We are approaching the NHL draft and fast. Teams are attempting to secure and rebuild their rosters. After another stunning first round exit, many fans are calling for changes. While I will leave my opinions of Hitchcock for another time, I will discuss some "core" players and whether they should stay or go. I am not a GM, nor do I pretend to know the inner workings of NHL trades. This is not an article projecting who we should target to get in return if a player is moved, but simply should we try to move them.
Our first subject is top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Brought in from Calgary in the 2012-2013 season, he quickly became one of my personal favorites. He was a tall defenseman with range out of this world. He paired amazingly with budding star Alex Pietrangelo. Neither were physical, but both had exceptional positioning and puck playing skills. Jay Bouwmeester was known as one of the most talented skaters in the league. With his long body and effortless skating it seemed that no one was able to get by him in his first 2 seasons with the note. Other teams would attempt to enter the zone, and would be blanketed. If they were lucky enough to not have the puck knocked away their dynamic offensive burst would fizzle out as they realized they had no where to go. Bouwmeester was never an offensive dynamo during his time in STL, His highest scoring season was 2013 when he netted 4. That season he did add 33 assists, a very respectable number.
Jay is now 31, and will be 32 before the start of next season. His biggest asset is one which seems to be disappearing quickly. Through the entirety of last season Bouwmeester looked slow. According to the eye test he had to put effort into skating when it came naturally before. He tired quicker, and got caught out of position time and time again. I would watch skaters enter the zone and expect them to go no where, big 19 had them. Then to my surprise they would make it past him, and we would be in a battle to clear our zone. His +/- dropped from 26 to 7. His goals dropped from 4 to 2. Fans across the twitterverse noted that every shot he took seemed to be a weak wrister from the blue line. It was like he was afraid to shoot a slapshot or anything with power. What stat is even more telling is that his assists dropped from 33 to 11. Only 11 assists for your top line defenseman. He even saw an average of almost 1.5 minutes less time on the ice.
Shooters can go through droughts, but the talent is always there. Ovetchkin will be able to shoot better at 35 than most players at 25. Jay Bouwmeester was a skater, which is a talent easily lost to time and age. He could have a couple seasons left in him, but not as a top defenseman on a team contending for a cup. I knew the time was up when I watched Bouwmeester give up and play the body instead of the puck this season. He would be beaten and simply hope to trap the player against the boards. A fine move for a bruiser like Roman Polak, who puts fear into smaller forwards, but an act of futility in a graceful player like Bouwmeester.
In 2015 Jay is set to make $5.4 million. He will be the second highest paid defenseman on the team next to Alex Pietrangelo. One blatant weakness the playoffs have pointed out in recent years is our lack of physicality on defense. This season injury showed us that we have talent waiting to break the roster on defense. RFA Bobby Bortuzzo played admirably. Petteri Lindbohm was a firecracker. His powerful shots from the blue line were matched only my his powerful hits he laid on the opposing team.
The final decision is one I am not happy giving to a player I loved watching. In the case of Jay Bouwmeester, it is time to go.