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Need to get bigger led Canadiens to trade for Bourque

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- Game day is becoming quite the adventure for the Montreal Canadiens.

After assistant coach Perry Pearn was fired 90 minutes before a game and head coach Jacques Martin suffered the same fate just before the start of a morning skate, Canadiens players were still a bit stunned Friday that Michael Cammalleri was traded to the Calgary Flames after the second intermission of a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins a night earlier.

"That's definitely a first to see a guy pulled off during the game," Canadiens forward Travis Moen said.

Each of those game-day stunners have been orchestrated by general manager Pierre Gauthier, and if the intent each time was to get the attention of his struggling players, it appears his latest move worked.

"A way that it will help is that everyone knows that no one's safe," forward Max Pacioretty said. "Mike was a big part of this team's future, they paid him a lot of money and he had almost a record-like playoff run. It shows that no one's untouchable, and that makes people dig a little bit deeper and find out how they have to play to stay."

"A way that it will help is that everyone knows that no one's safe. Mike was a big part of this team's future, they paid him a lot of money and he had almost a record-like playoff run. It shows that no one's untouchable, and that makes people dig a little bit deeper and find out how they have to play to stay."
-- Max Pacioretty

The major piece coming back in the trade, Rene Bourque, was to arrive in snowy Montreal late Friday afternoon and would not be available to speak to reporters until Saturday morning, when the Canadiens will prepare to face the Ottawa Senators in yet another must-win game.

That will mark the end of Bourque's five-game suspension for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom in the head, meaning he will be available for his first game wearing No. 27 for the Canadiens -- the same number as the once-beloved Alex Kovalev -- on Sunday, when Montreal hosts the powerhouse New York Rangers.

Gauthier admitted in Boston that the main reason he felt the need to trade Cammalleri was not the controversial comments he made about the team's attitude, but rather his lack of size and the fact he was more of a perimeter player. Swapping the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Cammalleri for Bourque, who stands 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, changes the look of the Canadiens forward group quite dramatically.

With captain Brian Gionta out long term recovering from a torn biceps muscle, the Canadiens suddenly find themselves with just two forwards -- Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais -- listed at under 6-feet. If you add in Scott Gomez, who may be ready to return Saturday from a mystery injury that has cost him the last 21 games, that number grows to three.

With Bourque, the Canadiens will dress six forwards who are at least 6-foot-2 -- joining Pacioretty, Moen, Erik Cole, Lars Eller and Mike Blunden -- and there will be seven forwards listed at 200 pounds or more.

"We definitely do have a lot of small guys. It's no secret, just look at our roster. So anytime you're able to add a big guy like that, especially with the lineup we have, it's beneficial," Pacioretty said. "It might help because we'll have more versatility and maybe we can shuffle lines around a little bit more by mixing in another big guy. Right now everyone's talking about our forecheck, and I know a big guy will help our forecheck."

It is widely recognized that the most skilled hockey player in the trade was Cammalleri, and he will be returning to the scene of his career-best season of 39 goals in 2008-09. But when asked whether he was concerned the Canadiens gave up too much skill in the trade, Eller strongly insisted that he wasn't.


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"Skill doesn't necessarily get you wins. Cammy was a skilled player, I don't know Bourque that well, but it's not about skill right now. It's about getting wins, and if Bourque can help us get wins then that's the main thing," Eller said. "We still have a lot of skill in this room."

Eller also recognized Gauthier's assertion that the Canadiens don't score enough goals from "tough areas" and admitted that's been a problem for them, but he doesn't necessarily see Bourque fixing that all by himself.

"That has definitely been the case in a lot of games," Eller said. "But changing one player for another, there's still 21 others that have got to do the right thing. It's still within this room that things have to get better."

Cammalleri's playoff performances in Montreal were as clutch as they get. His postseason goal-per-game average of 0.615 the past two years is just under Canadiens icon Maurice Richard's 0.617, placing Cammalleri third all-time in that category in franchise history. Also, Cammalleri had an astounding 7 goals and 4 assists in the eight playoff elimination games the Canadiens played the past two seasons, helping them compile a record of 6-2 in those games.

However, Bourque's regular season numbers compare quite favorably with Cammalleri's since the start of the 2009-10 season. Cammalleri scored 54 goals in 170 regular season games since signing a five-year, $30 million free agent contract with the Canadiens in the summer of 2009. Over the same span, Bourque has scored 67 goals in 191 games, except he has done so at a far cheaper rate of $3.33 million per season, with four years remaining on that deal.

"The game has always been a tough game," coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "With our group, we want to play a more gritty style to balance our speed and two-way ability to play at both ends. I think he's a player that will be welcome to our group. We feel this is a move that helps our team immediately."

Moen spent one season playing with Bourque with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL when both were part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization in 2004-05.

"He's fast, he's physical and he'll battle," he said. "Hopefully he can do that for us."

The freed-up salary cap space for the Canadiens could be seen to some as an indication Gauthier has gone into selling mode, but he insisted in Boston that wasn't the case, that this was a hockey trade. Moen, for one, is glad to see his GM hasn't given up, because the players in the room haven't either.

"We need to win games," he said. "It hasn't been easy, but we feel like if we come out in this last half and put some good games together, play like we did in Boston, we have a chance to win every night."

And Gauthier obviously feels Bourque will help his club do just that.
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