The stress level for Gabriel and Rene Bourque went down a few notches on Monday.
After taking part in the Colorado Avalanche's training camp on professional tryouts, the Bourques--who are unrelated--signed one-year contracts with the team on Monday, adding some stability for them and their families after a summer full of unknowns.
"A little less weight on my shoulders right now," said Gabriel Bourque, who hails from Rimouski, Quebec. "I'm pretty sure my family back home is pretty happy."
Neither Gabriel or Rene had ever been in this situation before, heading into September and competing at training camp with non-guaranteed contracts; the thought of being cut at any time and jobless always in the back of their minds.
Rene Bourque, an NHL veteran of 11 seasons who lives in Chicago in the offseason but is originally from Lac La Biche, Alberta, remained unsigned after his 2015-16 campaign ended with Columbus and again throughout the summer after free agency opened on July 1.
"It was the first time in my career where I really didn't know what was going to happen, basically since the last day of last season," Rene said. "A lot of question marks--I didn't know where I was going to be, no guaranteed contracts--basically just on a tryout. It was up to me to perform and make a name for myself again. Hopefully I did that."
As training camp got closer to its conclusion and with the Avalanche trimming the roster smaller and smaller, the anxiety raised.
"It did bother me the last couple of days," said 36-year-old Rene Bourque. "It was getting pretty stressful because I didn't know what was going to happen. Obviously, I have family and kids back home, so I was trying to make plans with them. We were up in limbo, but it's obviously going to be nice to get them down here as soon as possible."
Video: Rene Bourque talks about his contract
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said both right wings deserved a chance to stay with the organization and compete for an opening-night roster spot.
"We feel they earned the right to be here and earned the contracts," Bednar said. "We like what both of them are doing. Both are a little bit different players, but both have been good in their own ways through training camp and preseason games."
Rene finished the preseason tied for the team lead in scoring with four points (one goal and three assists) in five games, while Gabriel recorded one assist in four exhibition contests.
Both have a history of being an offensive threat.
Gabriel, 26, has 78 points (31 goals and 47 assists) in 242 NHL games with the Nashville Predators, but he was limited to 22 contests last season after missing most of the campaign with an upper-body injury.
To battle back from the injury and earn a contract from the Avs was a sense of relief for him.
"It was a little stressful. It's not the best," noted Gabriel Bourque, who stands at 5-foot-10 and 206 pounds. "I think it's better when you come here with a contract, but with my injury last year, I'm pretty happy it's over. It's been a tough 10 months, and I'm happy finally today. It's a new day, a new year, a new start; I'm excited."
Video: Gabriel Bourque talks about his contract
Rene has recorded 298 points (151 goals and 147 assists) in 660 NHL games, which included three straight 20-goal seasons from 2008-2011. He also had a team-high eight tallies for the Montreal Canadiens during the 2013-14 playoffs.
At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Rene Bourque brings versatility to the Avs' roster.
"I think I can play up and down the lineup," he said. "Wherever they put me, I just have to make sure that I play my game. I'm thankful for the opportunity that I got in the preseason to show that I can still play. I think they believe in me that I can help this team, and that's why I'm here."
Bednar was also impressed with both players' abilities on the defensive side of the ice.
"Gabriel, tough competitor, takes a lot of pride in the defensive part of the game, being a gritty competitor. Penalty-kill guy, physical, very consistent with what he does. Good defender," Bednar said. "Rene Bourque, I think he's worked real hard at his defensive game. He's been an impact player there. He's killed some penalties for us through exhibition and found a way to contribute and is a guy that can move up and down the lineup on the right side."
Now that they have deals, things don't get any easier for the duo.
Colorado still has to get down to the NHL-mandated roster of 23 by Tuesday evening, meaning the Avs will need to make some more adjustments to its squad with 26 players currently in the locker room.
"I need to earn my spot. It's not over yet," Gabriel said. "I need to keep going and working every day until the end of the year."