As the charter jet whisked him from the fetid atmosphere
surrounding the Boston Bruins into the crisp, rarefied air of a
Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche, the man whose
principles had always been in the full upright-and-locked
position listened hard. Raymond Bourque had lived through almost
everything in more than two decades playing in the NHL, but not
this, not a trade. Now Dave Andreychuk, heading west with
Bourque to his fifth team, explained the facts of life of the
athletically displaced, telling Bourque how his wife would feel,
how important it is to stay in close touch with his three
children, how unnerving a new locker room and new teammates
would seem at first. Bourque nodded. He was exhausted yet
exhilarated, anxious not about joining a new club but about
getting on the ice with a team that had a chance to win. He was
simmering with almost every emotion--except guilt.
Bourque had finally swallowed hard and suppressed that guilt,
winning a monthlong battle with himself that culminated on Feb.
28 when he called Bruins president Harry Sinden and asked to be
traded. Few men are more steadfast than Bourque. He met his
wife, Christiane, when they were 11 and dated her from the time
he was 16 until he married her five years later. He turned down
several invitations to play for Canada in the 1996 World Cup
because the tournament schedule interfered with family time in
the summer. He had suffered the downturn in Boston's fortunes
over the last 10 seasons stoically. He was true-blue; he was
If any player could resist the siren call of the Cup, if anyone
could spot the narcissism lurking behind the popular conceit that
noble veterans--the Marinos, the Barkleys, the Bourques--deserve a
championship, it was he. But he was 39 and human and playing for
a team that had won only eight games since Thanksgiving. Bourque,
who had played more games than any other player never to have won
the Cup, finally succumbed to ego and decided to take one final
stab at glory. He would be a late-season Rent-a-Ray. The
third-best defenseman in NHL history (behind Bobby Orr and Doug
Harvey), the man who ranks third in games played for a single
team (box, page 77), elected to talk in the third person, saying
at his first press conference as a member of the Avalanche, on
March 6, that he'd requested a trade to find out "what's left in
"This was a selfish move in terms of my career," Bourque said
three days later, as he twirled the ice in the bottom of his soda
glass in Edmonton. "I know it's a shocker, that I made a move
like this, because everything I've ever done in my life has been
safe, safe, safe."
With the NHL's absurdly late March 14 trading deadline
approaching (about 85% of the regular season passes before that
date), Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix preempted Western
Conference powers such as the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red
Wings and the St. Louis Blues by making a deal that was
considerably more daring than the old Bourque. The risk wasn't
so much in the talent Lacroix ceded--winger Brian Rolston, who
couldn't play on the Avalanche's top two lines; 22-year-old
prospect Sami Pahlsson, a projected third-line center from
Sweden who offers hockey smarts but middling offense; 6'5"
junior defenseman Martin Grenier, who needs to improve his
skating; and a No. 1 draft pick--as in the contract status of
his new stars. The 36-year-old Andreychuk, who at week's end had
551 NHL goals and more points as a left wing than Bobby Hull,
and the redoubtable Bourque could walk away at the end of the
season as unrestricted free agents. On the other hand Colorado,
in seventh place in the conference and clinging to a playoff
spot by two points on the day of the trade, looked like
early-round fodder unless Lacroix made a big move. Now, riding a
five-game winning streak through Sunday, Colorado had leaped to
third in the conference and become a force to be reckoned with.
Lacroix is a man of bold schemes and grand gestures. He made a
dramatic deal three weeks before the trading deadline a year
ago, acquiring another big name, wing Theo Fleury, from the
Calgary Flames. The gamble seemed to work well at first when
Fleury scored 10 goals in 15 regular-season games and another
five in his first nine playoff matches as the Avalanche stunned
the Red Wings in the second round. Then Fleury inexplicably
failed to score in his last nine postseason games; Colorado lost
the conference finals in seven to the eventual Cup champion,
Dallas. "Getting Theo was huge," defenseman Aaron Miller says,
"but he gave us more of what we had, another guy who could carry
the puck. We had four or five guys who could do that. Ray and
Dave give us another dimension."
The 6'4", 220-pound Andreychuk, who has 19 goals this season, is
the Denver Boot, a winger who can park himself in front of the
net and bang in passes or rebounds, a dirty job only Adam
Deadmarsh among the Avalanche had deigned to do. Bourque provides
his new team with a calming presence on a defense corps that was
led by the spectacular but skittish Sandis Ozolinsh, who often
gives both teams a good chance to win. "Ozolinsh on the point of
the power play had to do it all," Miller says. "What's he going
to do now, not pass it to Ray Bourque?"
Bourque also provides, in the words of Colorado goalie Patrick
Roy, "a spark" in the dressing room. The rich, musky smell of
entitlement has hung over the Avalanche, not surprising given
the extraordinary talent on hand--Roy, Ozolinsh and centers
Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, plus dandy young forwards such as
Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk--but hardly justified given
Colorado's spotty playoff performances since winning the Cup in
1996 and its uninspired effort this season until the big trade.
The Avalanche has been dinged by injury (Sakic and Forsberg had
played in the same game just 26 times this season), but some of
the damage was self-inflicted. "In the past 4 1/2 years we've
done pretty well, and we started to play easy," defenseman Adam
Foote says. "We let our talent do the work. We've been known to
coast. We needed a jolt. Why waste something good?"
Bourque wondered himself. Three years ago when Boston finished
with 61 points and missed the playoffs for the first time in 30
seasons, he considered asking out but soldiered on. "My wife and
I weren't ready," he says. "I didn't have it in me yet." He was a
not-quite-so-hoary 36 then, but the Bruins offered not even a
whiff of hope that they would be ready to challenge for a Cup
before Bourque qualified for senior discounts at the drugstore.
Perhaps the difference was that Bourque could stomach a team that
lost games, not one that was losing its dignity and hope as the
1999-2000 team had.
There wasn't a single moment, defeat, blowup or controversy that
drove Bourque from Boston. He had been made unhappy last month
when absentee owner Jeremy Jacobs publicly assailed coach Pat
Burns while giving his blessing to Sinden and assistant general
manager Mike O'Connell. (Bourque has always loathed
finger-pointing.) There were many reasons for his gloom: the
off-season loss of free agents Tim Taylor and Dmitri Khristich,
the tardy re-signing of goalie Byron Dafoe, injuries to forwards
Jason Allison and Anson Carter, and forward Joe Murphy's
much-publicized insubordination toward Burns. Bourque connected
the dots, which formed an outline of a team in turmoil. He had
ennobled the Bruins since the Carter Administration, but now he
was being dragged into the muck, playing well only three of
every five games, by his own estimation. "The atmosphere wasn't
good," he says. "I needed to get out for my own head. I wasn't
as consistent, wasn't as sharp. That was mental. To get the best
out of myself, I needed a different environment. If I had stayed
in Boston, I wouldn't have played next year. I would've called
Instead he called Sinden. The Bruins solicited offers from five
contending teams, and though the Avalanche wasn't Bourque's first
choice--unlike W.C. Fields, he hankered to play in Philadelphia,
because the Flyers are based closer to his home--he seems as
smitten by his Colorado teammates as they are by him.
Before Bourque's first game with the Avalanche, on March 7 in
Calgary, Sakic publicly offered to yield his captaincy to
Bourque--a deferential but silly offer that Bourque refused.
More meaningfully, Deadmarsh, whose ritual during games, like
Bourque's, includes being the first player on the ice after the
starting goalie, said he would cede his place in line; Bourque
declined this offer, too. Colorado won 8-3, and Bourque played
20:26 in the first two periods, finishing with an assist and a
+4 rating. "He gave us so much life," Miller says. "You see the
energy in that game? It was almost like the guys were trying to
impress Ray and Dave. Like, Look at me! See what I can do!"
Bourque sat out the third period with a slight groin pull
sustained in warmups, an injury he didn't mention until the
second intermission. "I'm thinking you can't pull the 'chute
after warmups of your first game," Bourque said.
In a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers last Friday that pushed
the Avalanche into first place in the Northwest Division, Bourque
scored two goals from the blue line as an aroused power-play unit
whipped the puck around so smartly that it deserved the
accompaniment of Sweet Georgia Brown. "I can't remember the last
time I scored two in a game," says Bourque, who most recently did
it on March 3, 1997. "You're my age, you forget stuff."
Bourque's skating is more leisurely than it was several years
ago, but he still has a low, accurate shot, and with his massive
rump and thick thighs, he remains a superb, physical defender.
Colorado might not have the cohesion of other teams--"There are so
many stars there now, they'll be bumping into one another,"
Oilers president Glen Sather said after the trade--but it has the
most complete defenseman of his generation and as of Sunday had
not lost in March.
Bourque will settle in for a last grab at a ring he hopes isn't
brass. He will learn his teammates' nicknames. He was already
acquainted with Roy, Sakic and Foote from the Olympics; had
played with Dave Reid and Jeff Odgers in Boston; and had had a
full-body shave with assistant coach Jacques Cloutier when they
were rookie teammates in the Quebec junior league almost a
quarter century ago. He will see. "If I play the way I can, I'll
help this team," Bourque says. "On this team, I move the puck to
the forwards and--bang!--they're off. That's what I need to enhance
my game. If I get that, I'll have no problem about playing next
year"--maybe in Colorado, certainly not with the Bruins.
He will return to Boston in the summer, back to his house in a
northern suburb, back to his old ways and old friends, but this
is his hockey sabbatical, his chance to do something different,
to win a Cup. Says Bourque, "I was telling Dave on the plane that
those two Stanley Cup runs"--the Bruins reached the finals in 1988
and '90--"were the fondest hockey memories I have. I wanted that
feeling back, to feel that my team has a chance."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GERRY THOMAS SOMEBODY DOESN'T LOVE RAYMOND As Ryan Smythe found out, Bourque, at 39, still has the speed and power to punish opponents.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD KOROL Off their stride Despite having elite players such as Forsberg (21), the Avalanche has underachieved in recent seasons.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GERRY THOMAS
Here are the five players, including Bourque (right), who have
played the most games for one NHL team.
PLAYER TEAM GAMES YEARS
Gordie Howe Red Wings 1,687 1946 to '71
Alex Delvecchio Red Wings 1,549 1950 to '74
Raymond Bourque Bruins 1,518 1979 to 2000
Johnny Bucyk Bruins 1,436 1957 to '78
Stan Mikita Blackhawks 1,394 1958 to '80
Bourque had ennobled the Bruins since the Jimmy Carter
Administration, but now he was being dragged into the muck