When Rene Bourque was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens midseason in 2012, he was the key piece in a trade that sent Habs playoff hero Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames. Bourque did his best playoff Cammalleri impression this spring, but was it enough for the Habs to keep him around next season?
Before this lengthy playoff run, where Bourque was a huge story at times, he was nothing short of abysmal for the Canadiens. His last two full seasons with the Flames, Bourque scored 27 goals each year and was on an identical pace before the trade to Montreal, when he had 13 goals in 38 games for the Alberta team.
The problem was Bourque had just three assists in those 38 games, and his goal scoring abilities did not travel with him to Montreal. Bourque played 38 games with the Habs that season as well, and his awful assist total remained consistent. He once again chipped in just a trio of helpers in half of a season, but his goal total dropped to five.
His lockout shortened 2013 season was his best regular season as a Hab, when he scored seven goals and 13 points in 27 games. For a 3.33 million dollar cap hit that is not what a team is looking for as your best year.
This past regular season was the worst in Bourque’s career. Bourque scored nine goals and 16 points in 63 games for a Habs team desperate for offense all season. He was a frequent healthy scratch, and heading into the postseason it was not guaranteed he would even play.
An Alex Galchenyuk injury late in the season opened up a roster spot for Bourque and he took full advantage of it, for a short while at least. Playing alongside a reborn Lars Eller and Brian Gionta, Bourque had four goals and five points in the Habs first five postseason games, but then had just one point in the next eight games. He was great against the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one, and had two points in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins, but was held scoreless for the last six games of that second round series.
He then had five points in the last four games against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, including a hat trick in a wild Game 5 win that kept the Habs alive for one more game.
At 6’2” and 220 pounds, Bourque has an envious package of size and skill, but rarely uses either, especially in his two and a half seasons with the Canadiens. Including his impressive postseason, Bourque has now suited up for 150 games as a Montreal Canadien, he has 31 goals and 20 assists for 51 points. This means if he plays all 82 games next season, his averages tell you he should score 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points.
What makes these numbers worse is Bourque has been forced into top six minutes and has played with Tomas Plekanec for most of his career in Montreal. It is not like the Habs were using him on the fourth line regularly, he was guaranteed second line left wing for years and never earned the role. Finally, Galchenyuk usurped him for that role this season, but Bourque failed miserably to replace Cammalleri, or even to be a reasonable facsimile.
Sure, Bourque had a few great games for the Canadiens this postseason, but if anyone offers even a 7th round pick at the draft, I would send the overpaid underachiever away without a second thought.
Bourque has two more seasons left at a 3.33 million dollar cap hit, and at the age of 32 is not about to hit his prime. His two 27 goal seasons with the Flames were his peak, and unfortunately for Montreal he is not even close to that level anymore. Blame his concussion history, call him lazy, or maybe he was lucky, but to expect even 20 goals from him next season is laughable.
Even if there are no trade takers, which is highly likely even after his eight goal postseason, the Canadiens have to buy out the final two years of Bourque’s contract. This would save the Habs $1,666,667 against the cap for the next two years, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but could be the difference in finding room for a veteran who contributes such as Brian Gionta.
The Canadiens already have about 25 million in cap space, but need to find room for their two best defensemen, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, as well as Lars Eller who was their best forward in the playoffs. That 25 million is going be a much smaller number once Markov and Subban ink new deals, but the few extra dollars may be even more important a year from now when Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu start earning more than their entry level pennies.
Bourque was reduced to a third line role at best this season, and that role could easily be replaced by someone like Michael Bournival who actually shows up to play every night. Bournival may not bring a lot offense on a consistent basis, but he had one stretch early in the year where he scored 11 points in 17 games.
Bourque had those exact same numbers in the playoffs, he just had his one good stretch in three years at the right time. Wouldn’t you rather have a 22 year old with speed, intensity and penalty killing abilities on your third line instead of a 32 year old who showed up for you once in three years?
I know I would. Bourque’s second last game as a Hab may have been an epic Cammalleri like playoff hat trick, but if it were up to me I would make sure it was the second last game he ever played in a Montreal sweater, no matter the cost.