With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, and by fast approaching I mean tomorrow, teams of all nature (contenders, pretenders, sellers) are doing their due diligence in the trade market. We’ve already seen a couple big names change area codes and the next domino to fall was once-highly touted defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester. He was sent from the Calgary Flames to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional first round pick in 2013 and two prospects. If the Blues miss the playoffs this year, that first round pick turns into a fourth round pick this year and a first round pick next year.
For fantasy purposes, the only name worth mentioning is Bouwmeester. The other two pieces, 22-year old defenseman Mark Cundari and 26-year old goalie Reto Barra, may not even become NHL players so we can push them by the wayside for this article.
Bouwmeester is a former third overall pick of the Florida Panthers from 2002. The first round that draft year was somewhat lacklustre with Rick Nash, Joffrey Lupul, Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward and Alex Semin being the bigger names taken that year. He had put up a point per game in his final season of Junior hockey and was a smooth skating defenseman who the Panthers thought they could build around.
After the last lockout, Bouwmeester seemed a lock to become one of the premiere defensemen in hockey. He put up over 40 points in three of the four seasons following that lockout including seasons of 12, 15 and 15 goals from 2006-2009. Then came the trade to Calgary.
After being sent to Calgary in 2009, Bouwmeester put up three straight seasons of under 30 points. In those three seasons, he had 12 goals total despite putting up at least 12 goals in each of the previous three seasons. Calgary became a pit where his career was seriously derailed. Seeing as his ice-time didn’t diminish too much between the two teams, it was clear that the system they had in Calgary (notably just their lack of scoring) just didn’t serve Bouwmeester.
Fast-forward to this year and Bouwmeester is having his best season since he’s been in Calgary. He’s averaging his highest goal/game pace (0.18) since he left Florida and his 0.45 point/game pace would give him his highest total in an 82-game season since, you guessed it, he left Florida. This is all despite having his lowest power-play minute rate (1.54 minutes/60) of all his years in Calgary. You might laugh at the notion of missing power-play time in Calgary, but the Flames have the seventh-best PP efficiency in the NHL at 21.4%. This makes what Bouwmeester is doing so far this year all the more impressive.
There are a few reasons for the revival of Bouwmeester so far this season. His shooting rate of 1.67 shots/game is his highest since getting to Calgary, although still well below his marks in Florida which were all well over two shots/game post-lockout. His shooting percentage has begun to normalize after years of underperforming. In his three years before going to Calgary from 2006-2009, he shot 7.8%. During his three full years in Calgary (not including this year), he shot a measly 3.4%. While his 10.9% this year is a little high, it’s not obscene.
Going to St. Louis, he should be able to keep a high shooting percentage as it seems many of their defensemen get good shots on net. Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Wade Redden are all shooting over 5%.
The caveat must be made here that I don’t think we will see an increase in anything from what Bouwmeester has done so far this year except for his plus/minus. The St. Louis defense is pretty set on the power-play, with Shattenkirk playing the power-play as the lone defenseman about half the time and Pietrangelo with usually Wade Redden the other half. Because of this, you need to temper expectations a bit. I would not expect a huge uptick in power-play production from Bouwmeester because he will probably not get that much time with the man-advantage.
However, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to at least maintain close to the production he’s done so far. St Louis, despite their standing in the Western Conference, are one of the best teams in the West. If their goaltending can stabilize a bit, you will see Bouwmeester go +3 or +4 for the rest of the season. The rumors I’m reading (and these are just rumors so I’m not linking any of them) are that Bouwmeester is going to play with Pietrangelo. If this is the case, they will form one of the top defense pairings in the NHL who will be put in a position to succeed offensively; Pietranagelo has an offensive zone-start rate of 52.9%, which dwarfs Bouwmeester’s 40.6% up to this point.
As a whole, don’t expect Bouwmeester to immediately become what he once was. Unless he sees significant power-play time increase (and right now that’s pure guesswork), there won’t be too much of a change in his play except his plus/minus rating. For whatever reason, if he’s not owned in your league (90.2% on ESPN, 28% on Yahoo!), he should probably be on your team. At the very least, you should be able to squeeze 3-5 points and a plus rating from him down the stretch. People seem to forget that he’s not really that old, he’s just been playing in the NHL since the age of 19. Bouwmeester turns 30 in September and could really just be hitting his prime as a “bigger” defenseman.