Greetings everyone and welcome to another edition of The Ex-Panther Factor, where I talk about former members of the Florida Panthers. Josh said a few weeks back during one of our podcasts, that I seem to be able to change the lives and destinations of players since I began this weekly feature. Is that true? Niklas Hagman was put on waivers, Rostislav Olesz was sent to the AHL, and Keith Ballard missed a few games with a back injury, so maybe it’s true.
Today’s Ex-Panther profile is going to look at a player that has become a Panther Fan’s favourite punching bag, Jay Bouwmeester. Based on the demand of you, and the fact that the Calgary Flames are visiting the Bank Atlantic Center on Friday night, it’s a perfect time to take an in depth look at one of the most over priced, and over rated defencemen in the game today.
The background on Jay for those of you who want your memories refreshed is this: Jay was drafted third overall in 2002 by the Florida Panthers as the smooth skating defenceman was a target of the club scouting and management to the point that everyone in the NHL knew the Cats were taking him. However that year the Panthers actually held the number one position in the draft, and the Columbus Blue Jackets had their eyes on big winger Rick Nash. The two clubs worked out a deal and swapped positions allowing the Jackets to get their man at number one, and the Panthers took Jaybo at number three.
Sandwiched between the two was goaltender Kari Lehtonen who was taken by the Atlanta Thrashers. When looking at the swap I always wonder how Nash would have looked in a Panthers sweater skating on the top line. A true power forward with a nice scoring touch, and just enough sandpaper to have a mean streak when needed. Imagine how different things might have been had we had Nash’s 268 NHL goals.
When Jay was drafted he was projected to be a player that would provide steady defence, the ability to move the puck up ice and contribute offensively, and grow into the quarterback of the power play. I recall attending one of the Panthers rookie camps and watching Jay during a skating drill. I couldn’t believe how graceful and effortless he was at 18. Smooth as silk, and I had only wished I could skate a tenth as good as Jay. There was a backwards skating drill that the boys were put through, and while most everyone struggled, Jay executed it perfectly and without nary a hitch. Everyone thought that this kid would be a can’t miss. In many ways he was, but in others he did.
Jay’s junior career was played in the Western Hockey league as a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers, and Jay was fortunate enough to make the jump from juniors and step right into a full time position with the Panthers playing all 82 games in his rookie season. Jay scored four goals and had 12 assists, but was a minus 29 on a bad Panther team. The next season Jay missed some time with a fractured foot but still managed to play in 61 games with 2 goals and 18 helpers for 20 points and was a slightly better minus 15. As Jay continued to develop and get older you could see that there was potential for……greatness? Maybe too strong a word, but his skating ability was natural and he possessed a knack for knowing when to take chances. He also ate up the minutes for the Panthers and would ultimately find himself playing close to 25 to 28 minutes per night eventually.
As we skip to the last few seasons of his career, Jay was scoring 15 goals a season, and was piling up assists and minutes, but as I watched him, something was missing. Was it determination? Was it grit? For a player who was 6′ 4″ he certainly didn’t use his body like he could have. Maybe he was molding himself to be the next Nicklas Lidstrom, which on a team surrounded by superstars like the Detroit Red Wings would be fine, but on the terrible teams that the Panthers were putting out there, it wasn’t enough.
Jay grew disenchanted with the direction that the organEYEzation was going, and made it harder and harder for management to sign him. It was publicly known that this ordeal was causing the club much frustration, numerous trade offers were made to the Panthers that were continually turned down. Rehashing those deals is not what I’ll do, but just know that despite some serious and significant offers, the Panthers braintrust at the time would not allow the trigger to be pulled. Instead of moving forward, they seemed to point the gun back at themselves, and payed dearly for it. On three occasions Jay refused to sign long term deals, signing one year deals twice, and a two year deal in between. Every year as the trade deadline approached Jay was always mentioned in rumors, but never left. If I remember correctly, there was a trade on the table, but the paperwork was submitted too late and it never went through, keeping Jay with the club for the balance of the 2009 season. Note: I could be wrong about this and have him confused with someone else, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.
Jay’s reasons for not signing a long term deal were based on the fact that he wanted to play in the playoffs. He felt that the direction of the Panthers was misguided, confusing, and the turmoil that he had been through was enough for him to feel as though he didn’t want to be part of the solution, whenever that would be. Funny thing about Jay mentioning the playoffs is that when you look at his playing career, the only time he played in the playoffs was in 2004-2005 with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. He had no points in 18 games. As advanced as he should have been at that time, you would have expected him to “tear it up”, but it wasn’t to be.
Fast track to the summer of 2009, and the agenda for Jay was to test free agency, and he was not going to sign with the Panthers prior to July 1st. The Panthers did the only thing that they could do to get some value back for Jay by trading him to the Calgary Flames for a third round pick and the rights to defenceman Jordan Leopold. Nothing against Leopold, but that was a far cry from some of the other names that were on the table in years before. (Don’t make me go there).
On June 30th the Calgary Flames signed Jay to a five year deal that would see him average $6.5 million dollars per season, and found himself to be reunited with Mike Keenan for a season and play with Ex-Panthers Olli Jokinen and Niklas Hagman. Jay is now in his third season with Calgary and has underachieved each year he’s been there. It’s very possible that by being surrounded with better talent, he’s not been needed to carry the load as much as when he was here in Florida. It’s also possible that the Western Conference style of hockey is too physical for him, and he’s not able to skate as freely and operate like he did with the Panthers.
Personally I don’t buy those reasons for the following: I have heard many an analyst comment about Jay and indicate that something is missing. Something either isn’t quite right, or as I heard one commentator say “He just doesn’t bring it every night like you’d think he would”. In his first season with the Flames (2009-2010) Jay managed three goals and 26 assists. Last season he scored four goals and had 20 assists. So far this year in 30 games Jay has one goal, nine assists and 10 points. Darryl Sutter the general manager who signed Jay to that deal is no longer in that position for the Flames. He also felt so confident with Jay that he traded Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs for what amounts to spare parts, while “Neon Dion” is leading the Leafs resurgence.
Friday night Jay Bouwmeester returns and the crowd has booed Jay each time he’s touched the puck in his previous visits, and it will be interesting to see if the fans will be forgiving or not. As much as I’d like to say he’s worth a few boos during the night, save your breathe and your energy to throw the rats after the game is over.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and suggestions.
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