Bourque: How much? How long?

Of all the potential unrestricted free agent cases this summer, Rene Bourque’s is the most "most."

For starters, the winger is in line for the most increase as he will certainly at least double his current pay rate of $1.4 million per annum. None of the other pending UFAs (Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom, Chris Higgins, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Brian McGrattan and Aaron Johnson) are likely to get that kind of raise and a few are at risk of not getting a contract offer at all.

Bourque’s file is also the most important in Darryl Sutter’s dossier because the other UFAs either have lesser roles with the Flames or haven’t been in Calgary long enough to integrate themselves so fully into the fabric of the team that their departure would leave a gaping hole.

Finally, Bourque’s case is also the most intriguing because there are so many intangibles and variables in the equation.

If you put any stock in messageboard gossip, there’s a report the Flames are on the verge of announcing a six-year, $20-million extension with the 28-year-old from Lac La Biche, Alta. The numbers seem odd from both sides of the equation, but then again placing an appropriate dollar value and time investment on Bourque is no easy task.

Just for kicks, let’s say those contract figures are in the ballpark. That’s an annual salary of $3.33 million, which would make Bourque just the seventh-highest paid skater among the 13 Flames signed for 2010-11. Considering how often — too often, critics would hastily suggest — Bourque has been the Flames’ best skater over the past couple of seasons, the number seems low. Just for an extreme apples-and-oranges example, Bourque and Michael Cammalleri both potted 20 even-strength goals for Calgary a season ago and Cammalleri parlayed his season into a contract that will pay him an average of $6 million over the next five seasons.

On the flip side, six years would be an awful long commitment for a player who has shown no ability to stay healthy and, given his rambunctious and sometimes reckless style, is a poor candidate to turn into Doug Jarvis as he hits his 30s. Bourque was injured heading into the Olympic break and has missed 91 games and counting over the past four seasons with various ailments. It’s not to say Bourque is soft — in fact, he would have missed many more contests had he not the capacity for playing hurt — but he just fits into the Ryan Smyth/Brenden Morrow category of player whose style exacts a heavy toll on his body.

When looking at the 2009 crop of free-agent forwards, it’s a real struggle to find a comparable for Bourque in terms of age, style and productivity. Below, you’ll see a chart that compares Bourque’s projected 2009-10 numbers to the statistics posted by 2009 free agents who were very vaguely in Bourque’s ballpark in terms of age and contract-year production. The best comparable might go back to the summer of 2008, when Pittsburgh’s Ryan Malone hit the open market.

Even ignoring the significant differences in player types, finding Bourque’s relative value to those players is problematic because he’s outscored most of them but has also been less durable. While Malone is the best match style-wise, his contract from the early days of the Oren Koules/Len Barrie era in Tampa is only useful in a "those who do not learm from history are doomed to repeat it" sort of way.

So, if you’re Flames GM, what term and what terms do you give Bourque? Even in the light of the questionable trend of giving longer-term contracts to soften the cap hit, wouldn’t a shorter contract (three years at most) for a little more loot make the most sense?

It will interesting to see if there’s any truth to the gossip about a six-year deal (with presumed no-trade protection) when one of the main motivations behind the Dion Phaneuf deal was that the Flames had too many dollars tied up for too many years on too many immovable contracts.

  • Good stuff, Jean. A few months back, I was thinking something along the lines of $13.5M over 4 years ($3.375M) could get it done. I don't particularly like going longer than 4 years, but I'm also not certain 3.375 per is enough to get it done anymore. Would $15M over 4yrs ($3.75M per) work? Hopefully Rene wants to stay because if its about money, things could get ugly given some of the UFA contracts handed out, and the lack of high-end talent available.

    Unfortunately, Darryl may be forced to over pay (in terms of dollars and/or years)… and then the critics will be all over him. I'm afraid this may be a no-win situation as far as the critics are concerned – lose him & they'll be all over Sutter, over-pay to keep him & they'll be all over him, too.

    $3.75 per for 4 years works for me. Some other contracts to take into consideration… Penner 5yrs, $4.25M; Hartnell 6 yrs, $4.2M.

  • It will interesting to see if there's any truth to the gossip about a six-year deal (with presumed no-trade protection)…

    Im not wild about the supposed term (6 years), but I would hate to see Bourque get a NTC, because, frankly, I'm not a big fan of those things.

    That said, he's led the team in ES production efficiency for two years in a row, neither of which he was playing in easy circumstances. He's as close to a "core" player now as one can get on this club.

  • I would say it's a little extreme to point to a "reckless style of play" as a contributor to his being injured. In Chicago, his throat was cut by a skate. Last year, he was injured like many other Flames players just before playoffs, a common, though unfortunate, time for injuries. This year, his first injury was caused by a borderline dirty hit and the hit from Foster was definitely dirty and a hit from behind.

    I think it would be foolish to let him sign elsewhere so this rumored deal is a positive thing in my eyes.

    • Jean Lefebvre

      Of course not of all of Bourque's injuries are of his own doing and there's certainly been some rotten luck along the way, but there's no denying the way he plays puts him in harm's way more often than say, a Kristian Huselius. He certainly seems to be involved in more than his fair share of spectacular collisions (on both ends of the equation) and that's bound to take a toll. It's not meant to be a full-out knock on the guy because the same pedal-to-the-metal style that puts him at risk also represents one of his very best qualities.

  • Robert Cleave

    The only reason to give that sort of term to a player of his age and with his injury history is to suppress the yearly cap hit, IMO. I suppose that if you're operating under the impression that the most likely time for success is over the next few seasons, while Iginla, Kiprusoff and Regehr are still useful, you'd want to keep the yearly hits down on everyone else in order to keep some flexibility. The no-trade clause would be problematic, but if people think that they won't get offered by other teams, well, I'd point you to a team like Florida having 7 guys with some sort of protection. It's just part of attracting or retaining free agents.

    • It's strange to me how much NTC's have proliferated, given the degree to which they been proven to be problematic recently (the Heatley situation comes to mind). As you say though, while they appear to be liabilities down the road, NTC's are an "arrow in the quiver" of the GM trying to win a free agents loyalties.

      It's pretty clear in this environment that GM's are more than willing to accept future risk for current gains.