The Anaheim Ducks felt they had enough D-men this week and shipped one, Bryan Allen, to Montreal for reclamation project Rene Bourque. The winger, who has over 140 goals in his decade-plus career, was lately in Hamilton with the Bulldogs after having cleared waivers after being sent down by the Habs. Perhaps his 3.3-million dollar contract had something to do with the fact that nobody grabbed him on the way down.
By swapping Borque for Allen, the Habs made an even trade, salary-wise. Bourque came with a $3.3 million pricetag compared to Allen’s $3.5 million. But with money not the question, why give up Allen? He couldn’t exactly be described as “not” if “useful” is the category of engagement. In fact, he had played six games for the Ducks, but in every one, he had stood 6’5” tall. Funny how that works. The guys currently on the Ducks’ roster on defense don’t come within two inches of that, though a few of them are 6’3”. And while Allen wasn’t Larry Robinson, he held his own and kept some smaller guys out of the scoring areas.
Why did the Ducks think they could do without a big, bruising defenseman? Are they that deep? Well, Sunday night versus the Coyotes, they had several familiar names dressed on D, including Fowler, Beauchemin, Vatanen, and Lindholm, but there were also a couple of newcomers, or relative newcomers. Include in that Josh Manson, who I profiled in a story a couple of weeks ago at IH, and also Mat Clark. That’s “one-T” Matt, and he was in just his second game of the year.
Clark is a 2009 Anaheim draftee, taken in the second round. He played two games before this year. One notable fact about him: he hardly ever scores a goal. In the AHL, where he has recorded about 250 games, he has put in just four goals. So he’s not out there for his scoring. What are the Ducks doing with him? Running him out with Lindholm, mostly. That player was, notably, in his 100th game Sunday night, and he’s no demon with the goalscoring either, with ten total.
So again, why did the team think they could do without Allen? Similar question–Who’s waiting in the wings to fill out the Ducks’ blueline? Mark Fistric and Ben Lovejoy are both on IR. Fistric has been out since the eve of Halloween, but he had played just three games to the point where he aggravated a back condition. He is now in “day-to-day” status and has been reported skating. And the other fellow, who fractured a finger on October 26, is listed as out for six to eight weeks.
Is having a guy with a fragile back and one other person who will step in again, but perhaps not until Christmas is upon us, enough depth on defense? Anaheim apparently thinks so, though Allen’s departure may not be the entire measure of their comfort on the blueline. But looking at their AHL prospects, there really are no names that stand out as possible call-ups should anything further happen to them back there.
Anyway, they’ve made the swap, so what about Bourque is what drew them? Potential of the unfulfilled variety. Inconsistency is the mark on him. He had three years in Calgary where he scored 21, 27, and 27 goals, but last year in Montreal, he got nine in 63 regular-season games, and then went on a tear and potted eight in 17 playoff games. Why? Lots of promise but not enough delivery? Maybe this new venue is the place that will bring out his best every night. When it was announced that he was coming, one player who was with him in Calgary, Tim Jackman, was quoted in the media praising the winger’s speed and shot. For an assessment of how he did in his Anaheim debut, keep reading. Meanwhile, on to the matter of the lineup.
With Bourque there, who was out? Emerson Etem, for one. Tim Jackman for another. Etem had played every game to date, and Jackman 19 of 21. Also William Karlsson is listed as having “flu-like symptoms,” which in Corey Perry’s case, as we all know, translated into “mumps.” And then there’s sad sack Dany Heatley, who is nursing a groin injury. Or injured pride, depending on what level of gossip you listen to.
So what did they do with Bourque? He was on a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Rickard Rackell. They could nominally be called the fourth unit, I suppose. The first is Getzlaf and Perry with Beleskey. The second? How about Kesler with Maroon and Palmieri. Third then would be Cogliano with Silfverberg and Thompson.
What’s expected of Bourque, and how did his first-game performance match up? The answer to the first part is speed and scoring. Not in a first-line kind of way, but not exactly in the Kesler-depth kind of way either. More like, and this is partly a guess, a “surprise me” kind of thing. If he manages to match his better NHL seasons, the team will be thrilled. If not, then oh well. It was more or less an even trade.
With his linemates, he looked big on the ice, and that’s the kind of guy the Ducks like. He uses a long stick, Getzlaf-style, but he’s not as adept with it as the captain. He wasn’t all that visible on the ice on Sunday night, but there was one give-and-go through center with Smith-Pelly in the third period which might have gone somewhere, except that they were too close to one another and ended up choking up together in the center zone, seeing Arizona steal the puck and then get stopped at the blueline.
Stats-wise, his night looked like this: he played just under ten minutes. His contributions were 3 shots and 3 hits. That means that in those respective categories, he provided ten percent of what the team did on shots, just under that on hits.
His coach had some comments after the game as to his assessment. “I didn’t want to put him in a position late in the third where it became a problem, you know. Like he didn’t know completely the systems yet. You could see there was a little bit of confusion in the first period on a couple of shifts, but he hit some guys, he got some good shots on goal, and I thought he played OK.” IH requested Bourque after the game, but the scrum ended without him appearing. We’ll try to catch up with him at an upcoming game and fill in some gaps in the story.
And if you want a quick recap of the game, here it is: The Coyotes were awful through a period and a half. Not only did they have just 6 shots through that time, but they gave the puck away every chance they got. Peewee hockey level, it was. Still, there was no score until the Ducks got two in three minutes with six left in the second period.
Then Anaheim sat back and waited, while Arizona slowly crawled back into it. They had notched 10 shots to the Ducks’ 25 through two periods, but they got 17 in the third, and scored a goal.
Without Mike Smith, they would have been digging out of a 4-0 hole. With him, they were behind just by two, but as they managed to get back only one, they didn’t even have the chance for a point.
Read my Gretzky book, just out. It’s called Facing Wayne Gretzky, and it details how players who faced him tried to contain him. The most fun is reading about the goalies.
Follow me on twitter. It’s a million bucks. Oh wait. It’s free. So what’s stopping you? @growinguphockey