Sign Rene Bourque. Now.

Darryl Sutter isn't going to have a lot of decisions to make next summer. Almost all of his blueline is locked up long term and most of the forward free agents are guys like McGrattan Lundmark, Nystrom and Conroy - depth players that could be re-signed or replaced without too much fuss. Oh...and Olli Jokinen. Recent improvement notwithstanding, I think that particular decision won't be a difficult one.

The lone exception, however, may be Rene Bourque. I opined during the summer that Bourque may be in line for a step backwards this season, if only because the the hockey gods were kind to him last year and he led the team in terms of on-ice SH% and SV%. Well, he regressed to the mean in that regard (at least in terms of SV%) but it hasn't mattered: despite a tough assignment, most of Bourques counting and advanced stats are good-to-excellent. He was the best forward on the team in October when Jokinen and Iginla were playing like someone had slept with their wives and kept calling them before every game to remind them of it.

No, in direct defiance of my prognostications, Bourque has taken a very real step forward this season and is now, in my never humble estimation, a driver of results and one of the key members of the Flames forward group. He's also just 28 years old and thus right in the meaty part of the typical NHLers development curve. The only potential complaint one might have of Bourque is his injury-prone-ness, but that's a fairly minor quibble. A guy who can skate, hit, win board battles, move the puck north, play against the big boys and do some damage on both special teams probably deserves a 10 games off a season even if his leg/arm/back/face isn't hurting, right?

The reasons to re-sign Bourque are glaring and not really subject to argument at this point. The reason to sign him as soon as possible is probably equally as obvious: he gets incrementally more expensive with every successive good game he plays. If Bourque finishes anywhere near the 79 point pace he's currently on, he'll hold the hammer in negotiations come July.

You scooped a keeper from Chicago, Darryl. Well done. Now let's get his name on a decent value contract as soon as possible.

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