Rene Bourque has been making a bad if not disastrous first impression as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Bourque, who was traded from the Calgary Flames to Montreal last January for an infamously-yanked-from-mid-game Michael Cammalleri, has just 5 goals and 3 assists in his first 35 games as a Hab. Being that he is directly replacing a goal-scorer, we are naturally safe to assume that Bourque is expected to put up points whether luck is on his side or not. But is there more than just bad luck to why he isn’t performing well for his new club right off the bat? Is he used to playing more minutes? Is his role being marginalized in contrast to the importance that he may have had with the Flames, or is it just hard to suddenly get thrown into a team that is undergoing one of its worst campaigns in its history?
This season Bourque is averaging almost 18 minutes of ice time per game, and last year with the Flames, where he put up 50 points in 80 games, he was averaging almost exactly the same amount. His shifts per game are also almost identical to the amount he was given as a Flame last year. He is averaging only one less shift per game (22.3) than Eric Cole (23.5), Max Pacioretty (23.1), and David Desharnais (23.3), who together make up the Habs top production line. In terms of opportunity there is hardly an absence of it here for Bourque. He may not presently have the luxury of line-mates akin to Jarome Iginla, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he is being given the chance to make things happen, and play the role he was given. The role is presumed to be, and was put forward as, “getting into the dirty areas and winning puck battles, making room for his teammates and utilizing his size.”
Speaking of his role, Bourque is actually occupying a spot on the second power-play unit despite his decidedly underwhelming work ethic. He is currently a staggering minus-20, the worst on the team, and has taken a lot more penalties than he has drawn. Randy Cunneyworth doesn’t seem to be using him as sparingly as you would expect given that Bourque hasn’t really upped his game since the interim head coach had this to say about him thirteen games ago: “He has the potential to do much more and we’ve got to push him to get better results. He knows and is working harder, but he’ll have to get it into a higher gear. He seems like a tough player who is not playing tough. With his style and reputation he should be making the space near the net but he’s got to play his game.”
When you look at the type of player that he is, and the role he seems to fit, it seems that former Habs GM, Pierre Gauthier‘s real plan couldn’t have been to directly replace Cammalleri with Bourque. You would hope that the plan was more along the lines of, “lets bring in a solid third-line guy with size and offence, and then grab the Cammalleri replacement (Parise) in the off-season.” Hope is the operative word there. Bourque is under contract for four more season at $3.33 million, which is something that Habs fans will always repine over unless he greatly exceeds expectations.
However, we can’t be so quick to judge this players worth. Bourque is simply not as bad as what he’s shown in Montreal, and that is pretty well non-arguable. So far, all of his shortcomings are based on a pretty small sample of time has a Hab, and even less time as part of a Habs team with any dignity. Andrew Berkshire makes this and other good points on Bourque in the left winger portion of his Habs third-quarter review.
With a full season to come, barring an unlikely summer trade, Rene Bourque will have the opportunity to quickly remedy the tribulations that can sometimes come with being a new member of the Montreal Canadiens. In his case the second impression is going to be considerably more important that the first.
Follow me on Twitter @AmosLegault