This is a story I posted on Matchsticks & Gasoline as part of our player preview series. Come take a look at some of the other articles if you’re interested.
Sometimes things just don’t work out like we thought. Items bought on eBay looked better in the picture than when they arrive in the mail, your late-night bar hook-up wasn’t as good-looking as you remembered or your favorite team’s free agent signing just didn’t live up to the hype.
I think that’s how a lot of Flames’ fans felt about Jay Bouwmeester last year.
Darryl Sutter appeared to have worked free agent magic, by acquiring J-Bo’s rights a few days before free agency and securing his #1 target for the summer. Bouwmeester thought he had hit the lottery by signing a big-money deal and returning to the province he grew up in. Calgary fans rejoiced in having one of the most talented young defensive pairs in the league with Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf in the fold.
Last season, in more ways than one, just didn’t live up to the hype.
A Summary of Last Season
To put Bouwmeester’s season in one sentence: He got better defensively and significantly worse offensively.
Take a look at his GVT splits for the last 4 seasons.
Year DGVT OGVT Tot GVT
06-07 7.3 6.2 13.2
07-08 2.1 6.5 8.2
08-09 3.2 5.6 8.8
09-10 5.0 1.5 6.5
It’s not that Bouwmeester was a bad player, he just hasn’t lived up to a salary that costs the Flames $6.68M per year against the cap. He’s the 3rd highest cap hit in the entire league for defensemen.
That said, it’s clear from his defensive GVT that he had a decent year in his own end, but his offensive game is what’s lacking. For a team that is lacking in offense overall, this is the biggest frustration. Bouwmeester scored 12, 15 and 15 goals in the three previous seasons, yet only managed 3 goals last year. Not only was his own offense suspect, but the team’s GF/60 with J-Bo on the ice was a terrible 1.99, 5th among Flames d-men.
Some of Bouwmeester’s performance can be explained by the way coach Brent Sutter used him. Despite his reputation as an offensive player, J-Bo had the hardest Zone Starts of any Flames blueliner at 48.2%. He faced middle-of-the-pack competition but Sutter clearly trusted him to move the puck up-ice from a tough position. With a Corsi of -2.03 despite his negative Zone Starts, he was a break-even player.
All that said, anyone who’s forced to have Steve Staios as his partner for 18 games should be given some empathy if his performance suffered. According to Vic Ferrari’s TimeOnIce script, when Bouwmeester played with Staios, their Corsi% was 0.434 but when J-Bo played without his anchor, his Corsi% was 0.497.
From this point forward, I will refer to Staios as The Plague.
What to Expect in the 2010-11 season
I see positive strides for Bouwmeester this year, if he’s used correctly.
His goal-scoring could bounce back if he starts unleashing his shot a little more. His shot count was ~40 shots lower than his last three seasons and his shooting percentage is bound to bounce back given that it was a full 3% lower than his career average.
In Hockey Prospectus 2010, Bouwmeester is projected to score 7 goals, record 33 points and bounce back to a GVT of 7.6. While this is a reasonable showing on-ice, it really doesn’t reflect the money that he makes.
The key, in my mind, is pairing him with a partner that either has defence-first responsibilities, or is a more solid two-way option. If Bouwmeester were paired with Sarich or Regehr, he would have the freedom to be more adventurous on the offensive end.
The Flames are desperately searching for more offense this season, and Bouwmeester could be the key if Sutter lets him loose and he sheds his tentative play. However, unless Bouwmeester makes a significant performance leap, he’s destined to be thought of much the same as Brian Campbell in Chicago, good but still overpaid.
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