A look into the life of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and his struggles with concussions nearly derailing his NHL career.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 1st round (8th overall) of the 2002 entry draft and was immediately thrust into a roll with the club. He is the longest tenured player on today's roster and the sole surviving member of the magical run in the 2002-2003 playoff push to the Western Conference Championships where the Wild were dispatched in 4 games by the (Mighty) Ducks of Anaheim. In 533 career NHL games (as of 2-10-2013) he has 330 points (100 goals / 230 assists), netting his 100th career goal on January 29th 2013, a game winner over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The 2005-2006 season was the "coming out" party for PMB, playing in 80 of 82 games netting 17 goals and 42 assists giving him 59 points. He posted similar numbers the following 2 seasons including setting a franchise record for assists in 2007-2008 (50), But late in the 2008-2009 season his troubles began. March 25th, 2009 has been identified as the date that changed PMB's career. At the 7:20 mark of the first period in a game against the Islanders, Bouchard was leveled into the boards by Nate Thompson.
The hit went largely unnoticed and Bouchard finished the game playing for 13:56 and earning an assist in the contest. He would miss the final 8 games of that season with post concussion syndrome.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard would return for the season opener in 2009-2010 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He would play just 14 shifts notching just under 11 minutes of ice time in the game. The Wild's home opener that year was October 6th. After the morning skate Bouchard complained to then Wild coach Todd Richards of headaches and was withheld from the contest and placed back on injured reserve stemming from the concussion suffered almost 7 months prior. He would not see the ice for a game again until December 1, 2011. The concussion from late March 2009 had cost him an entire season and then some, but it was smooth sailing from then on...
December 13, 2011 the concussion devil would rear its ugly self in Bouchards life once again. Though the concussion wasn't made clear immediately, when seeing this hit all of our thoughts went straight back to the lost season. But all was well, or so we thought. Bouchard returned after sitting out for 2 games with a broken nose. Another 8 games would an elbow to the head in Vancouver would reveal the extent of this hit. Bouchard was once again diagnosed with post concussion syndrome for the 2nd time 2 and a half years.
Butch is back this year and was one of only a few players going into the lockout who had not been cleared to play and thus was able to utilize the facilities and training staff for the Minnesota Wild during the lockout. Perhaps the extra time off due to the lockout helped his situation, Bouchard said, "I kind of needed that. It wasn't a great situation for anybody - don't get me wrong here - but it gave me a little but more time to make sure I healed properly". He would eventually be cleared before the short season began, but his production has been less than stellar. Bouchard is in the final year of a 5 year 20.4 million dollar contract and has played only 179 of 339 possible games because of concussions over the life of that contract. Its difficult to speculate on what the Wild front office is thinking right now, but it would not be hard to believe they will not tender him an offer or extend his current contract because of concerns over concussions.
Their has been a lot of talk surrounding the NHL and what needs to be done to curb the epidemic of concussions which we are seeing far too often. Some are quick to blame the enforcer roll and punches to the head. While this may be the case for some traumatic brain injuries, this is not the case for Bouchard. Butch is not a fighter, he is a skill player who has faced some pretty unfortunate circumstances in games. Hits against the boards have triggered 2 concussions, and while one of them was seemingly harmless at the time, it is hard to say the Bogosian hit wasn't dirty, which even earned Zach an early trip to the showers.
Their is no "cure all" for concussions in the NHL. Taking away fighting will not be a magic elixir against concussions. The league has started to crack down on hits targeting the head, and Shanahan has been decent enforcing supplemental discipline in such cases (although sometimes it seems to depend on the name at the receiving end of the hit). At the very least he is taking multiple offenders out of the game for extended periods of time, but they inevitably return and whether or not they learn a lesson from their experience is debatable.
Ultimately, players need to be responsible for their own actions, and keep their bodies in control when hitting, especially when they find a player in a vulnerable position. Bouchard has said "At the end of the day guys gotta be a bit more smart." He acknowledges that accidents happen, but does realize as well their are some cheap shot artists around the league. How we curb the concussion epidemic is anyone's guess. Concussions are a very real problem in the world of contact sports, and their consequences are being felt across all sports as players are suffering as they age or even dying before their time. Its good to see people starting to take this issue seriously, but the cost is already too high, as we are all well aware.
Please check out all the articles being posted today across SB nation about concussions and their affect on the game, and the players on the ice.