Bye Bye Bourque, Hello Hamill (Let the Trades Begin)

Posted May 27, 2012

Chris Bourque, 2011-2 AHL League Scoring Champion and All-Star (Photo Credit: M. Richter)

Two weeks into the off-season, the Capitals have made their first move on the great chessboard that is next-season’s roster.  Unsurprisingly, they decided to test the waters with a player who spent all of last season on the Hershey Bears.  Without further ado: this afternoon, the Capitals announced that they’d traded Chris Bourque (LW) to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Zach Hamill (C).

Here at CO, we salute Chris Bourque for his contributions to the Capitals organization over the years – six seasons in all, spread over eight years.

Who’s Who:

As you may recall, Chris Bourque has had an impressive year with the Bears.  He was named team MVP.  He was the AHL’s points leader in the regular season.  He was named to both the All Star Game and the AHL’s First All Star Team (both along with Hershey teammate Keith Aucoin).  He did not join the Caps during their playoff run after Hershey’s elimination on April 27, as his wife was expecting their first child (son Kingston was born on May 6).  Not bad for a man who spent the 2010-11 season over in Europe finding out if first the KHL and later the National League A (Swiss) could offer him a better chance at the big leagues.

Zach Hamill has spent most of the last four years with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, with occasional jaunts up the road to Boston (Note: CapGeek seems a bit confused about when Hamill’s Entry-Level-Contract kicked in. Since he played 65 games with P!Bruins in the 2008-9 season, it seems a pretty sure bet that it actually kicked in that year, not in 2009).  The most recent pre-playoffs was mid-year, from December to February.  He was a first-round draft pick back in 2007 (8th overall), but hasn’t managed a successful permanent transition to the NHL.

Hamill closed out the 2011-12 season battling a shoulder injury, and was left off of the Bruins Black Aces this spring as a result.  Given that the Bruins have been running incredibly deep at center the past few years, it’s possible that he’ll benefit greatly from the change of scenery.  Caps fans can certainly hope.

The Trade-Based Nitty-Gritties:

At a basic level, this is an exchange of negotiating rights.  Both players are due for new contracts this summer, with Hamill ending his fourth professional season as a restricted free agent and Bourque concluding a one-year deal that leaves him an unrestricted free agent.

To retain Hamill, the Caps need only extend a qualifying offer – around $900,000/year- to lock down negotiations.  The trade buys the Bruins 35 days to reach an agreement with Bourque, and then he’s back on the market (although with the CBA looming, there’s speculation that many UFAs will be receiving offers later into the open season than usual).

Awkward Truths:

There’s a possibility that this could turn out to be the Capitals swapping out one undersized forward for another.  One of the obstacles Bourque has faced in his career has been his size – 5′ 9″ – and it’s doubtful that Hamill’s listed 5′ 11″ is entirely honest. To be fair, I haven’t had a chance to see Hamill play, so don’t know how he compensates for his size on the ice – for a good basic overview, Kirk Luedeke put together a solid analysis of Hamill’s skills here.

As Hershey already has T.J. Syner in the wings for next fall, they’re doing an admirable job at continuing their quest for lowest average roster height in the AHL.  It’s possible that Hamill will make the jump next fall, but that’s dependent on both his performance at training camp and the depth at center for the Caps after UFA season has passed.

So what kind of depth currently exists?  Well, the Caps have seven centers under contract for the fall, if one includes AHLers Ryan Potulny and Mattias Sjogren.   Six more are up for contract renewal (Keith AucoinJay Beagle, Mike Carman, Jeff HalpernChristian HansonMathieu Perrault).

Moving Forward

Change is an inevitable part of professional hockey.  With this trade, the Capitals have started the ball rolling.  Bourque’s trade does not come as a total surprise, and his value will never be higher than it is at the moment if the team intended to offload him.  Caps Outsider wishes him well with his new team, whether that ends up being the Boston or Providence Bruins.