Happy Sunday Funday to you all. If you’re a Wild fan, you’ll want to catch KFAN on Monday morning from 9-noon, when I’ll be filling in for Paul Allen.
Three of my guests will be GM Chuck Fletcher (9:20) and newcomers Matt Cooke (10:20) and Keith Ballard (11:35). I also will be talking to the Star Tribune baseball writer, Lavelle E. Neal The Third at 9:35 a.m. and the always entertaining Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports at 9:55.
Have any questions for them? Feel free to leave a comment here, leave one on www.facebook.com/startribunemikerusso or tweet me at @russostrib.
Maybe it’s because so much has been going on the past week, maybe it’s because it was known and assumed the parting of ways was coming, but there has been little fanfare about Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s Wild career officially coming to an end last week. He signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Islanders.
But I talked to “Butch” this morning after we missed each other the past few days and he wanted to say thank you to the fans and to the Wild organization for 11 years in Minnesota.
“It was a great run,” said Bouchard, 29, drafted eighth overall in 2002. “Eleven years with one team, it was a great run. Just getting drafted by that team in the first round and making the playoffs my first year there. It was a fun run to get to the conference final [in 2003]. We won the division [in 2008]. Every time we made the playoffs, it was always a fun time to play in Minnesota in front of our fans.
“Most of all, I just want to thank the Wild organization for all those years and the fans, my friends over there. They gave me a lot of support for all those years, and it was a great time. We really enjoyed our time in Minnesota – my teammates and all the staff that work for the team. It was a great run.
“Minnesota will always be a special place for me.”
Bouchard was the last Wild player still on its roster who played on the 2003 club that advanced to the Western Conference finals and captured the hearts of a hockey state (Bouchard’s pal and ping-pong opponent, Stephane Veilleux, played 38 games that season but none in the playoffs).
“I’ll miss Minnesota,” Bouchard said. “I really will. Knowing that I’m not coming back to Minny for training camp, it is kind of weird, but at the same time, it’s part of the business, and I’m really looking forward to a fresh start with the Islanders.”
In a lot of ways, Bouchard is returning to the scene of the crime. Bouchard was developing into one of the NHL’s best playmakers when the team signed him to a five-year, $20.4 million contract just prior to an arbitration hearing in July 2008.
But on March 25, 2009, Bouchard was run hard in the corner of the Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum. Jacques Lemaire was so bothered by the hit, the Wild’s then-coach lost his temper talking about it in a postgame interview.
“That’s true. [Nate] Thompson,” Bouchard said.
Little did anybody know at the time that Bouchard’s career would be turned upside down starting with that check. He didn’t even get through the 2009-10 season opener at Columbus and was lost for the final 81 games. Bouchard wasn’t seen from again in an NHL sweater for 14 months.
Bouchard returned Dec. 1, 2010, lasted the season but was concussed again the following December when hit from behind in the waning seconds of a game by Zach Bogosian in Winnipeg. He missed two games, returned, never quite felt right and was finally sidelined the rest of the season following an innocuous hit from Vancouver’s Chris Higgins in the final seconds of a game Jan. 4, 2011.
Bouchard spent all of last season healthy, scoring eight goals and 12 assists in 43 games.
“Last season, healthwise, was big,” Bouchard said. “There were a lot of positives about it. There was a question mark after those concussions I had. Last year, I felt good physically. I didn’t have any symptoms.
“Hockey-wise, first half was a little slow, but after that, I thought I played some pretty good hockey and I felt my game was coming back.”
There were never any contract talks between the Wild and Bouchard this offseason. He met with General Manager Chuck Fletcher after the season and “both of us kind of had an idea it was the end with the Wild.”
It was just time for the parting of ways. Since signing that five-year deal, Bouchard played only 211 of 376 games (56 percent) and wasn’t as productive, scoring 45 goals and 126 points. With youngsters like Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter on the scene, the torch is being passed.
Bouchard is most effective in a top-6 role, but he mostly played the third or fourth line last season. He was scratched four times when Zucker began to excel, but after Zucker got hurt, a motivated Bouchard returned to the lineup and to top form, registering four 2-point games in the next six games.
Now he heads to the young, rising Islanders, who made life difficult on the Penguins in last season’s playoffs, and hopes to rekindle his game on a one-year contract so he can gain more security next summer on a new deal.
“They’re really young and they’re going in the right direction,” Bouchard said. “They made the playoffs last year. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skill. I think it’s a good fit for my kind of game.”
In Wild history, Bouchard ranks second with 565 games, fourth with 106 goals, second with 241 assists and third with 347 points. It’ll just be strange without No. 96 in a Wild sweater.