ST. PAUL, Minn. — Pierre-Marc Bouchard's best asset has again been relegated to patience, instead of skating, passing or other on-ice skills.
The Minnesota Wild right wing is out of action indefinitely after suffering another concussion, raising the question about whether his career is in jeopardy.
"I'm not really thinking about this right now. I'm just trying to focus on getting better as quickly as I can, and we'll see how it goes and where it takes me," Bouchard said Wednesday.
But he's not able to exercise until his headaches subside, which means there's no timetable for his return. The comfort and confidence for him and the team come from the fact that his current symptoms aren't nearly as severe as when he missed 112 of a possible 113 regular-season games over a span from March 2009 to December 2010.
His previous injury was bad enough he couldn't drive or even watch television for periods of time. So he has reasons to be positive and optimistic. But given his history, he has to be cautious and concerned.
"I've been through it. I know my body. I know my symptoms right now, so hopefully those can heal quicker than the last time," Bouchard said.
He's at least used to handling the frustration, helplessness and uncertainty.
"He's not happy. He's doing OK, but he's a hockey player and he wants to play hockey," coach Mike Yeo said, adding: "That's something he's going to have to get past, and he knows that, and that's not an easy thing."
Bouchard was banged into the boards head first late in a game on Dec. 13 by Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian, who was penalized with a major foul but not fined or suspended for the hit that badly bloodied Bouchard's face. The Wild's seven-game losing streak ended that night against the Jets, and they've been struggling since, going 2-8-3.
Bouchard said he experienced some headaches after that but felt "decent enough" to play after resting for a week and missing two games. He said he didn't rush his return because the team was losing. But after playing in eight straight games, Bouchard took an inadvertent elbow to the head while on the forecheck on Jan. 4 at Vancouver and felt more pressure in his head afterward. His eyes got tired quickly, and he felt fatigued.
"So that's how it started," Bouchard said.
He'll have to be symptom-free before he resumes his workouts.
"I'm positive I can come back. The only bad thing about a concussion is you don't know how much time it's going to take," Bouchard said.
He's been wearing a specially designed helmet and mouth guard to help stem the impact of hits to the head, so there's not much he could've done to prevent this. He said he believes the game moves at a much faster pace now than it did his rookie season, 2002-03, and more speed means more chances of injury. His best advice is for the NHL to continue to be strict about unsafe, vengeful acts on the ice.
"There are some accidents out there that can happen, but there are some cheap shots and head shots that have been given," Bouchard said. "So at the end of the day guys have got to be a little bit more smart."
So for Bouchard, "hopefully it's one of those things that doesn't last very long," said right wing Cal Clutterbuck.
Hopefully is the key.
"I'm not a big fan of the word hope. It just means things that are out of your control. That's what this is," Yeo said.
So Bouchard and the Wild will, and must, simply wait for his head to heal.
"Obviously you don't want to rush him," captain Mikko Koivu said. "We all want him to take his time until he feels 100 percent. ... I think he'll be back soon."
Another top-six forward, Guillaume Latendresse, is also on injured reserve recovering from a concussion. The Wild will get one of them back, though, for a challenging stretch of trips to Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Toronto. Right wing Devin Setoguchi will return to the lineup for Thursday's game after being held out of Tuesday's game for missing a morning team meeting. Setoguchi said he apologized to the team for his mistake.
"You've got to be accountable, especially when things aren't going right. It's unacceptable and inexcusable," Setoguchi said.