BOSTON (CBS) – Chris Bourque is a minus-6, Chris Kelly is a minus-7 and Rich Peverley is a team-worst minus-8.
On a team as devoted to defensive responsibility as the Puritans were to righteousness, the Boston Bruins’ third line forwards are wearing those minuses like Scarlet Letters – or Scarlett Math Symbols if you will.
There’s no doubt that the Bruins, now coming of consecutive losses for the first time this season, are going to have to do something to shake up their third line – either through a promotion from the minors or a trade. However, the Bruins and general manager Peter Chiarelli should not be excoriated for giving Bourque his shot.
The numbers don’t lie. The Bruins’ third line is hurting the team more than helping. And Bourque, the only different body in the Boston forward corps from last season and the year before, has not produced nearly enough to make anyone forget Michael Ryder or even Benoit Pouliot. In 18 games played, Bourque has produced just 1-3-4 totals, despite also skating a regular shift on the power play.
After he was recently scratched against Montreal, Bourque said he’s not worried about Chiarelli dealing for a third-line replacement. However, I would argue that as this point a parting of the ways between Bourque and the Bruins would benefit both parties.
From the start, squeezing Bourque into that third-line spot was going to be difficult just based on the player’s track record. As the season unfolded, we’ve seen exactly what’s kept Bourque from establishing himself as an NHL regular even after recent 70- and 93-point seasons in the minors. He’s too skilled with his hand-eye coordination and shot to play in a bottom six. He doesn’t skate well enough or have enough bulk or grit to play on a third or fourth line, particularly with the Bruins.
Not all has been wasted for Bourque. There have been games that individually he’s shown off NHL-caliber skill and even a couple contests that saw him forge a little chemistry with Kelly and Peverley. There have to be some scouts with teams lacking in their top six and/or on the power play that would be interested in Bourque as a cheap alternative to fill a hole in the lineup.
Maybe Bourque sticks around as a semi-regular in Boston or gets sent to Providence for the rest of this season. He’s signed for next year, but he’s definitely built trade value that could lead to another opportunity.
It’s easy to rag on Bourque for his name and his father’s legacy. Everyone knows (except for the conspiracy theorists) that there’s no way Chiarelli’s decision to trade for Bourque had anything to do with who Bourque’s daddy is. Chiarelli had a chance to unload Zach Hamill and saw a chance to give Bourque a big break. If he got a couple free meals at Tresca, that was an added bonus.
Even though he’s going to be faced with the unenviable task of cutting and replacing Bourque, at least as far as a full-time third-line winger, Chiarelli has done Bourque a great service. Bourque will land somewhere as an NHL regular soon. And we can’t ignore that the Bruins are still 14-3-3 on the season, so Bourque and his linemates haven’t exactly burned down the house.
The Bruins are going to have to solidify their forward corps with an acquisition if they’re going to truly compete for the Stanley Cup this spring. Bourque probably won’t factor much in the run, but denigrating his play or Chiarelli’s judgment is off-target.
The Bourque-Bruins marriage was worth the risk and benefited a son of a legend for the long run.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.