Having seen some of the dregs that have come through Calgary the last couple decades, who the team hoped would be solid contributors but were "not very good" (ha ha), makes me wonder if the Chicago model isn't as easy to pull off as they make it look. There's a lot of meaningful minutes that need to be covered in the bottom six -- especially in today's NHL. Two years ago, teams had fourth lines that played 5-6 minutes. The game is too fast now, noticeably picking up in speed prior to last season. You need guys need "multifunctional" guys (that was Pascall's description, a quote I didn't use) in that part of your line-up.

      With Crosby and Malkin, Letang, Fleury, would the Penguins not be set up similarly to Chicago but an example that finding enough good and cheap third and fourth liners to fit in the remaining cap space isn't an exact science. Three playoff round wins in the last six years. They've underwhelmed given their core. In my opinion, anyway.

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    6. What is a "value contract?" Treliving already got value contracts (as Darren mentioned in article) out of TJ Brodie and Mikael Backlund who are both worth more than they are being paid and Dougie Hamilton could also be a steal). Those are core pieces, and you (anonymous) are quibbling over an extra few hundred thousand for Bouma? Bouma's contract isn't a cap killer.

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    7. Wow ……. I agree with the comment that the fact that this article was ever posted is a sign that the fans in this market need to get with it. I’m not saying that every contract on this team is a winner, or even that every contract that Tree has been involved with has been. Raymond has proven to be to much money, but you play the hand your dealt, and Calgary has got to be the envy of the league as turn a rounds go. Two years ago there were black skies, and doom; that much like the tornado warning of late were quickly downgraded to thunderstorms, only to pass us by leaving nothing in their wake, but rainbows. Then Bouma, a guy that was in the very center of that storm gets crapped on for getting a contract he earned. Let me just say wow again. That is in place of what I really have in mind. Darren maybe the next time your in studio you could slap boomer upside his head with one of the microphones they have in there. Remind him that dumb people listen to him as well, and they take what he’s says seriously.

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  2. 6th in the league for hits among forwards

    6th in the league for blocked shots among forwards

    2nd on team in PIM's

    6th on the team in +/-

    4th on the team for total ice time among forwards (behind only Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler)


    4th on the team for goals (behind only Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler)

    7th on the team in total points, 4th among forwards (again, behind only Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler)

    Tied for 3rd on the team with Gaudreau for most game winning goals

    Lance Bouma had 4 minutes and 28 seconds of total powerplay time last season, 21st on the team, and managed to put together 34 points and 16 goals...

    1st among forwards and 2nd among the entire team in Penalty Killing minutes, with 138 minutes, only Brodie had more time as a defenseman with 166 minutes. Bouma played nearly 60 minutes more than the next forward, Stajan, who had 80 minutes on the PK.

    Everyone keeps calling him a fourth liner, yet he was arguably our best/ most consistent forward last season not named Monahan, Gaudreau, or Hudler when you consider games played and we don't need that offensive production from him to get value, he brings it in other aspects.

    The guy is a complete machine and warrior. He plays aggressive, hits, gets hit, and despite getting shot with pucks at on the daily, he hardly gets injured and has back to back 78 game seasons.

    Can't understand all the commotion about this contract, I barely looked at the dollar value, I was just pleased we locked him up for 3 years instead of 2.

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    1. I agree totally - you don't get much of an NHL player these days for less than $2 million anyway. I'm not following the reaction too much, but I am surprised an article like this even needs to be written. I think it's a fine contract for a player who contributed a lot.

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    2. Couldn't agree more! I think people are starting to get paranoid with cap space again since the Gaudreau, Giordano, Monahan, etc contracts are coming up for renewal. But the reality is we have a ton of guys coming off the books in the next couple of off seasons who won't be returning or will be traded before their contracts expire. At this point, I would say the only contract in danger of becoming a punching bag for fans is the Frolik contract, although I am a fan of it myself. I just worry that if most people can't visually see what Bouma brings to the fold than there is a chance Frolik's intangibles get overlooked in the future as well. Very excited for the team and culture Treliving and company are putting together!

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    3. Fair comments, Trae, and they add perspective.

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