March 29, 2013

Philippe Boucher

It took a while, but Philippe Boucher emerged as a solid NHL defenseman.

A spectacular junior player out of Granby, Quebec, the Buffalo Sabres selected Boucher 13th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He played parts of three rather underwhelming seasons in Buffalo before being traded in a blockbuster to Los Angeles with Denis Tsygurov and Grant Fuhr for Alexei Zhitnik, Robb Stauber, Charlie Huddy and a draft pick.

Though he would spend the bulk of his career in LA (parts of 8 seasons), he really struggled to stay in the lineup. He was a finesse player through and through. He thrived on his slap shot and he saw the ice and moved the puck well. But he was slow, lacked upper body strength and much of a physical game at all, and could be caught by surprise defensively. As a result, he struggled to get a lot of ice time at times in LA.

In 2002 Boucher signed with the Dallas Stars, reuniting himself with coach Dave Tippett. By 2005 Boucher emerged as a star player as he quarterbacked the Dallas power play. He scored 16 goals and 43 points in 2005-06. He followed that up with 19 goals and 51 points in 2006-07. That year he got the chance (thanks to an injury to Scott Niedermayer) to play in the NHL All Star Game held right in Dallas.

You would think that All Star moment would have been one of the greatest moments of Boucher's career. It should have been an affirmation of his hockey excellence after all those hard years to get there. Instead, it was a bitter-sweet moment. His father was back home in Quebec dying of pancreatic cancer. Boucher was originally going to use the break in the NHL schedule to visit his father before the All Star call came. Boucher seriously considered declining, but it was his father who insisted Philippe play in the game.

"My dad said I was going to play, that it was a big honour. So that's what I am going to do."

In 2008-09 Boucher was moved to Pittsburgh where he helped Sidney Crosby and the Penguins win the Stanley Cup! When hoisting the Stanley Cup, Boucher knew what no one else knew at that time - that he would never play another game again.

"I have always admired athletes that have retired as champions and I am humbled to have the chance to count myself among them," said Boucher when he announced his retirement in the summer.

Philippe Boucher finished his career with exactly 300 points (94 goals, 206 assists) in 748 games.

No comments: