The tragic tale of Jay Bouwmeester

The Calgary Flames have an 8.6% chance at making the Western Conference playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats dot com, but that may be a bit generous of a number, considering the competition the Flames face, and how far behind they are compared to their opposition.

The Flames need to surpass three of Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose or Colorado to make the post-season. They’ve already been the beneficiary of some good coin flipping, having a “.500″ record (although it’s really 34-42, regardless of what the NHL tells you) despite a minus-22 goal differential, which is the third lowest in the Conference.

They’re not so much in the playoff race so much as they are paying lip service to it. But there’s a deeper story in here.

I took in the first two games of the Western Hockey League playoffs in Kamloops on Friday and Saturday, across the ice from the local Blazers’ bench, managed by a man named Guy Charron. Charron was born in 1949 in Verdun, Québec and has a fatherly vibe to him: he smiles often and greets the crowd with pre-taped announcements over the video board, speaking in both English and his native French, which is somewhat of a rarity in any Western Canadian town. He’s clean-shaven and keeps his hair slicked back neatly as if he’s more concerned with an out-of-position lock than an out-of-position defenceman.

Mainly, though, I’ve been very impressed with him as a coach. Charron was brought aboard two summers ago in an effort to bring the struggling Blazers, who had been awful over the last few seasons, back to respectability. This season, Kamloops won 47 of 72 games and won the BC Division title, and it’s no coincidence. I’ve partially monitored the way Charron uses his players, giving the hard minutes to his vets and giving limited situational opportunities to his skilled rookies, and the result is a very fine, structured team that is overall pretty dangerous and should be a tough second round opponent for anybody in the league.

That said, few people are aware of Charron’s most interesting attribute. As a trivia geek growing up, and because the man shares my last name, I’d been aware of this fact for a while: no player in NHL history has ever played more games without ever appearing in the playoffs. In his rookie year, he started the 1971 season with the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to win the Stanley Cup, but he was part of the package that the Habs sent to Detroit for Frank Mahovlich.

The Red Wings were notoriously awful through most of the 70s and 80s, but not as bad as the Kansas City Scouts, who lasted two seasons and won just 27 of 160 games in their history. Charron was traded to the Scouts before they started play in 1974, but didn’t join the team when they relocated to Denver two seasons later, instead joining the Washington Capitals for five seasons. The Capitals never won more than 27 games in the first eight years of franchise history, and Charron was lucky enough to be around for the tail-end.

After it was all said and done, Charron’s career finished with a respectable 734 games played and 221 goals and 530 points. His minus-208 plus/minus is entirely indicative of the awful teams he was on. It wasn’t necessarily Charron’s fault as he was a victim of circumstance, but what’s interesting is, even in his NHL coaching gigs, he has yet to make the playoffs, having missed with the 1992 Calgary Flames and the 2001 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

How does this relate to the 2012 Calgary Flames season? Well, barring a total miracle, Jay Bouwmeester should break Charron’s record next year. Charron played 734 games without making the playoffs; by the end of the season, Bouwmeester will be at 717. By mid-November, Bouwmeester will have surpassed Charron in career games played, and not a single one of them will have been played in the NHL postseason.

It’s truly remarkable when you think about it. More than half the teams make the playoffs now, and with the volume of player movement on a year-to-year basis, you’d expect players, after nine years in the league to at least have some post-season experience to show for it, but that hasn’t been the case with Bouwmeester, who was fortunate enough to start his career with the Florida Panthers and sign with Calgary when things got rough for them in the summer of 2009.

Actually, this is what you will remember Olli Jokinen for.

Even Olli Jokinen, the former holder of the record and part-time dance instructor, saw six games with Calgary in a series against Chicago at the tail-end of the 2009 season (Jokinen was at 799 career games, well above both Charron and Bouwmeester) and what really makes it amazing is that Jokinen and Bouwmeester were, at one point in their careers, highly sought-after commodities. Jokinen was the franchise player for a struggling Florida franchise with Bouwmeester as his wing-man. Bouwmeester was traded for a king’s ransom as far as impending unrestricted free agents go: a roster player in Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round pick, and Calgary also made the decision to sign him for 5 years at just under $7MM per.

So you can understand why, at $6,680,000.00 cap hit on the season, why Bouwmeester may get his fair share of criticism. He’s only scored one goal and, while he isn’t necessarily the poster boy for a team that has spent money in a remarkably inefficient money over the last two or three seasons, his presence on Calgary’s Capgeek page probably doesn’t help. The fact he plays some of the toughest situations in the league—he has a 1.799 Corsi Rel QoC and a 44.6% offensive zone start rate—is quite symbolic of the situation his career has faced. He isn’t a bad player, but his offensive game has sputtered since joining Calgary, with just 11 goals in three seasons.

There will come a time for Bouwmeester. He’s not a stranger to spring hockey, having played three times at the World Championships for Canada, and when his contract expires in two seasons, he’ll be going into his 31-year old season, which isn’t too old in hockey years. He’ll be able to pick the team he plays for, and while he could take a sizeable cut, I have a feeling he’ll at some point manage to make his way to the NHL postseason. It’s been a remarkable fall from grace, however, after being one of the most desired free agents going into the summer of 2009, he’s become somewhat of an afterthought when you get around to naming the top defencemen in the NHL.

As it was when Jokinen broke the record, in the long run, Guy Charron’s record is probably safe. I’m not too sure just how much he wants it, but it’s better to be known for something than for nothing, I guess. As for Charron, his Blazers are up 2-0 in the first round of the WHL playoffs, just 14 wins away from a Memorial Cup berth. Redemption is practically right around the corner.