Rene Bourque had a bit of a renaissance season in 2013, finding a spot on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, functioning as the big guy on the line who the other two could bounce pucks into the net off of. Bourque's puck skills still leave much to be desired, but his skating was back up to the expected level, and his physicality was evident without being hampered by the abdominal tear he dealt with in 2011-12.
Even better though, was Bourque's shooting skill regressing closer to the expected rate for his career. Bourque is around to score goals and push people around, and he did just that last year.
In the playoffs Bourque was even better, but at 31 years old, is he fit to continue playing on the top line in tough minutes? Using statistics as proxies, specifically Fenwick and zone starts, we can see how Bourque's career is trending, and make educated guesses about his future performance.
In the following graph, the blue line is Bourque's even-strength Fenwick percentage from 2007 to 2013, the red line is his team's even-strength Fenwick percentage without him on the ice, and the green line is Bourque's offensive-zone start percentage, giving us insight into his usage and role. All statistics are at even strength, and all are rolling 10-game averages. What this means is that aside from the first 10 points in the graph, every point represents a 10-game sample, giving us a better grasp of trends.
With all that information on one graph, it can look a little messy and be tough to decipher, so I've included trend lines for each statistic. To understand the trend lines, blue turns into black, red turns into yellow, and green turns into purple. The x-axis is simply the games to represent time, and the y-axis is the percentage in decimal form, and the placement of the y-axis is the beginning of the 2013 season.
Using this mountain of data, we can make several observations about Bourque. It's worth noting that for essentially his entire pre-Habs career, Bourque was used as an exploitation forward, getting high offensive zone starts. This is no longer the case as he's been used in tough minutes. His performance is trending down, but his role is getting tougher at a quicker pace.
His team is getting stronger around him, which should lift him up a bit, logically. However the way he was used in Montreal last year wasn't exactly sacrificial, but the Plekanec line's minutes are certainly extra difficult in order to ease the load on the rest of the lineup.
Bourque's performance trend is also pulled down quite severely by last season, which may be creating an artificially steep-looking decline. For about half of last season, he was a positive possession player, although he was definitely not a possession driver on the line, he was the complementary piece.
Depending on powerplay time, if he's used in the same role this season, Bourque should be good for a 20-goal, 20-assist pace over 82 games, though he may be better served on an exploitation line if the Canadiens ever make the smart decision and put Max Pacioretty on the top line.