MONTREAL -- For the second time in nine days, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin freed up some room under the NHL salary cap for next season by acquiring a veteran defenseman.
Bergevin traded forward Rene Bourque, who cleared waivers and was demoted to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 10, to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Bryan Allen on Thursday.
The move follows the Nov. 11 trade of forward Travis Moen to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Sergei Gonchar, shedding two contracts with a total salary-cap charge of $5.18 million off the
Canadiens payroll for next season in exchange for two expiring contracts.
"The players who get hurt the most often are defensemen," Bergevin said. "Look at other teams. Boston just went through a tough stretch with their defensemen. We’ve been lucky until now. Having extra defensemen is a luxury, but if you can afford it you have to look at it."
Gonchar and Allen each count for significantly more against the salary cap this season than the players they were traded for, and one reason the Canadiens were able to do that was trading defenseman Josh Gorges and his $3.9 million salary on July 1 to the Buffalo Sabres for a second-round pick at the 2016 NHL Draft.
It could be argued trading Gorges also created a need to add veteran help on defense for the Canadiens, but now Bergevin has filled that void while freeing him from the three remaining years on Gorges’ contract after this season.
"We moved Josh, which wasn’t an easy trade to make, but we freed up cap space and allowed us to make another move and then another move," Bergevin said. "That’s often what happens. It’s like playing chess."
Bergevin said he felt the need to add experience on defense in large part because young defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu were unable to seize an opening on the Canadiens blue line.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray, on the other hand, said he felt comfortable trading Allen because of the emergence of young defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, who are each playing more than 20 minutes a game for coach Bruce Boudreau.
With Bourque, 32, Murray hopes adding his size and speed can spark a forward group he has been disappointed with this season.
"The way things have gone I’m not particularly happy with all of our forwards so far," Murray said. "So he’s a big body that can skate and he’ll get an opportunity."
Murray said he began talking to the Canadiens about the possibility of acquiring Bourque before the NHL Draft in June, a few weeks after Bourque finished a tremendous performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs helping Montreal to the Eastern Conference Final.
Bourque led the Canadiens with eight goals in 17 games in the playoffs but was unable to carry that to this season, with two assists in 13 games before his demotion to Hamilton.
"That’s him in a nutshell, a very streaky scorer," Murray said. "What I do like about him is the size and the skating. He can skate. I think at times we’re not moving well enough. I don’t know why, but we’re just not and he has proven he can also score in the playoffs if you get there and I like that aspect of him also."
Bourque played four games with the Bulldogs and had two goals and two assists.
"When I was told I was getting sent down, it was obviously tough to take after being a regular in the NHL for 10 years," Bourque said. "There were some tough days, but at the same time, it might have been the best thing for me to get out of [Montreal] for a little while. They treated me very well in Hamilton and I played a lot in the four games. It was like a little mini fresh start, and I could look forward to something that was going to happen eventually."
Murray said the final decision would ultimately belong to Boudreau, but Bourque could get an opportunity to fill out the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
"They’re a team that can go far in the playoffs," Bourque said. "They’re built like a playoff team with a lot of big forwards, and Bob said I fit their style of play. Where I play in the lineup doesn’t matter right now. I just want to get my confidence going and make the most of my opportunity."
Bergevin said he would not be surprised to see Bourque flourish in Anaheim and said as much to Murray, who he revealed was his first roommate in the NHL when they played for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1984.
"He’s someone who is able to play with good players and he’s still able to produce," Bergevin said of Bourque. "I hope for the best for him, and I hope he produces in Anaheim. For me, when I spoke to Bob Murray I told him that I think Rene can still play hockey, it was just that in Montreal it wasn’t going to work."
Bergevin is convinced it could work for Allen in Montreal. Allen, 34, missed the first 14 games of the season because of a lower-body injury, but over the past six games averaged 18:12 minutes and 1:30 on the penalty kill.
"I see a player who played on a regular basis for one of the top teams in the West,” Bergevin said. “I don’t see why he can’t help us in Montreal."