Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Bouchard's head still cloudy, status unclear; Update on Houston Aeros coaching search

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild off-season news Updated: June 4, 2010 - 1:39 PM

Good afternoon from 37,000 over Ontario. I'm directly north of Kitchener, west of Guelph and soon will be flying over the southern Ontario city that so desperately desires an NHL team and used to be home of the World Basketball League Skyhawks -- Hamilton.

Yes, I actually covered the old WBL. Go Florida Jades!

Just before the doors closed on my flight, Pierre-Marc Bouchard graciously phoned (Canadian verb) me back with an update on his situation.

As you know, Bouchard, who's got the second-most assists in Wild history and third-most points, missed every game last season but the season opener because of a concussion,

I was told by the Wild the other day that he's begun "lightly exercising," but Bouchard said he's "not really exercising" yet and still feels some effects of post-concussion syndrome. He's got an appointment Monday in Boston with concussion specialist Robert Cantu, the Boston University neurologist who's treated a number of NHLers, including the Wild's Brent Burns and Bruins' Marc Savard.

Bouchard says he'll have a much better idea Monday as to where he stands.

You can read more in Saturday's newspaper, but Bouchard said he's "pretty positive" he'll be able to play next season, but "you never know." He says there's been definite progression, but even though he's got good days, there are also times where the pressure in his head and other symptoms return.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher met last week with Bouchard's agent Allan Walsh. I don't know the details of the meeting, but I know Fletcher has said he'd like updates on Bouchard's situation this offseason because he's got some big decisions to make this summer.

Is Bouchard going to be the Wild's second-line center next season or does Fletcher have to react and find a fix?

Again, this is a tricky situation for the Wild because it must save room for Bouchard's $4.08 million cap hit. Now, if Bouchard's not ready by the start of the season, the team can put him on LTIR and spend up to his $4.08 number over the cap. The problem there though is say Bouchard's suddenly able to return at some point in the season, the Wild would then immediately have to get under the cap.

Plus, there is a budget, too. The Wild's a cap ceiling team (expected to be around $58.8 million), but that doesn't necessarily mean Fletcher's allowed to spend over that in real dollars. Of course, if Bouchard misses a large amount of time, insurance eventually kicks in at 80 percent, I believe.

Regardless, this is a difficult situation and the best case scenario of course is Bouchard being able to return. There's more than three months before the start of training camp Sept. 17, so he's got plenty of time still to get right.

The Wild certainly needs him, but one does have to wonder how this long time off will affect him as a player. Remember, by September, he'll have not played hockey (other than exhibition games, skates last summer and the season opener) in 18 months.

-- I mentioned yesterday how the Wild's starting to bring draft-eligible players in to Minnesota for further testing and interviewing. I've gotten some emails. The Wild's bringing about five guys in from outside the area, but yes, they are bringing a number of Minnesotans in like Nick Bjugstad and Derek Forbort.

-- The Wild continues to interview candidates for the vacant coaching job in Houston. It recently interviewed Grand Rapids, Minn., native Kurt Kleinendorst, the current Under-18 USA National Team coach and former coach of Lowell (AHL). There have been many others interviewed by assistant to the GM Jim Mill.

I believe the Wild's also being patient because Chicago assistant coach John Torchetti and Columbus interim coach Claude Noel are expected to become available. Noel is Wild coach Todd Richards' mentor, and Torchetti will be a candidate for the Atlanta Thrashers.

The big question with Torchetti: My gut says Thrashers GM Rick Dudley's dream would be to hire both Torchetti and Boston Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay onto Atlanta's coaching staff, but can he get both in there and if let's say Ramsay's the head coach and Torchetti's offered associate coach, would Torchetti want that or would he want to be a head coach?

Nevertheless, this is why the Wild's being patient with this search. There's no rush.

-- Got some questions about Wild scouting situation. There will be no deletions. Fletcher's extended the contracts of a number of scouts, and the team will likely add one scout in Sweden and maybe, but only maybe, one more in North America. 

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