About René Bourque, the thing to remember about him is that he's not a high-intensity, high-motor guy. We knew this going in when we acquired him from Calgary, we gave them our headache Mike Cammalleri, and they gave us theirs. He was being vilified in Cowtown for being uninterested and not physical enough, except when he went at opponents with blind-side hits and flying elbows and was being suspended. So what we knew about him when the trade was announced was that he was a big winger who could pot goals (two seasons of 27 goals), has a low cap hit ($3.3M), and can sometimes appear uninterested or uninvolved.
And that's exactly the player we have. He's on pace for a twenty goal season, he gets shots off on net, he works reasonably hard and skates well, and is not a problem on the balance sheet or in the dressing room. He's not a liability like a Kostitsyn or a lightning rod for controversy like a Maxim Lapierre, just a guy who gives what he has and does not hurt us when he's on the ice.
René Bourque's biggest problem is that he's not Rick Tocchet or Curt Fraser, guys who did a bit of scoring but were a lot more showy on the ice, they crashed and banged and were 'fiery leaders'. René is more low-key. You look at him and wonder what he could be with his size and physical gifts, but that's always a tricky game. Other Canadiens like Gilbert Delorme and Mark Hunter and Murray Wilson also seemed like they should be more dominant based on their size and strength or speed, and they contributed, but the expectations are what ultimately soured fans on them. For every great surprise like Mike McPhee or Andrei Markov, there will be some players who perhaps underperform in our eyes. Our best course of action is to compare players against others in the lineup, and measure their effort, not hold them up to the standard of our daydreams.
And let's not discount the effect that the two suspensions he incurred as a Flame, for illegal hits against Brent Seabrook and Nicklas Bäckström, the subsequent backlash by the media and opposition fans, as well as the concussion he suffered after a sucker punch by Colton Orr, may have had on his game. He may, actively or unconsciously, have tempered his game a little bit, moved away from the big spectacular hits, and decided to keep his head down, his nose clean, and just play hockey, try to get the puck and score goals. In a way, that's the direction the league says it wants to go, that's the way the league should go if it does put a value on players' long-term health. So to accuse René of playing soft is being willfully blind to the circumstances and the background of the player.
If René pots one tonight and a couple next week, this momentary scrutiny will all be forgotten/'forgiven, and we'll move on to another whipping boy.