One of the most confusing (and distressing) aspects of this past was the giant step back taken by Rene Bourque. I was a pretty big supporter of Bourque prior to his signing his big deal, but my view of him dimmed greatly after his performance this year. There’s no question he was placed in less than ideal circumstances by Brent Sutter, but the fall-off was too great to be explained by level of competition alone, particularly since Bourque has faced top-six type competition since arriving in Calgary.
First, let’s establish that his play was notably behind 2009-10, which was the best of his career and the year he inked his current, suddenly-albatross looking contract:
|Season||GP||G||A||Points||EV PTS||PP PTS||corsi/60||SC%|
The counting numbers don’t look terribly out of whack: obviously he scored a bit more in a bit fewer games in 2009-10, but drops like that can occur due to sinking percentages and not appreciably different on-ice play. However, the real difference shows up in Bourque’s possession and scoring chance ratios: a year ago, Bourque was above water by both and was one of the better "top-six" forwards on the club by these metrics. This year, he’s awful. His scoring chance percentage was the worst amongst regular skaters on the Flames, as was his corsi rate. Bourque still managed to put some numbers on the board this year, but the counting stats hid the fact that he gave it all back – and then some – going the other way.
So what changed?
Desperately Missing Langkow
One of the most obvious differences between the two years is the presence/absence of Daymond Langkow. We’ve established that Langkow is an excellent two-way centerman here before, so it’s obvious that his long visit to the sidelines may have negatively affected Bourque.
In 2009-10, Bourque spent almost 50% of his ES ice with Langkow (even though Daymond missed the last 10 games of the season). Here is the dfference in outshooting with/without the other for each player:
|Corsi %||Fenwick %|
The difference is striking and obvious. Bourque alone is underwater. Langkow alone swims along just fine. The combination of the two doesn’t seem to drag Langkow to the depths, but Bourque can’t seem to do it without him.That season, the pair faced some of the toughest competition on the team according to behind the net (mostly with Nigel Dawes!! on their wing). That didn’t change much this season with Bourque placing second on the Flames in terms of relative qual comp behind Olli Jokinen (yeesh).
He started a bit more often in the offensive end that season (52.4% versus 52.6%) but certainly not enough to account for the differences in scoring chances and possession we see.
So unless Bourque was facing the big boys (and Langkow the cream puffs) whenever they were separated in ’09, the straw stirring drink is pretty obvious here (which is a kick to the teeth because my eyes told me that Bourque was a non-trivial contributor to the pair’s success).
So it turns out the completely intuitive hypothesis that losing Langkow hurt Bourque turned out to be accurate. It’s hard to say to what degree going from Langkow to Jokinen as his most consistent centerman accounts for Bourque’s struggles (beyond ‘a lot’ that is) but there’s no shaking the perception that Bourque was less interested in skating hard and winning puck battles this year. Never one to thread passes through skates or dangle around opponents, Bourque’s (apparent) strengths in the past were his straight-line speed, strength on the puck and board battles. That all seemed to go away this year, whether because of some nagging, chronic injury or the always assumed "decline in motivation" after signing his six-year deal.
Maybe that’s all the mind making things up to explain the overall drop in play however. If Langkow really is the sole, primary reason Bourque fell off a cliff, then I’ve got good news and bad news for Flames fans. The good news is: Langkow is back this year. The bad news is: he’s turning 35, is a pending UFA and Bourque is signed until 2016.