One of the best players from the early days of the Minnesota Wild decided to hang up his pads today. According to reports, Pierre-Marc Bouchard retired after a 13-year career in professional hockey, citing lingering issues from concussions.
Wild fans will remember him from his 10 years in Minnesota, where he's near the top of many franchise records. He finishes his career 2nd in franchise history in Assists, 3rd in Games Played, Points, and Shots, and 4th in Goals.
He was drafted 8th overall in 2002 out of Chicoutimi (QMJHL), where he put up an absurd 140 points- a total only surpassed since by Sidney Crosby and Alexander Radulov. As per standard operating procedure in the Doug Risebrough Era, Bouchard was quickly thrown into the NHL at the age of 18, where he actually did well with his 13 minutes a game, scoring 7 goals and 13 assists.
But PMB didn't really hit his stride until the 2005-06 season. Coming off a year in Houston (due to the lockout), Bouchard was given a bigger role on both even strength and the power play, and he ran with it. His 59 points were 3rd on the team, and he tied for the team lead with 31 points on the power play. He would go on to enjoy a run of success at a time when the Wild were most competitive (up to that point), scoring 179 points (50G-129A) from the 05-06 to 07-08 seasons. In 2008, he signed a 5 year, $20M contract to keep him in the fold long-term.
Sadly, his career would start to fall apart the next season. Late in the year, Bouchard took a hit from Nate Thompson in a game against the Islanders. The hit didn't earn a penalty, but it was enough to end Bouchard's year.
It's not particularly uncommon for a concussion to force someone out for an 8-game stretch. What is uncommon (and downright scary) is when that concussion doesn't heal over the course of months. Sadly, that's what happened to Bouchard, whose road to recovery over the summer ended when his concussion symptoms returned in the first game of the 09-10 season. That game would be his only one of the season, essentially missing an entire year of hockey.
It wouldn't be hard to blame a player for ending his career then and there, but Bouchard was determined to return to hockey, and was finally able to play again on December 1st, 2010. For a player coming off a year plus of no hockey (not to mention playing on a bad team), PMB did remarkably well, scoring 12 goals and 26 assists in 59 games, and he continued to play a big role on the team into the next season.
Unfortunately, the thing with concussions is once you get one, you're susceptible to more. On December 11th, 2011, Bouchard was boarded in the last minute of a game by then-Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian.
Bouchard missed two games before returning, and he wouldn't be diagnosed with a concussion until 8 games later, when he took a second hit to the head in Vancouver. Bouchard would miss the remainder of the 11-12 season. He returned the next season in a reduced role, helping the Wild to the playoffs with 8 goals and 12 assists. He also was a major factor in the Wild's lone playoff win against the Blackhawks, scoring a goal and assisting on Jason Zucker's OT-winner.
But the summer of 2013 saw Bouchard's contract with the Wild expire, and he would move on to the Islanders for a year before signing in Switzerland's National League A, where he led the league in scoring en route to capturing MVP honors.
To some, Bouchard's legacy in Minnesota will be tainted by his lack of scoring and his injuries. There was a loud faction of fans who felt he was too small, too "soft", and too pass-happy to be the impact player most expect from a #8 overall pick.
Personally, I'll be sad if that's how Bouchard is remembered by Wild fans. Bouchard was perhaps the most creative player in Wild history, and was capable of either making sharp passes or using his speed and puck-handling to dance through defenses. He was often Brian Rolston's running mate in Minnesota, and it's no coincidence that Rolston enjoyed his very best years with Bouchard setting him up. On a team that had very few people that could drive play, Bouchard would always supplement his offense with his puck possession ability. He was an excellent player- one of the best the Wild ever drafted- and it's downright tragic that concussions stole his career.
Here's to hoping that Bouchard enjoys a happy, healthy retirement. In the meantime, let's take a few minutes to appreciate just how skilled the man was.