Remember Brandon Prust? He was a third round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, back in the 2004 NHL entry draft. Prust had two separate stints with the Flames over the course of three years, ultimately playing just 78 games for the team. He scored two goals and seven points over those games.
Despite his ultimately lacklustre contributions, he was still remembered for his time as a Flame, and fast became a fan favourite thanks to his fighting and overall gritty play.
Why am I talking about Prust, who hasn't been relevant to the Flames for years?
Because Lance Bouma is the new Brandon Prust, right down to his new three-year, $6.6 million contract.
Bouma, like Prust, was drafted in the third round - 78th overall, vs. 70th - by Calgary. His career started off on the same foot. While Bouma got more minutes, he scored about as much, posting four points over his first 43 games. That's about .09 points per game, same as Prust's numbers.
In his third season, Bouma proved he could do a bit better than that, though, to the tune of five goals and 15 points over 78 games. He provided a pretty decent contribution for the fourth line, and was able to eat up some minutes while the prime scorers caught their breaths on the bench.
Prust had a similar season between Calgary and New York in his third year in the NHL: five goals, 14 points over 69 games. The only real difference between the two was Prust was getting paid just a little more - $800,000, to Bouma's $577,500 - and his penalty minutes were much more out of control - 163 to Bouma's 41.
Also, Prust wasn't quite up for a new deal yet. Bouma was, and he took a cheap, one year "show me" deal.
Out of nowhere, in his fourth year in the NHL, Prust jumped up to 13 goals, and 29 points. To date, he was averaging under 10 minutes a game, when his career season saw him suddenly getting 13:49.
In Bouma's fourth year, he suddenly scored 16 goals and 34 points. Bouma set a career high in average ice time that season as well, playing 14:01 - a modest upgrade from his 12:36 the year before.
Before their respective fourth seasons, both players looked like modest fourth liners, with Prust being more of a fighter. They were paid accordingly, not detrimental to their teams, and fit right in the lineup.
So why wouldn't they deserve a raise? After all, sometimes players are simply late bloomers, right? It took them until their fourth NHL seasons, but both Prust and Bouma looked like they became legitimate contributors to the offence. Not first line potential, mind you, but modest, middle six players.
Here's the thing, though: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Prust followed up his breakout year with five goals and 17 points: a modest tally, but not quite the numbers he posted the year before. The Rangers let him go in free agency, and the Canadiens decided to pick him up to the tune of four years, and a $2.5 million cap hit.
That's $10 million committed to a player who had only just barely started to show decent scoring numbers.
Is the same future in store for Bouma? He has yet to play a fifth season, but over the course of their first four years, Prust and Bouma have the exact same story - and it's continued, down to rewarding them for aberration years with far higher cap hits than they ever deserved.
Prust played three seasons for Montreal before being traded to Vancouver for Zack Kassian (who is not only the younger, better player, but the player with far more potential). Over 172 games, he scored 15 goals and 45 points: .26 points per game. At a $2.5 million cap hit, while averaging just around 13 minutes of ice time.
It was not a good deal for the Canadiens. You don't pay fourth liners that much.
History is trying to tell us something, and we've ignored it
Bouma has never, at any level, been projected to be a scorer. His career high in junior was 14 goals, and that was as a 20-year old playing amongst teenagers. Junior numbers are, of course, not the be all end all, but if you can't score at the junior level, you're probably not going to fare too well in the pros.
One year of Bouma managing 34 points over a season - while playing with one of the Flames' best in Mikael Backlund, no less - does not change this fact. Not one year. If Bouma can do it again, then you have a case, but a single year is not cause to hand out big money.
You know how you get stuck in cap hell? It's not by paying good players what they've earned, it's by paying mediocre players more than they're worth either because of an out-of-place year, or because they're simply your guy. The Flames drafted Bouma. He grew up in the organization. There's a sense of two-way loyalty to be had in that, and that's perfectly acceptable - until you let it overrule other things, like common sense and cap management.
This is a far more extreme example than Bouma's case, but it's based on the same principle. You know how the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are barely under the cap, and still with players left to sign? A major cause for that is Bryan Bickell's $4 million cap hit, awarded to him after a single good postseason.
Bickell has put up 43 points over 139 games since receiving that contract. He's the Blackhawks' fourth highest paid forward, and they can't get rid of him. His contract was key in their losing Brandon Saad, who contributed far more to Chicago's success over the past two seasons.
The Blackhawks have gotten stuck in part thanks to a bad contract for a mediocre player. With raises for Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett soon in store, it's a situation the Flames best be paying attention to and learning from: because those are three players who, in all likelihood, are going to get paid, and will have earned it.
History is not on Bouma's side. Sure, there's a chance he can overcome it. Maybe this past season wasn't an aberration (even though he more than doubled his career shooting percentage and relied on Backlund to carry him all the while). Maybe he can continue to be a 30 point player.
But the chance is far greater he'll fall, and become a thorn in the Flames' side as they try to navigate their way through a tricky cap situation, coming in a year's time.
A tricky cap situation thanks to handing out big contracts to terrible players.
As of today, Bouma is a part of that group.
The Flames never missed Prust. They easily replaced him from within the system. Who easily replaces Bouma, and for far cheaper?