The Rebirth of Rene Bourque


AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz

Rene Bourque has received a lot of criticism over the past twelve months. The three-time twenty goal scorer started off very slowly during the 2011-2012 season, which prompted some very harsh criticism from CBC hockey analyst, Kelly Hrudey. (Here)

Bourque, who had signed a six-year contract at an average of $3.3 million per season in 2010, probably gave the Flames a ‘hometown discount’ at the time since he was from Alberta. When he was traded to the Canadiens mid-game on 12 January, 2012, Hab fans were torn about what they felt about the trade. On the one hand, the Canadiens were shipping out $6 million per season for the one dimensional, Mike Cammalleri; on the other hand, the Habs were receiving a very long contract and a player criticized for having motivation problems. What was the upside? Bourque was a scorer, he was big, he could fight, he would go to the net, and maybe, just maybe, he would hit people, too.

The trade was so polarizing because of the controversy surrounding Cammalleri’s comments about the Habs players being “losers”, as well as the fact that it was the only trade in recent memory, and maybe history, to have traded a player mid-game.

Bourque himself was clearly ambivalent about leaving Calgary. When he did begin playing with Montreal, the team had already realized that it was going nowhere, fast. So, just like the majority of the team, his play sagged to an all-time low. He only managed 8 points in 38 games, with a woeful -16 rating and a 7% shooting percentage. One thing that was hoped he would bring — hitting — was not brought to the table consistently, either (38 hits in 38 games).

Bourque, along with fellow 2011-2012 addition, Tomas Kaberle, became symbolic of the ineptitude and desperation of ‘Ghost’, Pierre Gauthier. The two were criticized and mocked to no end. Alas, Hab fans considered Bourque to be simply a salary cap road-block, and nothing more. The most cherished pieces of the trade that brought him to Montreal were the second round pick in 2013 (which is beginning to look like a pretty high one in a good draft) and the sudden junior star, Patrick Holland (109 pts in 70 games for Tri-City of WHL last season).

As the off-season played its course, and the whirlwind which was the Canadiens re-structuring occurred, it became known that Bourque had played a significant portion of the previous season with a partially torn abdomen. He had attempted to play through it and felt that it had improved at the end of the season. However, while training during the off-season he realized that he had to have surgery on it (which he has re-Hab-ed really well…. pun intended — I couldn’t help myself on that one).

After a number change from #27 to his traditional #17, along with a fresh bill of health, Bourque proclaimed that he would definitely play better than he did in 2012.

Play better he has. Last season he looked as if he had serious conditioning issues. He would often jump onto the ice, skate hard for a few moments, only to lag behind for the remainder of his shift. Before I knew he had abdominal issues, I argued he needed to either improve his diet and/or hit the gym harder. What I have been most impressed with so far this 2013 season is his explosive skating ability. For a 6’2, 211 pound player he can really accelerate with power. Playing with Plekanec and Gionta requires being fleet of foot because those two can fly on the ice. I did not believe he would be able to keep up with them if he was their left-wing. I was wrong.

I sorely misunderstood just how gifted a skater he was when healthy. While Rene does not overpower opponents with abrasive hits on a consistent basis, or run over goalies, he makes it very difficult for defenders to cover him because he skates at them like a train which won’t stop until it gets where it wants.

His second goal against Sabres (2 February 2013)

Bourque was talked about being the second ‘Compliance’ buy-out by the Canadiens this summer, but at this point that seems unlikely. Bergevin stressed that every player will be given a fresh start under his management, and so far he has given just that.

Good for Bourque and good for the Montreal Canadiens.

I stress one point: I know that loving the Habs comes unconditional to many and that you want your team to succeed. However, if you truly want your team to succeed, be patient, be supportive of its players, and make sure not to get too high or too low when the Habs win. Just understand that just because the Habs win four in a row it does not mean they will inevitably win the Stanley Cup. Similarly, just because they lose one or two games does not mean they will descend to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, either.

Go Habs Go


Follow me @JoelGabbayNHL for more Habs and NHL commentary

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