January 26, 2010
If Jay Bouwmeester(notes) was playing in New York City, he'd be Michal Rozsival(notes) right now. Which is to say that no matter how well he's played or how many minutes he eats up, our box score/stats obsessed culture looks at 34 games without a goal, just two tallies on the season and an offensive game that doesn't come anywhere near the promise of his $6.68 million annual salary for the next five years and shouts "bust!"
This isn't to say he's hasn't been struggling, because he has -- and Bouwmeester's underwhelming play has been strangely overshadowed and underreported this season.
Mike Green(notes) fails to make Team Canada, and it makes headlines; Bouwmeester's snub is secondary to those of Dion Phaneuf(notes) and especially Robyn Regehr(notes). The degradation of his offensive game this season -- he's on pace for his lowest scoring totals since his sophomore season in 2003-04 -- has been overshadowed by the Flames' overall scoring drought and that of more prominent players such as Jarome Iginla.
But now that the Calgary Flames have dipped to ninth in the conference, the blame games have begun and J-Bouw isn't immune to them. The question is whether the criticism is warranted.
If you are paying $5 million for a defenceman to have two goals after 50 games, you're overpaying big time. Jay Bouwmeester has two - after back to back years with 15 goals. His numbers might be skewed by playing in a defensively weak Southeast division prior to this year, but when he's on the ice, nothing has happened offensively. I need my $5 million guys to score - or at least be a threat offensively. Look at the teams that score a lot. Each has a defenceman who contributes to the rush. Washington (Mike Green), San Jose (Dan Boyle(notes)), Chicago (Duncan Keith(notes)) and Pittsburgh (Sergei Gonchar(notes)) are in that mix. Teams back check so hard now, if your team attacks with just the three forwards, it's often 3-on-5 on the rush. Sheer numbers tell you that can't work.
Now, the numbers don't lie, but they also don't tell the entire story. GM Darryl Sutter still considers Mark Giordano(notes) and Bouwmeester the team's top defensemen; although one wonders if that's by default thanks to the inconsistent play of Phaneuf and Regehr. Eric Duhatschek still considers Bouwmeester the team's only "elite" blue-liner.
He has 41 giveaways, which is in line with Dan Boyle (42) and fewer than Green (47). He's the team leader in EV ice time (19:18), shorthanded ice time (3:58) and third in power-play ice time (3:06). His plus-9 leads the team, as does his plus-6 against divisional foes.
Any in-depth view reveals a solid but completely unspectacular season from Bouwmeester, but views of big-money free agents usually are about has deep as a Ryan Seacrest monologue. Which is to say we're pleasantly surprised Bouwmeester hasn't been the pariah Mike Komisarek(notes) and Francois Beauchemin(notes) have been at times in Toronto, or that Alexei Kovalev has been in Ottawa. Perhaps there are just so many ills for the Flames, battering Bouwmeester isn't near the top of the list for local media.
Though one wonders if Bouwmeester doesn't recapture his Florida Panthers form in Calgary, if the decision to snag the defenseman instead of overpaying to keep Michael Cammalleri(notes) won't haunt this team for a bit -- if it hasn't already. One also wonders if Ken Campbell, in this blistering take from 2008 on Bouwmeester, may have been ahead of the curve:
He has played on some weak teams to be sure, but in the 10 seasons since he began playing junior hockey, he has played in the playoffs just once and that was with a stacked Chicago Wolves team of the AHL during the lockout.
In 18 playoff games that year, Bouwmeester had a grand total of zero points.
Hockey Canada seems to have this undying love affair with the guy, but he has rarely made a significant impact with any Canadian team in international competition. He doesn't use his size very well, seems far too timid to take control of a game and seems to leave people more often than not bewildered that a player with such supposed impressive credentials could have such little impact on the game.
So far, that's been Bouwmeester with the Flames.