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Analyzing the Bourque-Allen Trade

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May 19, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Rene Bourque (17) misses a chance to score a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) as defenseman Kevin Klein (8) defends during the second period in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Just two weeks ago, we discussed why it was time for the Anaheim Ducks to part ways with defenseman Bryan Allen. (read more: It’s Time to Trade Bryan Allen)

It seems that Ducks GM Bob Murray agreed. On Thursday, he traded Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, in exchange for veteran winger Rene Bourque.

What does this trade mean for the Ducks going forward?

Bourque’s Potential

Rene Bourque is a curious figure. Undrafted, Bourque made his NHL debut in 2005 with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he scored 34 points (16g, 18a) in his rookie season. After three seasons in Chicago, Bourque was traded to the Calgary Flames.

In 2009-10, Bourque potted a career-best 58 points (27g-31a). After a slow start to the 2011-12 season, Bourque was traded to the Canadiens. Bourque has struggled since arriving in Montreal, scoring just 39 points (21g-18a) in 141 games.

However, he has shown flashes of his former self as recent as last season. In the playoffs this last season, Bourque scored 11 points (8g-3a) in 17 games with the Habs, including a hat-trick performance against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

After another slow start this season (0-2=2, -9 in 13 games), Bourque was placed on waivers and sent to the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Hamilton.

Oct 13, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Montreal Canadiens left wing Rene Bourque (17) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The value of this trade really revolves around which Rene Bourque shows up in Anaheim. Could perhaps a change in scenery be all that is needed to propel the 32-year old forward back to his old self?

Possibly, but not for certain. The gamble here seems to be similar to the risk taken when the Ducks signed Dany Heatley over the summer, who at this point has turned out to be an absolute bust.

If Bourque performs well in Anaheim, he could catalyze an offense that has struggled of late, and push some of the underperforming forwards on the roster (Silfverberg, Etem, Smith-Pelly, Maroon, Cogliano) to be better in order to keep their roster spots.

If this happens, where does Bourque fit into the lineup? Bourque is a big-bodied, able skater with an above-average shot. He could easily fit his way into just about every spot in the lineup, depending on who he finds chemistry with. He will certainly get a shot at the “revolving door” 1st line LW position.

Alternatively, he may find work with young centers William Karlsson and Rickard Rakell on the 3rd line. If his play is poor, he could even be optioned for the 4th line alongside Nate Thompson, but he does not seem like he would excel in such a role.

Of course, the likelihood of this “best-case scenario” happening does not seem strong, but perhaps Bourque can find his scoring touch once more—especially if he gets a shot on the first line, next to world-class passer Ryan Getzlaf.

At worst, Bourque could potentially take valuable minutes from players that deserve it more. That is the short-term concern, at least. However, if Bourque cannot produce consistently throughout the season, the Ducks will be forced to bury him in the AHL, as the Canadiens did. At this point, the trade becomes less about the return, and more about why the Ducks were so eager to deposit Bryan Allen.

Make Room for Manson

While Bourque has potential to be a difference-maker in Anaheim, the Ducks did not trade for him because they desperately wanted him. Make no mistake, on the Ducks end this trade was about getting rid of an extra defenseman who’s time in Anaheim has been checkered, at best.

Bryan Allen has been a fringe 6th or 7th defenseman since last season, and the Ducks seemed content with his role. So what changed? Suddenly, the Ducks grew defensive depth.

First last season, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen emerged as two reliable options on the blue line. This season, rookie wunderkind Josh Manson burst on to the scene.

In just nine games, Manson has an assist and a +2 rating. Alongside Hampus Lindholm, Manson compiled some impressive possession stats, including a 63% CF%. The eye test backs up the numbers. Manson is large and physical, but he also skates well and can handle the puck. As a forward-turned-defenseman, this should not be surprising.

Manson’s strong play in the absence of several Ducks’ defenders may very well have earned him a permanent spot on the team.

Of course, before the trade, there was just one problem. The Ducks already had eight other NHL defensemen under contract (nine if you count the injured Sheldon Souray). Somebody had to be moved. Allen simply was the most expendable piece. In a post-trade interview, Murray said:

"“The younger defensemen have played well, and it’s a situation unfortunately, when we’re healthy, we have lots of defensemen. Fistric and Lovejoy aren’t that far away.”"

If Manson ends up becoming a regular in the defensive rotation, the Ducks could suddenly find themselves with a deep, formidable, young defense once Ben Lovejoy and Mark Fistric return. The chemistry that Manson has developed thus far with Hampus Lindholm could prove invaluable.

Of course, it’s hard to get too excited about Manson. While he’s played incredibly well in his short time at the NHL level, it has been a short time. Only time will tell if he is as good as some think he is.

Making a trade to clear room for a rookie who has impressed in only a handful of games seems rather hasty of GM Bob Murray.

However, if Manson is the real deal, it is certainly a risk worth taking. The solid defensive corps could be one step closer to bringing the Stanley Cup back to Anaheim.

Moving Contracts
While both teams had several nuanced reasons for making this trade, the story is the same. Both teams agreed to take each others’ problems.

Both Allen and Bourque were underperforming their large contracts. Allen is set to make $3.5 million on the final year of his contract, while Bourque makes $2.5 million this season and next season, though his contract carries a cap hit of $3.3 million.

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If contract was the chief reason why the Ducks made this trade, then unfortunately they made a mistake.

While Allen was massively overpaid, his contract was set to expire in a matter of months. They potentially shipped that contract out in exchange for another, similarly large contract that doesn’t expire for another year.

This could come back to haunt Anaheim next season, as the team is more beholden to a lower “internal budget” than the salary cap. However, by shedding about a million dollars in salary, GM Bob Murray now has just a little bit more room to acquire big pieces before the trade deadline.

The Verdict

If Bourque returns to his usual ways, and if Josh Manson fails to continue his outstanding play, then the Ducks merely took on a needless two-year contract for an oft-injured, under-performing veteran.

However, this trade was a risk worth taking. It is hard to say who “won” the trade—if anybody truly did. But it is at least a personal victory for Anaheim, who was able to clear salary, introduce a new offensive piece, and clear the log jam at the blue line so that young defensive stars could shine.

Bourque looks to be in the lineup tonight against the Arizona Coyotes. He skated yesterday  with Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri. If he is in the lineup tonight, it will interesting to see how he plays, and if he will remain on the Kesler line for the duration of the game.