BROSSARD – Francis Bouillon may have spent the last three seasons in Nashville, but his heart has always been in Montreal.
On Wednesday, the Canadiens ensured that the 13-year NHL veteran would remain a mainstay on the Habs’ blueline through the 2013-14 season, signing the 37-year-old to a one-year contract extension just 29 games into his latest tenure with the bleu-blanc-rouge.
For Bouillon, who is in the midst of his 10th season with the Canadiens, confirming that both he and his family would remain in Montreal for the foreseeable future was as much about stability as it was about being comfortable in his surroundings.
“It’s a great surprise and it’s terrific security. We don’t have to worry about it in the summer, and I can train and concentrate on the upcoming season,” said Bouillon, visibly excited after the Canadiens’ morning practice. “I never had a plan to play until I was 38. I’ve always taken it a year at a time. I was very happy when I learned that Marc [Bergevin] contacted my agent to tell him that he wanted to extend my contract.”
Averaging just over 18 minutes of ice time per game, Bouillon has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign. The New York, NY native’s plus-6 differential is tops amongst Habs defenseman, and he ranks third on the team with 48 hits, while also registering 30 blocked shots.
“It’s been going great for me since the beginning of the season and it’s true that when the team wins, it’s always positive for a player,” added Bouillon. “The most important thing for me was to stay in Montreal. I never hid that. I’d like to finish my career here. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep on playing.”
Head coach Michel Therrien, who has known Bouillon for the past two decades, was equally as excited about keeping the gritty rearguard in the Canadiens’ fold going forward.
“The performances Francis has given have dictated his signing of the contract. He deserves it,” said the Habs’ bench-boss. “I've got a great relationship with Francis. He's a guy who has the Montreal Canadiens in his heart. He offers up some great performances. So, I'm very happy for him and his family.”
Statistics aside, Therrien is quick to point out that Bouillon brings countless additional intangibles to the table, including an unrivalled ability to reach out to and mentor players early on in their NHL careers.
“It's of primordial importance for the development of young players [to have a player like Bouillon with us]. The fact that they can play with a veteran like him, who has earned the right to be in the NHL, nothing was given to him,” explained Therrien, who most recently paired Bouillon alongside rookie Jarred Tinordi. “When you put a young guy in who's talented, and he's got a guy like that as a mentor, communication on the bench between defensive partners is important. Francis is a guy who communicates well with young players. Young players like him. Not only is he a good player, but a good person as well.”
Bouillon’s teammates share a similar opinion of the father of two, confirming that while he may be small in stature by today’s NHL standards – at 5’ 8’’ and 197 lbs. – the man nicknamed “The Little Warrior” has earned the respect of his peers through an unwavering commitment to physical fitness and preparation.
“His work ethic is incomparable,” said veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, noting that Bouillon played an important part in his development early on with the Canadiens. “In the offseason, he makes sure that he's ready to play, ready to compete. He may be 37, but he doesn't play like it. He looks like a 25-year-old out there. He's got lots of legs, and his professionalism is what stands out the most and making sure he's ready to play.”
Looking to close out the remaining 19 regular season games on a high note, and forge ahead with an extended playoff run, the Canadiens’ prolonging of Bouillon’s stay in Montreal is a tip of the cap to a player who has lived up to the Habs’ ‘No Excuses’ motto in more ways than one.
“I know for him it's important [to remain in Montreal] and it's great news for us as well,” said Therrien.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
Canadiens sign defenseman Francis Bouillon