The Anaheim Ducks signed Cam Fowler to a five-year, $20 million contract extension Saturday, rewarding the talented young defenseman with a big new deal on the eve of a presumptive NHL lockout.
Fowler is signed through the 2017-18 season, although the final value of his contract could be affected by a new collective bargaining agreement.
The 20-year-old Fowler has been a regular on the Ducks' blue line since Anaheim chose him with the 12th overall pick in 2010, eagerly grabbing him when the expected top-five pick slid down the draft board. After a 40-point rookie season as an 18-year-old, he scored 29 points while playing in all 82 games last season, playing a major role in every aspect of the Ducks' game plan.
"It shows the whole organization has a lot of faith in me, and that's what made it special," Fowler said in a phone interview. "It was more than a fair offer, and I was completely happy with it. Talking about it with my agent and my family, we knew that this was the best decision for me. We made sure all the pieces fit together, and they absolutely did. I really could not be any more happy with it."
Fowler has been projected as the heir to longtime Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer, who retired during the same offseason that Fowler joined the Ducks. Fowler even lived with Niedermayer's family in Orange County as a teenage rookie, and he has shown flashes of the three-time Stanley Cup champion's puck-moving abilities and all-around game.
"We're excited to sign Cam to a long-term contract," Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "He's a character kid with a great chance to become an elite NHL defenseman."
Fowler was born in Windsor, Ontario, and grew up in Farmington Hills, Mich. He would have been a restricted free agent next summer if he hadn't reached a long-term deal with Anaheim.
The Ducks rebuilt their sometimes-porous defense during the offseason, building a new group around Fowler and 22-year-old Swiss blueliner Luca Sbisa, their two cornerstones. Anaheim signed free-agent veterans Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen to join holdover veterans Francois Beauchemin, Toni Lydman and Nate Guenin.
"Obviously if the team wants to extend you early and make sure it's long-term, it shows they like what you've done in your first two seasons," Fowler said. "There's obviously room to improve every year, but as a person and a player, they have a lot of confidence in you, and that's what means the most to me."
The Ducks finished 13th in the Western Conference last season, allowing 231 goals despite a solid season by goalie Jonas Hiller. Anaheim would be starting its first training camp under coach Bruce Boudreau this week except for the looming lockout, which made Fowler's contract bittersweet to the young defenseman.
Fowler hasn't decided whether to play in Europe if the lockout is lengthy, and he indicated he might be open to playing for the Ducks' AHL affiliate in Norfolk. But he's staying in Orange County for now.
"We've got quite a few guys skating and working out together," Fowler said. "I want to be here, and I want to be in California working to the best of our ability, in good shape and ready to go when the season starts. I haven't really gone into much detail with anybody if the lockout were to go to a certain period of time. Right now, I'm out here and going to the rink every day and training with the guys."
The Ducks assigned several young players to Norfolk in the past two days, including Swedish defenseman Hampus Lindholm, the sixth overall pick in this summer's draft. Forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Peter Holland and Brandon McMillan also will start in the AHL.