Bourque and the Chris Simon Factor

It’s been approximately a week since word cyber-leaked about Rene Bourque’s contract extension and 48 hours since the Flames officially announced the six-year deal that would theoretically keep the winger in Calgary colours through the 2015-16 season.

There are a couple of major themes that have emerged in fan/media reaction to the contract:

  1. The cap hit of $3.33M, which currently places Bourque eighth on the Flames’ partial payroll for 2010-11, is deemed by most as being very reasonable for a player of No. 17’s virtues.
  2. There’s less love for the term of the contract, with much of the concern stemming from the fact Bourque has played 44, 62 and 58 games the past three seasons and that he is spending the current Olympic break on the injury list.

There was pushback from Bourque supporters on the second point, with the counter-argument being Bourque has been more unlucky than fragile over the years, but you get the general idea.

But somewhat lost in the debate about Bourque’s durability is the larger issue of the relative wisdom of issuing a six-year tack-on to a 28-year-old forward, regardless of who that 28-year-old forward might be.

Just for the heck of it, here’s a look at the point production rates for players from age 29 to 34 (which will be Bourque’s age range over the life of the contract).

Included are forwards who were 28 or turned 28 during a season in which they scored on a pace for 53-to-73 points (Bourque’s 2009-10 scoring rate projects to 63 points over an 82-game season). The players are plucked from the period from 1999-2000 to 2003-04, with the end range determined by the fact that six years (albeit only five seasons because of the lockout) have since passed.

A couple of caveats about the chart. Firstly, the post-28 trending could be just as relevant for players scoring above or below the designated 53-73 point range. That just seemed to be the most likely place to find at least a few players approximating Bourque’s ability.

Secondly, a few players are out of place on this list because their 27-28-year-old season happened to be abnormally high or low compared to anything they produced before or after.

Thirdly, not all of the players who were out of the NHL before the end of the six-year period played their way out of the league. Some left voluntarily to chase big money in the Russian KHL.

Lastly, and while the point may seem obvious, point production isn’t the only measure of a hockey player. Roles change and a decrease in scoring by itself isn’t necessarily proof of decline.

All that said, here’s what the yearly point-per-game numbers show (LO indicates lockout season):

Once you get past the oh-I-had-forgotten-about-him factor (Mariusz Czerkawski) and did-that-guy-really-score-more-than-50-points-in-the-NHL double-take (Nils Ekman), here’s a breakdown of the numbers. For the purposes of this exercise, a Poor Season is considered as one in which the player played fewer than 60 games or produced at less than half his 27-28 point rate (and obviously anyone who was completely out of the NHL). Remember that these players played a maximum of five NHL seasons during the six-year span because of the lockout.

  • Matched their 27-28 year scoring rate in Year 6: 16%
  • Had a Poor Season in Year 6: 44%
  • Had at least one Poor Season in the second half of six-year period: 64%
  • Had zero Poor Seasons over the six-year period: 24%
  • Never once matched 27-28 production for a full season during six-year period: 48%
  • Matched 27-28 production in all five seasons in six-year period: 0%
  • Played at least 60 games in all five seasons: 36%
  • Played at least 70 games in all five seasons: 8%

Make of that what you will.

By the way, in checking individual player stats, one is reminded of the curious case of Mike Knuble, a classic late bloomer if there ever was one. His age 28 season was 2000-01, when the winger played a full season for Boston but managed just seven goals and 20 points.

In fact, before age 30, Knuble had played five plus-seasons in the NHL and produced a grand total of 50 goals. As a 30-something, he’s played six-plus seasons and scored 188 goals.

  • Good post Jean and your point is well taken – the risk of falling results is a big one once a player is on the dark side of 30. I may take a look at some means and such on this topic later.

    related – Ray Whitney is a freak!

  • Can you mad prop articles?

    This ones my favourite:
    Never once matched 27-28 production for a full season during six-year period: 48%

    Im not saying, Im just saying.

    Furthermore, I think Peter Loubardias should be fired.

  • I'm not super interested in point production since it doesn't often match up with helping the team win.

    However this is a pretty good look regardless, comparing Bourque (or any other player for that matter) to history is a very solid approach.

    Point production peaks around the 25 year old season IIRC but younger forwards also consistently are given more opportunities to start their shifts with the puck moving north. The late-older forwards in their 27-32 year old seasons seem to be the ones who are best at making a difference.

    I am, as you are, concerned about years 33 and 34.

  • Lastly, and while the point may seem obvious, point production isn’t the only measure of a hockey player. Roles change and a decrease in scoring by itself isn’t necessarily proof of decline.

    I didn't see this on the first read but it appears you have already addressed my first point!

    Nice post, JL.

  • There's also the issue of Bourque's career arc. I'm betting he jumped into the league nearly fully formed due to his long-winding road to the NHL and probably wasn't the sort of liability that most kids are in there formative years. That said, he's taken significant steps forward the last two seasons in terms of being a complete hockey player. He's clearly peaking now, but I can imagine Bourque being the kind of guy who helps a team win even when he's not scoring points in the future (due to his strong underlying game and versatility).

    All that said, maybe I'm just trying to put a happy face on things.

  • Jean Lefebvre

    It's easy to mistake second-guessing of the Bourque contract as a sideswipe of the player himself. That certainly isn't the intention because Bourque has been a very good performer and an amazing bargain for the Flames.

    The point is merely that six-year contracts, especially when give to players who will be in their 30s for the majority of the deal, is a questionable tactic unless you're comfortable with the odds that the player will likely be relatively underpaid in the first two years of the deal, probably overpaid in the last two and iffy in the middle two.

    All fans can do is hold their breath and hope it turns out to a Brian Rolston, Ray Whitney or Andrew Brunette 29-34 career pattern as opposed to a Sami Kapanen, Anson Carter or Mariusz Czerkawski scenario.

  • Great piece, Jean.

    I don't think we should have anything to worry about for the 1st half of the contract. If, by year 5 or 6, Bourque isn't a factor or whatever, the buyout clause exists. The hit would only be slightly above a milli per season ($1,111,111M). Thats not too terrible, if the need arises. Who knows what the landscape 4 or 5 years from now is anyways…