Don't panic: this is still par for the course. Forty-eight hours before an arbitration hearing - and with Lance Bouma's scheduled for July 22, we are within that period - both sides exchange their desired salary figures. We now have those numbers in regards to the Calgary Flames, and their first arbitration subject.
In #Flames arbitration case against Lance Bouma, club offers $1.5M, player requests $2.5M.— Tim Wharnsby (@TimWharnsby) July 20, 2015
They're a million dollars apart, which would seem to suggest this is a deal that can be easily reached. For the curious, I looked in-depth at possible comparables for both sides here.
Here's the thing in regards to both offers: the Bouma camp's is high, as one would expect from him. We're talking about a player that has never scored this much over a season since his stats started being recorded, and had a 15.4% shooting percentage to go with it: a number that, judging by his past season's 6.1%, he isn't terribly likely to get again.
Not to mention the new additions to the Flames' lineup - Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik, specifically - mean Bouma is going to have a difficult time getting into the top six again to begin with. This is his best chance to cash in, and he's taking it.
When you're a bottom six player with no certainty of just how much ice time you'll get or offence you'll contribute, not to mention you've already missed a year due to freak injury - not to mention you're a physical player, which only increases the likelihood of said injuries (Bouma's mangled finger thanks to his shot block, anyone?) - you go after what you can, and the Bouma camp is going after $2.5 million.
To counter, the Flames are giving a much fairer offer, that could be interpreted as borderline overpayment in and of itself: $1.5 million. It's an almost-100% raise for the player, and if on a short-term basis, perfectly fair and affordable. Based on Bouma's history, he does a lot of little things that are valuable - and a lot of little things that you can pay other players minimum NHL wage to do just as well.
Bouma is a nice player to have, but he's not a particularly special one, and not a player one can afford to have tied up in cap. The Flames will be fine for this season, but next season - when Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, and Jiri Hudler all need new contracts, with several bad ones not coming off the books until the season after - is going to be tight, and it's far better for the Flames if they can get their perimeter players at market value, rather than inflating their salaries just because he's their guy.
It wouldn't be a stretch to see Bouma's next contract come in at $2 million, even if it would be an overpayment. Hopefully it's just a one-year deal, though, because term is not something you give out after what looks like, by all indications, to be a fluke year.
If Bouma's case goes to arbitration, he can only get two years maximum, and it's the team's choice. Considering their upcoming cap situation, you have to think they elect for just one year. And if Bouma wants to stay longer than that, he's going to have to back down: possibly under the $2 million midway point.
One good season in the midst of fourth line value can't be worth that much. The Flames' rebuild is still happening, but they're a team that has to be cap-savvy now. Overpaying Bouma, who could very well be the team's 12th or 13th forward when all is said or done, would be more harmful than helpful.