By Allan Muir
At some point, maybe not too far into the future, Calgary Flames fans might look back at the deal that sent Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues for a first-round pick, along with defenseman Mark Cundari and goaltender Reto Berra, as the deal that righted this badly listing franchise.
More likely though, this will be remembered as the third entry in GM Jay Feaster's 2013 trilogy of failed decisions.
This is just a bad, bad deal for the Flames.
Grabbing another first-rounder in a loaded draft like 2013 would be great, but that's not necessarily what the Flames got. The pick is protected, meaning if the Blues fail to make the playoffs, the Flames won't get to use it this year. Instead, they'll get a fourth-rounder in 2013 and the Blues' first in 2014.
Second, you won't see an adjective here that you'll see in every other article that mentions Cundari and Berra: prospect. Oh sure, there's a chance that these young players could one day enhance their skills to the point that they'll become useful NHL-level players. Just like there's a chance Feaster could win GM of the Year. But it's not going to happen.
Cundari, who I saw quite a bit of in juniors, is a solid AHL-caliber player who may be able to fill a hole occasionally in the NHL. He reminds me of a poor man's Stephane Robidas, a two-way defender whose size belies the snarl in his game. The undrafted 23-year-old competes, but the skill level required to secure a steady NHL gig isn't there.
I haven't seen Berra, a 2006 fourth rounder, since the 2007 World Juniors, but a scout I spoke with this evening said, "they must see something [in him] we don't." The numbers posted by the 6'-4", 189 lb starter for Biel of the Swiss league--a 3.01 GAA and .906 save percentage--aren't the sort to inspire lofty hopes or expectations.
Maybe Feaster is thinking that their age bring them closer to being NHL ready than a couple of mid-round draft picks. That's true. But both players are such long-shots to make an impact that he would have been better off taking a draft day stab in the dark. At least that would bring the chance to uncover another Jamie Benn or Adam Henrique, rather than two more bodies destined to bolster the depth in Abbotsford.
It's impossible to say that Feaster could have done better. Bouwmeester had a no-trade clause, and his contract definitely limited the number of suitors. But capable defenders are undeniably in high demand. Veteran depth defenders Robyn Regehr and Douglas Murray each earned a pair of second rounders in earlier swaps, so Flames fans have every reason to wonder why a non-rental No. 2 couldn't bring more in a seller's market.
There won't be any questions in St. Louis, where fans should be cheering the arrival of a player who immediately boosts their sagging postseason chances.
Adding Bouwmeester with one year remaining on a deal that pays him $6.68 million required a significant commitment from St. Louis ownership. But with that investment, they now have a blueline that ranks among the best in the game.
It's easy to diminish what Bouwmeester brings because of his contract or the lack of success his teams have experienced. That's a mistake. He's a legitimate top-pairing defender who can eat a lot of minutes (he averaged 25:09 with the Flames while facing the opposition's top performers) and contribute at both ends of the ice. The left-handed shooter will be a natural fit alongside Alex Pietrangelo and his veteran presence should help smooth out some of the rough patches as the highly touted youngster continues his development. Blues GM Doug Armstrong hasn't solved all his problems -- he might have to move a defender now and there are a couple of talented but underperforming forwards who could use a wake-up call -- but his aggressive actions to bolster his defense corps make the Blues a much more dangerous club down the stretch.