Getting to know Big Bo
Defenceman solidifies Flames blueline as one of the league's best
And now, officially, Jay Bouwmeester is a Calgary Flame. With the formal annoucement that the Flames had signed Bouwmeester to a five-year deal worth $6.6 million US a season, Calgary can seriously say they boast one of the top defence corps in the league.
A rundown: Smooth-skating Bouwmeester; hard-hitting, offensively-skilled Dion Phaneuf, top shut-down man Robyn Regehr; grizzled and steady Cory Sarich; young, developing talents Mark Giordano and Adam Pardy.
"On paper, yes," said Duane Sutter, the Flames director of player personnel. "Let's see how the chemistry is developed and the coaching staff pair them up and match them up. But, certainly, on paper, there's no reason we shouldn't be in the top bracket."
Sutter, who is also general manager of the Flames top development team, the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League, might be the one person who knows Bouwmeester best. Sutter was with the Florida Panthers when they drafted him in 2002 and oversaw Bouwmeester's development in the AHL during the NHL lockout, when Bouwmeester played for San Antonio. Not to mention the time he spent watching Bouwmeester player junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"He is a Scott Niedermayer skater. He is as good as you get. He is an elite skater," said Sutter.
There are, of course, knocks on Bouwmeester -- his plus-minus for one, and the fact that he has not played in the playoffs. Both, however, come with being stuck in Florida on a non-playoff team that seems to be in perpetual re-building mode.
Despite that Bouwmeester's game has evolved to the point that he is an NHL all-star and a candidate for the 2010 Olympic Canadian Olympic team -- essentially a hockey dream team.
"When he first came into the league he didn't have the weight to physically compete and the size to physically compete. So he competed with his skating, with his sense. But in the last few years he has added that weight and he can defend physically. He is not a big open ice hitter like Dion but he certainly gets the job done," said Sutter.
"I think his defensive game struggled early in his career due to lack of experience and lack of physical size. Now he is at the stage of his career where there is no flaw in his game. He is a solid, two-way, top-minute guy."
Top minutes? How about all-world minutes. Bouwmeester averaged more time on the ice per game than any NHLer last season with 26:59. Chris Pronger averaged 26:56. Scott Niedermayer 26:55 and Dion Phaneuf 26:31 to round out the top four.
Joining the Flames can only help Bouwmeester's game. There's more veteran talent, more spotlight, greater expectations.
"He's on an upswing," said Sutter. "He's like Dion. There's still more there."
For Bouwmeester, the Flames present a chance to not only make the playoffs, but challenge for the Stanley Cup.
"It's exciting for me. Obviously they have had a good team here for the last few years," said Bouwmeester, who met with head coach Brent Sutter prior to the Flames holding a news conference to introduce their newest player. "The attitude here isn't just to make the playoffs. It's to win it all and that is someting you always want. When the trade happened it gave me lots to think about. I knew the situation, having having been around the area. You know how passionate fans here are. It was a lot to absorb in a short time but I thought it made sense and it made a good fit. I want to be here. No regrets at all."
"The expectations are different no matter where you come from. You are not in it to make the playoffs. You are not in it to win one round. You are not in it to make the final four. You are in it to win the Stanley Cup. That's very attractive to a player. Every player is in it to win the Stanley Cup and this gives him a chance to do that right away," said Duane Sutter.
Overall, the addition of Bouwmeester has a ripple effect -- the immediate impact on the ice and the future impact.
With Bouwmeester signed for five years, the Flames have more time to allow players in the system like John Negrin and Keith Aulie to develop before they have to take on big NHL minutes.
On the ice next season, the Flames defensive side of the game gets an instant upgrade.
"We weren't a strong defensive team a year ago," said Sutter. "We gave up a lot of scoring chances. It's a six-man unit on the ice at a time, each time. Certainly, with the addition of Bo, you will have two guys on the ice on the back end that are solid defencemen. Again, with the contribution of everybody, the scoring chances should be lower and our defensive game should be a lot better."
General manager Darryl Sutter was asked if the signing of Bouwmeester was a big step towards the Flames challenging -- nay winning -- the Stanley Cup in the near future.
"The proof is always in the pudding," replied the general manager. "On paper is one thing but it is about doing it. It's not just a short-term goal. We can keep this defence group together for a long time."
Stil, you could tell that Sutter was pleased to lock in another stud on a defence group whose oldest player is Cory Sarich at 31.
"I think right now (Bouwmeester) might be the best all-around defenceman in the game, both ends of the ice, wth or wthout the puck," said Darryl Sutter.