Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon played all four games against the Lightning and was on the ice for only one Tampa goal all series. However, he knows his ice time could be limited if the Canadiens face the big, bad Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, Montreal Gazette
It’s a spring day in 2012 and Francis Bouillon is talking about his future.
He’s sitting on a sofa in a model apartment at Les Habitations 51, a condo development in the Hochelaga neighbourhood where he grew up.
The building once housed a bingo hall that served as major fundraiser for Les Jeunes Sportifs Hochelaga. When the group ran into financial difficulties, Bouillon and a group of investors bailed it out by buying the property. The 51 in the development name refers to the uniform number Bouillon wore in his first stint with the Canadiens.
Bouillon jokes about his new career as a developer. He also makes it clear he wants to continue playing hockey, but he knows his career may be over. He has had three good seasons in Nashville, but the Predators have told him his services are no longer needed. They have several young defencemen who need playing time and there’s no room for a 5-foot-8, 36-year-old whose medical history includes knee surgery and a concussion that sidelined him for nearly half the 2010-11 season.
Bouillon needs a break, and he gets it less than a week later. On June 5, the Canadiens hire Michel Therrien for his second go-round as head coach. When Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin survey the roster and decide they need to add depth on defence, Therrien recommends Bouillon.
Several teams expressed interest in signing Bouillon when he officially became a free agent on July 1, 2012. But Bouillon was interested in only one offer. When he heard the Canadiens were in the mix, he told agent Don Meehan to make a deal.
Bouillon played all 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He had one goal and eight assists and was plus-4. The Canadiens had their own youth movement on the blue line this season, but with Alexei Emelin coming off knee surgery they brought Bouillon back as an insurance policy.
The veteran was a healthy scratch for 30 games during the regular season. He played only one game between Jan. 22 and March 12. But when the playoffs opened, Bouillon was in the lineup on the third defence pair with Mike Weaver, a trade-deadline pickup.
At first glance, this may be the strangest defensive pairing in this year’s playoffs. The two are similar in age — Weaver is 35 — and stature — Weaver is generously listed at 5-foot-10. They also have similar playing styles, and that’s the major reason they were in the lineup against the Lightning.
“I’m a little surprised to be in the lineup because it’s been a tough season for me, but the Lightning have a lot of fast players and I think that’s why we’re out there,” Bouillon said during the series.
That’s exactly why Therrien went with Bouillon and Weaver over Douglas Murray and Jarred Tinordi, and the decision paid dividends in the Canadiens’ four-game sweep. The Lightning scored 10 goals and Bouillon was on the ice for only one of them. He finished the series with a plus-5 rating, the same as Weaver.
“I wanted Bouillon out there because we all know he’s good in one-on-one situations and he can match their speed,” Therrien said.
Therrien has a good idea of Bouillon’s game because they grew up together in the National Hockey League.
Therrien coached Bouillon with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Laval Titan, and when Therrien moved to the Granby Prédateurs in 1995 he brought Bouillon with him as an overage junior. They were together in 1996 when Granby won the Memorial Cup, ending a 25-year drought for Quebec teams, with Bouillon as the captain.
NHL teams shied away from Bouillon because of his size, but Therrien believed he could play. He convinced the Edmonton Oilers to sign him for the Hamilton Bulldogs, the American Hockey League team they then shared with the Canadiens. Bouillon was discouraged when he was sent to Wheeling in the East Coast Hockey League, but worked his way back to the AHL and eventually signed with the Canadiens as a free agent.
Bouillon bleeds bleu-blanc-rouge, but he had to move to Nashville twice during his career. The Predators claimed him off waivers in 2002, but the Canadiens reclaimed him after only four games.
In 2009, Bouillon was cut loose as part of general manager Bob Gainey’s ill-fated rebuilding project and began his second stint in Nashville.
Bouillon enjoyed his time in Music City and said it was an opportunity for his twin sons — Michael and Anthony — to learn English. At the same time, he was grateful to come back home.
But Bouillon has learned there are few guarantees. While he played well against Tampa, he knows Therrien may opt for a bigger blue line if the Canadiens should face the physical Boston Bruins in the second round.
And then there’s the question of continuing his career beyond this season.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to keep playing,” Bouillon said after a practice this week.
Therrien believes Bouillon can extend his career, but there may not be a spot in Montreal, where youngsters Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn will all be looking for regular employment next season.
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