It's arguable that Jay Bouwmeester is an amalgam of Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr - he's capable of double digit goals from the back-end and can run a power play, but spends a lot of time taking on the opposition's best, often in less than rosy circumstances. He's never scored at the same rate as Dion - in part owing to the differences in they way they've been deployed the last few years and in part because I think Phaneuf has a higher offensive ceiling - but has put up decent scoring rates despite the tough sledding. For example, Bouwmeester scored 0.71 ESP/60 last year - about the mean rate for defenders in the league and well behind the 1.03 rate put up by Phaneuf last year. However, he also played behind an offensively impotent team and started 180 more times in his own end of the rink. While facing some of the toughest competition on the club (and the league, in fact) might I add.
In comparison, our very own excllent Robyn Regehr scored 0.30 ESP/60, played with a far more potent club and started in his own end just 9 more times.
The point of all this isn't to sing Bouwmeester's praises - we all know he's very good. The existence of all three players on the same team raises some interesting questions for me, though - if Bouwmeester and Regehr are around, will there be an impetus for Phaneuf to improve? With the addition of Bouwmeester, the Flames now have two proven tough minutes defenders on the club - not only will they no longer "need" Phaneuf to step up and start playing the big boys, there may very well be no opportunity for that to happen as well. Is there any conceivable scenario where Phaneuf isn't taking on 2nd tier competition next season, aside from a long-term injury to Regehr? Assume Phaneuf is paired with one of Regehr or Bouwmeester - does Sutter send that pairing out against the big guns, thereby excluding an obviously superior option for the hard minutes? I doubt it, unless Phaneuf suddenly takes a step forward to start the year. It would have to be a big step, because by just about every defensive measure available, Dion was medicore at best in his own end last season.
The other possibility is that Phaneuf progresses anyways and just beats the tar out the lesser lights. It could happen, but it's hard to imagine Phaneuf becoming a capable hard minute defenseman without actually taking on the hard minutes. Make sense?
Of course, none of this would be of concern if not for Dion's very expensive contract as well as the dispropotionate amount of cap space the Flames have invested in their back-end. Starting this season, Calgary will have to get very ruthless about evaluating their big money defenders and the value they're providing for the dollars spent. The first guy who proves to be not worth the cash will likely be moved with the dollars reinvested up front. My first assumption is that will end up being Cory Sarich, but the potential lack of need and opportunity to develop now that Bouwmeester's a Flame may lead to him underperforming relative to his cap hit.