When healthy, Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been one of the most reliable players in the Wild lineup, until this season, that is. Butch started out the season on the third line with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck, notching a goal and an assist in the first two games of the season. The offense would then dry up for #96 as he would score just one goal and two assists in the next 18 games while notching a negative-2 rating. During that time, he fluctuated between the second, third and fourth lines, and was even a healthy scratch in three consecutive games. With the emergence of young guns Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, it appeared Bouchard was now the odd man out.
However, in the past three games since being reinserted into the lineup, Butch has made a statement with a goal and four assists for five points and a plus-3 rating. Bouchard has once again been his incredibly brilliant self and has been a key cog on Minnesota’s red hot second line with Cup-winning veteran center Matt Cullen and lethal young goal-scorer Devin Setoguchi. The second line has been great in general during the latter part of this season, with Coach Yeo being able to alternate guys like Bouchard, two time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley and rookie speedster Jason Zucker on the opposite wing of Setoguchi. So, while Bouchard has certainly benefitted the secondary scoring, he isn’t the only option to play with Cullen and Seto.
The question many Wild fans are asking right now is if Bouchard is more beneficial as a seasoned veteran to help lead the team to a deep playoff run, or as trade bait to the right partner. One thing you can be sure of is that his stock has never been higher this season and, with the trade deadline set for April 3rd, teams are taking a serious look at the 8th overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
My gut tells me that Minnesota is keeping their options open. Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has been testing the trade waters this season with smaller swaps with the Rangers, Senators and Capitals. In doing so, Minnesota has acquired two draft picks and a quality fourth line character player in Mike Rupp, and freed up contract space for any UFA/Collegiate UFA signings, while removing a cancer (Nick Palmieri) from the locker room. It’s no secret that staff from the Penguins, Canadiens and other NHL teams have attended Wild games this season, looking for valid trade options. The most recent episode being last night when the Habs’ Assistant GM took in the Wild/Canucks game that saw Bouchard notch two assists in the Wild’s 3-1 victory. As I tweeted last night—if you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, shame on you)—Bouchard would be a perfect fit for the Canadiens. He’s a very smooth playmaker and would complement the Habs’ system quite well. To top it off, he’s French Canadian, too!
Like I said, though, Minnesota will likely keep their options open. While he is unlikely to be re-signed during the offseason because of the emergence of the young guns, he would make a tremendous asset to the team if they are going to make a deep playoff run. However, if Chuck Fletcher feels an offer is the best he can get for the oft-injured winger, he’ll jump on it. Better to get the best deal now, than get a fourth round pick for the negotiating rights to a new contract. You never know, though; depending on how well Bouchard plays, Fletcher could pull a San Jose and sign him to a new deal and trade him the next day at the draft for more assets than negotiating rights would net. I’d like to believe Chuck Fletcher has more moral fiber than that, but business is business—and running an NHL franchise is business. Fletcher knows what he’s doing and, if keeping or trading Bouchard is the best thing for this team, so be it. If it means more wins and a deep playoff run, then that’s ok, too.