“It was a weird summer for me that way. My name was floating around basically all summer. I was pretty much prepared for something to happen at the draft. Just talking to people, where we were at the salary cap, the guys we needed to sign. I understood that,” the 25-year-old defenceman said Monday night in Toronto, still pouring sweat after unleashing the Fowlitzer and beating former teammate Frederik Andersen for a game-winner.
“I have a good relationship with management here,” he said. “Nothing would happen unless their backs were against the wall.”
For months, general manager Bob Murray’s back was slammed against the wall. He needed to lock up younger, emerging D-men Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm as well as 23-year-old forward Rickard Rakell. All three were restricted free agents, and the Rakell and Lindholm negotiations were prickly enough to eat into the season.
Were it not for Simon Despres going on long-term injured reserve in October, Lindholm and Fowler might not both be here.
The vultures look at Anaheim’s cap constraints, its wealth of talented blueliners. They see Fowler’s lack of trade protection and his reasonable $4 million cap hit, and they hover.
Instead of fretting, Fowler spun the possibility of getting traded into fuel.
“It kinda helped me stay in my lane. It gave me a little motivation, to be honest with you. I wanted to show teams, if they’re interested in me, they’d be getting a good-quality player. It pushed me in the summer and even at the start of the season,” Fowler said.
“Five games into the season, [Murray] pulled me in and said, ‘Hey, I was a player before, too. I heard my name tossed out there all the time.’ He just said, ‘I’m not shopping you. Teams are calling. Teams are gonna call.’ ”
That may sound like semantics, but it makes a difference to a player. At least it does to Fowler.
“As a GM, you’re going to listen to offers. I understand that, but me and him have a great relationship, and he’s always been very open with me about the direction we’re headed,” he said.
Then (and now) Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle recalls how, during the 2010 draft, the Ducks pegged a point-a-game defenceman from the Windsor Spitfires fourth overall on their board. They were over the moon when Fowler fell to them in the 12 spot.
“Cam’s an excellent skater, an excellent hockey player,” said Carlyle. “It’s amazing. He’s been in the league for seven years. He came in as an 18-year-old when I was there the first time around and was very impressive.”
This past summer, Fowler looked at the 40 points he tallied as a rookie. He knew he’d failed to reach that bar since. He’d been stuck in the 28-to-36-point range. So he set to work.
“I just didn’t feel I was contributing enough offensively as I felt I was able to. When I was scouted I was known as an offensive defenceman, and I had a good rookie year in terms of points,” Fowler said.
“I worked really hard this summer on releasing the puck—shooting from all angles, wrist shots. You name it, I worked on it all summer long. A lot of it is a mentality. You have to have confidence to shoot the puck, and it’s easy to do that when you see a few go in early.”
Fowler deserves an all-star nod for the strides he’s taken this season. He’s exploded for 22 points through 33 games, has committed just a pair of minor penalties, and his nine goals are two more than that of teammate Corey Perry.
There’s been a conscious effort to increase the frequency and accuracy of his shot. His shots per game have leapt to 2.21 from 1.64 last season, and the chances of those pucks striking gold is now 12.3 per cent, up from 4.4 per cent in 2015-16.
“It’s paying dividends, the time and the effort,” says Carlyle, “and that’s what the athletes are doing nowadays. They’re specializing in certain areas of their game and have coaches to help them in certain things.”
There’s also been an equipment change. Cam’s father, Perry, suggested his son get a longer stick.
Now when he orders his Bauer 1S 95 flex, he makes sure it reaches up to up to his nose instead of his chin when he’ standing barefoot.
“That’s helped me get more whip on my shots and be able to bear down when I need it and also release from further angles so I don’t get it blocked,” Fowler explained.
Amazing the difference two inches can make. In the defensive zone, Fowler says the extra graphite allows him to deflect more pucks and close gaps on his opponents. He’s gone from a minus-8 to a plus-2 defender.
“If you looked at my stick, it was short for a defenceman, especially a defenceman of my size,” says Fowler, who’s 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds.
“I see guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Arizona. You can tell when he walks the line, he has a long stick and he snaps it—it’s not those big slap shots—and you can tell there’s flex in that stick and it comes off hard. I said, ‘Why not? Give it a shot.’ I loved it.”
The Ducks are loving the rewards. And even though a dozen or so opposing scouts were watching Fowler’s improved game at Air Canada Centre Monday, it makes more sense for Murray to hang on to his most productive D-man for at least one more run at Stanley.
In light of the Ducks’ cap issues, is there a feeling in the room that this is this core defence group’s last kick at a championship?
“More so with expansion coming, too. We’re a team people are pointing at might lose a real quality player [in the expansion draft] with the way the numbers are working,” Fowler said.
“It’s not something we focus on, but in the back of our minds we understand that.”