Don Sweeney has known Chris Bourque his entire life. So if the son of Sweeney’s former teammate makes a good impression in Providence, it wouldn’t bother the Bruins assistant general manager one bit.
“He’s a great student of the game,” Sweeney said of Ray Bourque’s oldest son. “He’s got great hockey sense and feel. He makes players around him better because of his hockey sense.”
Bourque, acquired by Boston from the Capitals for Zach Hamill May 26, is one of the lucky ones. At first, he was uncertain of his status. The Bruins didn’t place him on waivers prior to the lockout. But any concern of being locked out was swept clear when the Bruins offered him an AHL contract.
On Friday, while the big boys remained locked out, Bourque opened Providence camp with a twirl around the Rhode Island Sports Center alongside his new teammates.
“Everyone here’s been chomping at the bit to get training camp started,” Bourque said. “It’s been a long summer. I think guys were getting a little antsy here. So we’re pretty happy to get things going.”
Bourque is an elite AHL player. Last season for Hershey, Washington’s AHL affiliate, Bourque led the league in scoring (27-66—93).
Of Bourque’s 27 goals, 14 were on the power play. He can play both the left and right points. The Cushing Academy graduate can also man the right-side half-boards. At even strength, Bourque’s hands, vision, and quickness made him a challenging matchup for Providence. He has played with high-end forwards, including Keith Aucoin, Graham Mink, and Alexandre Giroux.
“He just makes plays,” said Providence coach Bruce Cassidy. “He has great hands, high IQ, poise. You had to keep the puck out of his hands. Easier said than done, especially when he’s playing with Aucoin and Mink last year and Giroux the year before.
“He’s just a dangerous player. You have to be aware of him. Your defense has to have the discipline to not get caught up the ice a lot and give him odd-man rushes. Those guys eat you alive when they get those. They’re smart enough to know that they don’t come along very often. When they do, they tend to bury them.”
Bourque’s production and role shouldn’t change for Providence, where he will be a top-line wing. On Friday, he practiced alongside Ryan Spooner and Max Sauve.
If opponents send their top dogs against Bourque, Spooner should have more space with which to create offense. And vice versa.
“The pressure on them to produce at a young age is difficult,” Sweeney said of skilled forwards. “He’ll really help them in that regard. He’s been in those situations. He can take the heat.
“They won’t be able to focus on them as young players. He’ll calm things down in that regard. It will be so helpful for our group. Last year, [Carter] Camper had success, but guys were keying on him and leaning on him hard. Now that will get spread around.”
Bourque, 26, was Washington’s second-round pick in 2004, and he is an AHL veteran. He left Boston University after his freshman year in 2004-05. Later that season, he appeared in six games for Portland, Washington’s former farm club.
Bourque has been a full-time AHLer for six seasons. He has dressed in 33 NHL games (20 for Pittsburgh, 13 for Washington). It’s a number he hopes will grow.
Bourque will be in game shape if and when the lockout lifts. The No. 3 left wing job, formerly held by Benoit Pouliot, will be up for grabs. Jordan Caron is the favorite for the position, but Bourque, who has killed penalties (five shorthanded goals last year) as well as manning the power play, will be in the mix for a varsity spot.
“I anticipate him being among a group of guys challenging for those depth roles,” Sweeney said. “With the versatility he brings to the table and the experience he has, he could play a couple different roles.”
The question is who Bourque will be in the NHL. There’s no debating his stature as a first-line forward and power-play specialist in the AHL. So far, those talents haven’t translated to a regular NHL paycheck.
Washington and Pittsburgh viewed Bourque as a skilled AHLer and a bottom-six NHLer. Not quite three years ago, the Bruins thought the same thing of Brad Marchand.
In Providence, Marchand rode on the top line. He skated on the power play. Marchand killed penalties. When he started 2010-11 in Boston, Marchand was on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Only after he gained confidence and his coaches’ trust was Marchand promoted to the second line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi.
It’s not a bad model for Bourque to follow.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on what my role would be,” Bourque said. “It’s up to me to go up there and do the things I know I can do to prove to them that I belong there. That’s what I’m trying to do now with training camp here. It’s playing good hockey every game and staying consistent. I’ll be an energy guy up there and put up some points when I can.”
SWISS BANK ACCOUNT
Early signing helps Shannon
Just this month, an All-Star Game’s worth of talent has signed in Switzerland: Tyler Seguin, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, John Tavares, Logan Couture, Mark Streit.
Had Ryan Shannon not gotten a four-month headstart, the three-year contract he nabbed from the Zurich Lions might not have been available.
“When you have 700-plus NHL players looking for a handful of jobs, it’s always tough,” said Justin Duberman, Shannon’s agent. “That was a really good selling point for Ryan. ‘Here’s a player who’s ready to sign and wants to be there. He’s not forced to be there.’
“I’m confident he would have gotten another job in the NHL. But when you look back, he was ready to start a new chapter to his career. The team recognized, ‘Here’s a player who can be an asset. He wants to be here. He’s ready to sign now.’ ”
Shannon and wife Jessica scouted Zurich before signing. They toured the city. They examined living arrangements. They considered KHL offers for more money before deciding on Switzerland as much for its lifestyle as its pace of play.
In hindsight, Shannon chose wisely. He could have reached unrestricted free agency July 1 and signed an NHL contract. But he would have been locked out. The former Boston College captain would have been in an unenviable position —
It’s likely that Shannon would have been unemployed had he not signed early. That’s an unsettling prospect for a couple with a young daughter.
“They didn’t make the decision on whether or not there would be a work stoppage,” Duberman said. “Looking back, it was fortunate timing with their decision to go over and be ready to do it. They wanted to do it. In hindsight, it looks a lot smarter than everybody else. But hopefully things get sorted out here.”
Through six games, Shannon had three goals and three assists.
END OF A CAREER
Last lockout took Sweeney
Don Sweeney, the Bruins assistant GM, was under contract to play with Dallas for 2004-05. Of course, that season became irrelevant when a lockout wiped it from the books. Sweeney considered playing options in Europe as the season progressed. But Sweeney, who had made Massachusetts his year-round base, remained at home. He played in men’s leagues and worked out with local strength and conditioning coach MikeBoyle to stay in shape. The lockout never lifted. Sweeney could have extended his career by another year in 2005-06, but the former Bruins defenseman would have had to accept a tryout offer, in all likelihood. Sweeney officially retired after logging 1,115 career NHL games, all but 63 with the Bruins. “Anybody wants to go out playing and winning,” Sweeney said. “But not a lot of guys are able to do that. I played in the Stanley Cup Final one year. It’s tough not getting a chance to go back and play to have the opportunity to win.”
Timing right for Lidstrom
On May 31, Nicklas Lidstrom retired, saying he didn’t have the competitive spirit to go through another summer of training to prepare for 2012-13. Appropriately, for a player whose hockey intelligence was unparalleled, Lidstrom’s final decision was one of his wisest. Imagine being a player of Lidstrom’s caliber, on the cusp of retirement, and deciding to rev it up one more time, only to be locked out. Daniel Alfredsson, Lidstrom’s Swedish countryman, fits that category. Alfredsson could have followed Lidstrom’s example. Instead, he committed to one more season — and the requisite summer workouts.
If and when the lockout lifts, one of Bruins coach Claude Julien’s tasks will be to retrain his players in game flow. In August, Julien participated in a rules summit in Toronto. The gathering represented a collection of heavy hitters from all aspects of the game: NHL hockey operations (Colin Campbell), GMs (Lou Lamoriello), referees (director of officiating Terry Gregson), and players (Jason Spezza). During the summit, which Campbell classified as a think tank, the various heads of state discussed an across-the-board tightening of the standards implemented in 2005-06. The result: An acknowledgement that infractions once called —
Owners won’t go hungry
In several weeks, NHL players will begin missing paychecks (they are not paid during the preseason). By then, we might see some grumbling among the rank-and-file. The stars make money from endorsement deals. But for most players, their NHL salaries are their primary source of income. That’s hardly the case for the owners. Consider Delaware North, the Bruins’ parent franchise. The lockout won’t keep people from visiting Yellowstone Park, staying at Jumers Casino & Hotel, or ordering hot dogs at Lambeau Field — all locations that DNC services. As proven by their offshore accounts, the owners have broad portfolios from which to record their revenue. The players do not. Safe to say the owners can hold out longer.
Chara mulls next move
Zdeno Chara has been skating in Boston in anticipation of a prompt resolution to the lockout. Within a week’s time, however, Chara could decide whether to play in Europe. Matt Keator, Chara’s agent, said there are multiple options for the Bruins captain. In 2004-05, Chara played in Sweden after recovering from an injury sustained in the 2004 World Cup. Because he is Slovakian, Chara could return to his home country without being considered an import player. However, insurance could be tricky for Chara, the Bruins’ highest-paid player. Each player must negotiate his own policy. There’s no guarantee a European club will pay for the entire policy. “It’s actually pretty busy,” said Keator, who hasn’t had any clients commit to overseas play yet. “And it’s not easy. There’s only so many jobs. There’s insurance, transfer cards. It’s not just, ‘Hey, I’m going to play in Europe.’ ”
Eight referees are scheduled to make their NHL on-ice debuts in 2012-13. The fresh faces: Darcy Burchell, Trevor Hanson, Trent Knorr, Mark Lemelin, Dave Lewis, Thomas John Luxmore, Jon McIsaac, and Graham Skilliter . . . Former Bruin Nate Thompson will be reunited with former Providence assistant Rob Murray. Thompson signed with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, Murray’s current club. Thompson is an Anchorage native . . . You may consider yourself a puckhead of the highest order if you’d heard of the 2d Bundesliga prior to the lockout. Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart signed with the second-tier German league on Tuesday. Given the quality of German suds, it may very well qualify as a beer league . . . On Tuesday, the NHL released its annual Official Guide and Record Book. The publication, known as the Big Book in media circles, is the standard-bearer when it comes to providing all the information we scribblers require on deadline. When it will become of use, however, remains to be seen . . . The inaugural All-American Prospects Game took place Saturday night at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center. The game featured 40 of the top prospects eligible for the 2013 NHL draft. The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau currently classifies seven of the 40 players as first-round prospects.: Justin Bailey, J.T. Compher, Mike Downing, Hudson Fasching, Seth Jones, Luke Johnson, and Ian McCoshen . . . As of now, NESN does not have any plans to televise any of Providence’s games during the lockout . . . Every year during the playoffs, when the media contingent grows daily, the joke never fails to be made. As we shuffle into the dressing room, crammed like cows into a tight hallway, some wiseguy moos. That joke might have to be amended. Red Wings executive Jim Devellano recently described players as the cattle on the owners’ ranches (and thus earned his organization a six-figure scolding). If players are cows, hockey writers have been downgraded to cow pies.