Monday, 10 November 2014

René Bourque, mercifully, is assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs

So after being placed on waivers on Sunday by the Canadiens, René Bourque has cleared through waivers, with no team deigning to claim his services, at a cap hit of $3.3M for this season and next.  With rumblings that the salary cap may not rise next season, and René nearing 33 years old and being on the downslope of his career, and taking into account this tweet by Arpon Basu
Rene Bourque in a uniform (reg. season only): 141 GP, 21 G, 18 A, 39 pts, 15:35 TOI/game.
I guess it shouldn't be a surprise to us.

René has been assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs, with Michel Therrien assuring everyone that no further decision has been taken in his case, that no doors have been closed, and that it's important he report with the right attitude.  Again, Arpon Basu quipped that it's not as if attitude has been a problem in his case, no sirree...

I’ll say one thing for René, he got Marc Bergevin to be patient, to give him every chance. In any other case, Marc Bergevin has been decisive, he cuts the cord when it’s time. When dealing with Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle, the coaching staff when he took over, he was respectful, but didn’t mess around. Last summer when doing the post-mortem press conference at the end of the season, he held out hope that Brian Gionta could be re-signed, but was quite clear that others wouldn’t be back, including Thomas Vanek. So he wasn’t waffling based on how much they would want to re-sign, he had a clear path in mind and took it.

In René’s case, he and Michel Therrien gave him all the time in the world. I think that speaks to the fact that he wasn’t a dressing room cancer, that he must have been a good teammate to be around. I think Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley may have had some insights on him from the Blackhawks organization, and it caused them to take their time, it contributed to their approach. Last season around playoff time, he offered up the anecdote that he’d told René he didn’t want to trade him and see him score thirty goals for another team.

So we have to assume that they exhausted every avenue, and tried every way they could to get him going, or to obtain something in return, like they did for Louis Leblanc, another player whose situation they didn’t allow to fester. Like Yannick Weber a couple of summers ago, they offered him up to any team that might want him, then let him go. That is, they tried to let him go, if another team had claimed him.

It was hard to imagine a team claiming him based on his potential and physical tools. Contenders are all pretty close to the cap, and can’t blow any cap room on a project. Teams that do have the cap room do so for a reason: they’re cheap. They won’t waste their precious revenue on a flyer.  Try explaining that to Charles Wang.  Actually, bad example, but the point remains.

The fact that he did get assigned to Hamilton rather than a more draconian solution, as was concocted for Scott Gomez, is another indication that the brain trust doesn’t ‘hate’ René, they don’t feel as if he’d pollute the atmosphere down there, as they may have feared with other players or malcontents. So maybe there’s the glimmer of hope that the demotion spurs René to give full effort to come back to the NHL, that he does work hard and just deals out hits and shoots pucks at the net. Instead of remaining in the perplexing fog he’s mired in right now.

Because he seems to strike me as a decent guy, not a preck or anything. For some reason he lacks the focus or confidence to really give 100%, but he seems like a good, popular teammate, has a cool story of growing up on a small native reserve. I’ve always pulled for René, but can’t disagree that it was time to make a decision, to try another avenue with him.

One more thing that is puzzling about René is that he didn’t need to re-invent the wheel, or go all John LeClair on us. He just needed to play a simple game, be sound positionally, cover his man on the wing, and lurk around the net, block the goalie’s view occasionally, pot a couple of goals, and dish out a couple of hits a game to be an exceedingly valuable player who’d earn himself a Shane Doan-type deal two summers from now.

It’s not like he has to be Jarred Tinordi, play tough and mean, but don’t take stupid penalties, especially during close games, which they all are. And play your position, stay back, but close the gap mind you, and pinch in the offensive zone to support the forwards, but don’t caught. Lay out some big hits, but don’t get suspended. And the penalties, careful, now we’re down to 5 d-men with you in the box for 5 minutes. And make the simple play, but get the puck out of the zone with a good first pass. Play hard, but pace yourself, don’t wilt in the third period.

What’s a bewildering array of choices and traps for a rookie like Jarred is comparatively so easy for a veteran winger like René. All he has to do is skate and use his shoulders and lurk around the net, hope that one in ten shots get through.  We weren’t asking him to be Jarome Iginla, just somewhere around Ryane Clowe or R.J. Umberger would have been more than enough.

I think most of us tread lightly on this issue, but agree that René’s problem isn’t fading skills as much as a mental, dare we say psychological block. The Canadiens have Docteur Sylvain Guimond on staff to deal with the sports and performance psychology angle, which a lot of athletes need and find helpful.

Trouble is, some people don’t click with everyone of their coaches and trainers, and maybe Dr. Guimond couldn’t reach René. Maybe there’s a sports psychology specialist in Hamilton who can work with René on a new process to get ready for games, to eliminate negative self-talk, to increase focus and reduce background noise, etc. Just as Carey Price seems to have found a better match working with Stéphane Waite than with his predecessor Pierre Groulx, maybe so can René with a different specialist.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Dr. Guimond, I don’t like his too-frequent appearances on RDS, he’s verging on media-whore territory. A lot of his comments are trite and very few provide insight, I now fast-forward when he’s on L’Antichambre.

So in a way, René not getting claimed by another team can be good news.  In a month or so after a couple of season-ending injuries strike around the league, all of a sudden a couple of desperate teams may ante up for him.

For example, Vancouver's 'third goalie' Jakob Markstrom cleared waivers early in camp, the Canucks gambling that other teams would feel comfortable with their own players and prospects, so that they wouldn’t take on his one-way contract. They won their wager. If the Canucks tried that today, five teams would snap him up.

So we could moan that we didn't get a clean break from this situation, and that we didn't rid ourselves of his cap hit, but come the trade deadline, René could be an asset who can be flipped for a draft pick, or, glass two-thirds full, comes back to Montréal re-focused and re-energized.  Fingers crossed.  Clutching our collective rabbit's foot.  Standing in line to buy a bridge from a Nigerian prince.

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