Rene Bourque – anatomy of a lost year



Of all the skaters that laced them up for the Flames this past season, no player seemed to promise more while delivering less than Rene Bourque. After two excellent years following his acquisition from the Blackhawks, Bourque struggled virtually all season, finishing -17 and appearing to be full value for that number. 

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When I went looking for specific on-ice circumstances that had changed for the Lac la Biche native, I wasn’t struck by any one thing in particular. Bourque had faced top-line comp for the third year running, had ZoneStart numbers that didn’t appear to be much different from 09/10, and shot about the same percentage on a personal level.

The chance totals compiled by Kent, however, showed a player that was bad news all around. Bourque finished the year at ES with 262 chances for, 300 against, for a percentage of 46.6. That’s right in line with his Fenwick (shots and misses) percentage of 48.1, and way off his performance of the last two seasons. We don’t have chances for both years, but Fenwick shows a pretty reasonable correlation to scoring chances as a rule, and Bourque posted a 52.2 Fenwick % in 08/09 and 51.2% in 09/10 facing somewhat tougher Zone Starts. Entering last year, Bourque was being counted on to manage hard minutes for a team dearly in need of such a player.

What ensued in 10/11 was a significant disappointment. Rene Bourque, rather than being the hard-minutes producer we’d gotten used to watching, was now a sinkhole from which other players couldn’t escape. The chart that follows shows the EV chance totals for the other primary forwards on the Flames, then the totals with and without Bourque. Read ’em and weep:


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Player # Total F Total A     W/17 F W/17 A     WO/17 F WO/17 A     Diff
8 213 206 50.8%   45 53 45.9%   168 153 52.3%   (6.4)
10 220 209 51.3%   53 58 47.7%   167 151 52.5%   (4.8)
11 222 179 55.4%   31 38 44.9%   191 141 57.5%   (12.6)
12 430 371 53.7%   41 40 50.6%   389 331 54.0%   (3.4)
13 302 288 51.2%   123 118 51.0%   179 170 51.3%   (0.3)
18 273 244 52.8%   37 47 44.0%   236 197 54.5%   (10.5)
20 269 237 53.2%   88 88 50.0%   181 149 54.8%   (4.8)
25 162 125 56.4%   34 37 47.9%   128 88 59.3%   (11.4)
40 354 301 54.0%   27 23 54.0%   327 278 54.0%   (0.0)

 (Special thanks to Oilogisphere regular Quain for the spreadsheet formula that produced the WOWY numbers)

Those numbers were not optimal. Very bad, actually. He didn’t help one player improve. The Flames absolutely needed Bourque to carry the mail against the best of the opposition, especially with Daymond Langkow shelved for all but four games, and instead received a dud of a season. There’s no way to sugar coat what happened. Rene Bourque was likely, relative to what was expected and required of him, the worst of all the significant Flames skaters, and second worst wasn’t even within hailing distance. 
The only bit of daylight I can note is that Bourque didn’t seem to hurt Olli Jokinen that much, and given that the duo likely faced pretty stiff comp when they worked together, that might be something that the boss keeps in mind next fall. On the other hand, if Matt Stajan is still around, I think that those two might be encouraged to keep their distance. I don’t doubt that Stajan likely faced tougher opposition when he was alongside Bourque, and there’s no independent evidence Stajan can manage against the big boys, so that might well have been a mutual disaster in the making.
I suspect that the primary reason that Bourque’s overall chance numbers and outshooting percentages slid into the red was his forced separation from Daymond Langkow. 22 is a pretty useful guy to have on your side, and the two of them formed a nice partnership in the two previous seasons. They had Todd Bertuzzi and Nigel Dawes as linemates more nights than not those two years, so it wasn’t like they had high quality help to boost them, either. If Joker was the best all around center on the club last year, and he likely was, maybe it isn’t such a shock that Bourque’s best chance numbers were with the Finn in the middle.
That likely speaks to a greater point surrounding the franchise. The Flames’ best club since the lockout was that 08/09 team, largely because Bourque and Langkow could manage against the toughs, leaving Iginla and Cammalleri a clean run at second liners and Conroy, Moss and GlenX nothing but bottom feeders. Until Bourque and Gio were injured in February of ’09, that team was good enough that it overcame Kipper playing like hot garbage to be about 20 games over .500 heading into the stretch. They’ve never quite been able to match that sort of overall forward depth since, and they haven’t really had a clear line to take on the better players since Langkow was felled in St. Paul.
As for Bourque himself, I won’t discount the possibility that he might still have some lingering effects from past injuries, or that he might have suffered from a bit of complacency after scoring a nice contract, but to be honest, I suspect that the biggest factor undermining him was the quality of the club’s middlemen. Calgary employed a lot of centers, none of whom had any history facing top-liners with any level of success, and that left Bourque without any trustworthy help. There really aren’t that many players other than maybe Sid Crosby that can play high end competition one on three and survive, so Bourque’s fall in the absence of Langkow seems easier to understand in hindsight . 
That noted, Bourque still had a forgettable season, and if the Flames harbour any hope of getting back to post-season play, he needs to be better, irrespective of who his center might be on any given night. With all the UFAs on the team, this will likely be the last year for the current group, and even with his long term deal, if Rene Bourque is to remain a Flame beyond next spring, he has to get back to his previous form, because a continued slump might well mean he gets the boot as part of a greater purge.

  • You’d think the chance numbers would be better with at least one guy as a matter of chance alone. Yeesh.

    Rene Bourque was likely, relative to what was expected and required of him, the worst of all the significant Flames skaters, and second worst wasn’t even within hailing distance.

    I noticed you used the term “skaters” here. Wisely I might add.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Was a WOWY done for Bourque and Langks the two prior seasons? I can’t recall. I seriously just can’t believe that he’s THAT bad; the fact that he seemed to play significantly worse following his concussion is something I can’t discount.

    I’d also like to note that whenever I see “WOWY”, the U2 song goes through my head.

    • Robert Cleave

      We don’t have chances for 08/09, but I did find the chances for 09/10 on my old computer just now:

      Langkow total 212 for – 179 against. 55.5%

      Bourque total 220 for – 192 against. 53.4%

      Together 110-91 54.7%

      Langkow w/o Bourque 102-78 56.7%

      Bourque w/o Langkow 110-101 52.1%

      Langkow went from having Bourque on his wing to Higgins after all the moves, and that duo killed it for the month they were together. Still, Bourque, even with his drop away from 22, was healthily in the black.

      I should note that Bourque-Langkow faced the toughs almost without fail when they played together in 09/10, and that chance figure was almost certainly earned on the merits, with very little in the way of score effect.

    • On this note, I have to say Bourque didn’t look the same by eye even absent Langkow this year. I mean, it helps to play as good as Lanks is at ES, but Bourque’s apparent strengths seemed to go down the tubes this year: he was slower, softer on the puck and less apt at winning puck battles.

      Maybe this is all perception and he’ll be good as gold beside 22 again. But it was really hard to get away from the fact he looked like a worse all around hockey player.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    It’s about time someone looked closely at Bourque’s ’10/11 season. He seems to have been given a pass from sports writers and fans alike. He may have been given a lot of tough minutes last year, but did he have to dog it back to the bench for every line change? He cost the team in a number of bad line changes, which resulted odd man rushes against. He didn’t seem to have any push in his game last season, with the except for a couple weeks where everything he touched turned to gold. I don’t expect player of the week performances on a regular basis from anyone on the team, but players need to work on every shift – even if the shifts are harder minutes than his team mates.

  • Greg

    I recall a lot of talk earlier about bourque starting the season strong and then disappearing after a big hit in game 17/18. Is there a way to break those numbers down to see if that’s true? If it is, then it’s possible he was playing hurt most of the season and we could expect a big bounce back after (another) long off season.

    • RKD

      Why did the guy, in 3-years, burn through 5 teams, clear waivers 3-times, and be bought out once before ultimately signing with the KHL?

      He just isn’t that good.

      • Blueliner611

        Forgive me, but how many goals did he score in 09-10? And what kind of competition was he facing?

        The answers are 14 and tougher then Bouwmeester, Glencross and Giordano.

        He was 8th out of 22 in P/60 at 1.59, had an even PDO of 1000 (so he wasn’t getting lucky), 3rd/22 in CorsiRel, 3rd/22 in CorsiRelQCOMP and 7/22 in CorsiRelQTEAM. He’s a quality player, labeled as too small to survive. His contract was amazing, relative to what he brought to the team.

        If you still doubt his skills, may I direct you to tapes of the Calder Cup playoffs and the goal scoring leaders.

        • I think it’s somewhere in between being great as his numbers with the Flames suggest and being terrible as his battered suitcase suggests. Dawes played with Langkow in CGY and managed a career high SH% that year which probably exaggerated his abilities.

          On the other hand, there’s no question in my mind he’s better than some of the guys who will draw paychecks in the league this season. Hell, I’d take him over Todd Bertuzzi right now. Sparkle Pants remains in the league because he’s big and because of the lingering memory of what he was some 8 years ago.

        • He played with Bourque and Langkow. And there is no doubting he can play with the kids. So can a lot of guys that don’t play in the NHL.

          He isn’t horrible. In fact he has a fair bit of skill. But he is a top 6 or bust player and there are usually better options at top 6.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Dawes reminds me of Zherdev in the sense that he seemed to perform admirably on the ice for the most part, and was just crapped on by all the teams in the NHL, leaving one to wonder if there is something less tangible that’s wrong with him.

    • If Dawes were 6′, 200 pounds he’d be in the NHL. I think it’s as simple as that. Small guys are succeeding a bit more in the post-lock-out league, but if you’re not a clear-cut, top-six option, you’ll still get passed over for a guy with size.

  • RKD

    Hopefully he will rebound this season, even though he scored 27 goals he was played very inconsistent and lazy at times.

    I think Langkow will be able to elevate him again, hope Rene can start doing it on his own.

  • SmellOfVictory

    the lac la biche product rainy boork was invisible for large stretches each of the last 2 seasons as i noted here back in febuary. seems he scores in clusters against the weaker sisters.

  • Derzie

    Not sure if the numbers support it but he seemed a very different player after his concussion. Didn’t seem to have the jump or the fire. Maybe he rushed back in and wasn’t over it? That and getting a fat contract are hard things to fight. Maybe this year he shakes those 2 factors.

  • Vintage Flame

    I certainly hope that Bork shakes whatever issue it is he has. I like him as a Flame but, especially after reading Bob’s article, I’m really disappointed with his play.

    Granted my opinion doesn’t count for much, and I’m sure Rene doesn’t give a rat’s ass what I think, but for the money the Flames pay him, he simply has to produce.

    He plays a good game with Langks, no question Daymond does that for him. However, Bourque has to accept the fact that as a premier paid player, he must be a premier producer.. with or without Langkow. We’ve seen flashes of it on occasion, but far too often we also saw him sink into complacency. I don’t think it has anything to do with his contract… or at least I would like to not think so. But this guy has to take a serious look at himself in the mirror and decide what kind of player he wants to be.

    This is going to be a crucial year for Bourque and I think if he doesn’t step up, when the team is REALLY going to need him, then the Flames need to look elsewhere and part ways.

    It might just be an easy decision for them as well. With all the contracts we are going to see leave the club after this year, it won’t be hard to ship out Bourque at the trade deadline and get a jump on draft strategy for 2012. I hope he proves me and other critics wrong, but I’m fully prepared to see him go as well.

  • The only consistent thing about Bourque is his list of injuries. Since 2004 he has had the following injuries: hip flexor, deep neck laceration, ankle, lower body, groin, broken thumb, ankle (again), shoulder, head.

    Bourque has never played a full season either. His most GP in a season was 80 in 2010-2011.

    As someone mentioned, we have certainly seen flashes of what Bourque could be, but it seems more often than not he is just coasting. It is frustrating to watch him lazily skate around on a play, then lazily skate off the ice looking completely indifferent to what is going on around him. Iginla or somebody needs to slap him upside the head and tell him to get his affairs in order.

  • everton fc

    So… based on this analysis… and the fact Bourque may be “damaged goods”… Do you move him? Package him with, say Stajan?? Hagman??? Bouwmeester in a “blockbuster” to a team needing to rise from the cap floor???

    • The Flames should certainly consider moving Bourque, although part of me wants to see if he can regain his form next season. He’s a very useful player when he’s playing like he was during the first two seasons as a Flame.

      As for packaging him with Hagman and such…I can’t see Bourque having the clout to convince another GM accept a salary dump with him. And a Bourque/Bouwmeester deal would be too cap heavy to contemplate for anyone.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Ottawa is rebuilding, and as such there’s no chance of that sort of trade occurring.

      Regarding Bourque: He was concussed during the second game of the season, so we can’t really do a split analysis of before/after.

  • RexLibris

    That Ottawa trade would only happen if you could replace Bryan Murray with Mike Milbury (he LOVES trading Jason Spezza).

    Shaune Vetter over at HB raised an idea, and I wanted to get sane Flames fans opinions on it: “looking for a centre for Iginla? Why not sign Alexei Yashin”. I think he was serious, so I’m curious what FN readers would think of that.

    My opinion is that if you signed Yashin and Zherdev you only be a Kovalev short of the most uninterested, underperforming, talent-laden line the league has ever seen.