A year removed from being dangled as a draft-day trade chip, Cam Fowler cemented his place as a member of the Anaheim Ducks thanks to a massive eight-year, $52 million extension signed on July 1st.
Cam Fowler's extension in ANA -- coming into effect next season -- expected to be 8 years with a $6.5M AAV— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 1, 2017
Set to kick in for the 2018-19 season with an annual average value of $6.5 million, Fowler will instantly become Anaheim’s most highly-paid defenseman.
The timing here is interesting.
Fowler just had a career year, and at 25, could very well have an even better season next year, especially when you consider his heavy usage under Randy Carlyle.
Agent Pat Brisson had to have at least floated that idea to his client. With another great year under his belt, Fowler might have had even more leverage in the summer of 2018.
Easy for someone on the sidelines to say.
Sure, Fowler could have another solid season. Like all players, however, he’d be one freak accident away from causing real harm to his value. Slip on a puck in warmups, and watch the dollars float away.
Legitimate fear of the unknown clearly won the day, and Fowler will be a wealthier man for it. He gets a significant upgrade in salary, and the satisfaction of knowing his club has confidence in him.
That’s all well and good, but the Ducks just made a considerable financial investment, and it’s unclear whether it was a shrewd one.
Worth The Money?
For all the hype in 2016-17, the reality of Fowler’s game wasn’t anywhere close to its perception.
Alongside Sami Vatanen for the majority of the season, he turned in a paltry 48.3 Corsi For percentage at even strength. Carlyle gave them a heavy dose of defensive zone starts along with difficult match-ups, compounding their defensive limitations.
To boot, the Anaheim head coach entrusted Fowler with the most penalty kill minutes per game of any Ducks’ defenseman, a disastrous decision that was largely masked by excellent goaltending during the regular season.
Once the saves stopped coming at a league-leading rate in the playoffs, Anaheim’s penalty killing unit got exposed badly, with Fowler’s sub-par positional play firmly in the limelight.
It’s difficult to know how much of Fowler’s numbers last season were a commentary on his own play, or that of Vatanen’s.
Given that he actually did quite well next to Josh Manson, posting an impressive 53.8 Corsi For percentage at five-on-five, then perhaps we can be more confident in thinking that Vatanen was the dragging force there.
That’s not the point, though.
The mark of an elite-level defenseman is the ability to prop up lesser partners while still driving positive results. Fowler has yet to demonstrate an ability to do that, and at 25, it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll magically develop that ability out of nowhere.
Given how much he’ll soon be making, the hope would be that he could at least come close to that.
Since the chart is pretty cluttered, here's a closer look at the best and worst at defending their own blueline. https://t.co/hA6YVBzBcj pic.twitter.com/RIdy8I1oFp— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 30, 2017
Under the right circumstances, Fowler can be an impressive player.
He struggles to defend his own blueline, but clearly that can be mitigated playing next to a true defensive rock like Manson. Meanwhile, he’s excellent at breaking the puck out of his zone, using his elite-level skating to break opposing forechecking schemes.
In the offensive zone, he remains one of Anaheim’s more dangerous defensmen, leading the pack in on-ice high-danger shot attempts at even strength.
Yet he’d always possessed those gifts. Playing a heavy role last season seemed to elevate the perception of him tenfold.
The claim always seems to be, “Look, he played a ton of minutes in all situations”, falling well short of actually demonstrating that those minutes were appropriately allocated. All the evidence suggests that was far from being the case.
The Ducks have made their move, however. Both Vatanen and possibly Hampus Lindholm are set to miss the early going next season, which should once again place Fowler in a position where he’ll be asked to do a ton. Given what we know, that might not go all that well, unless Manson is involved. Not exactly what you’d want for $52 million.