“A man will sometimes devote all his life to the development of one part of his body – the wishbone” this quote by famous poet Robert Frost talks about how some people are driven by what they wish to be true. We all know the type; the glass half full people who are doing their best to always approach life by looking at the “bright side.” Optimistic, wishful are all euphemisms of these people who spend their lives hoping the best happens to them. They may be working for that great moment to take place while others simply believe they’ll “get lucky” someday. Can you think of anyone who waits for the Powerball or some other lottery game to get a pretty sizeable prize and then plays their “lucky numbers” with the hope of striking it rich? Do you have lucky numbers of your own? I know I do; 7, 17, 27, 37 and 77. See a pattern? Yet I don’t play the lottery at all, no matter how big the jackpot gets. However, wishful thinking can be dangerous; as anyone who knows or has an addicted gambler in their family can tell you. Their optimistic search for the ‘big score’ often leaves their families with huge debts, savings accounts gone and in serious trouble. Now it may seem as though I’m picking on those who are wishful, optimistic people who really believe thinking positively will bring about positive actions in their lives but the main point I’m making is that all too often those hopes do not come true but that is not always the case.
In a book I read for a graduate class called Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl he wrote about his vision to somehow survive one of the worst human tragedies in recent memory made a difference in the outcome. He said in his book, “Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” While I am not sure you could call it positive thinking, he chose an attitude of survival and did whatever he could to do so. It really says alot about dealing with adversity, even something as total and monumental as the holocaust and yet still being able to create a mindset to overcome those odds no matter how bleak his situation must have appeared. His book and his thoughts on his experiences certainly attest to how profound that can be, and he also notes that many of those who did not survive were people who literally felt their life was over and simply waited for the end. Even people as Frankl so candidly described as being “better people” (more kind, generous, etc) than himself. So why am I talking about wishful thinking here now, and how does this relate to hockey? I am writing this to discuss the current injury / recovery situation of Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Yes, I realize that the injury situation of an NHL player is extremely trivial in comparison to what Frankl experienced in the Holocaust and in no way am I saying that their challenges are similar or equal but what I am trying to ask you out there is whether this guy is simply a person with a vision to improve his condition or is he the addicted gambler who is letting the last of his money ride on a single lottery ticket.
In some recent comments he gave to Wild.com’s blogger Glen Andreasen, Bouchard says his recovery from a concussion is at about 90%. (cue the sound of a scratching record or the sound of a car screeching to a halt) 90%?!?! The Pierre-Marc Bouchard says he feels about 90% recovered from his concussion even though he only began light workouts as late as the 2nd week of July and still has not skated yet even though he expects to be cleared by doctors for ‘light skating’ soon. I am not going to go as far to call Bouchard a liar, but if you still haven’t been skating since an injury you originally sustained in October of last year can you really say you’re 90% back to being healthy? I’ve had a concussion or two in my life, and I even played sports with a concussion and even though my ears were ringing a bit I still managed to do everything I had to do as an athlete in the setting of competition. However, according to Bouchard he’s on the cusp of being recovered and he still hasn’t skated? Doesn’t that seem a bit overly optimistic to call that 90% recovered? If that was all that he said you may just assume perhaps he was exaggerating a little and went on with your day, but Bouchard took it a step further. He also told wild.com that he hopes to be ready for training camp. (cue the sound of that same car screeching to a halt and then crashing into something) So for a guy who still hasn’t started working out since mid-July and still hasn’t skated since early October of 2009 and mind you its almost through the first week of August and he thinks he’ll be ready for training camp in mid-September? Pardon me when I’ll say I’ll believe it when I see it.
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I am a coach of a contact sport (football) and I too am very familiar with concussions and the varying lengths of recovery from such injuries. I do recognize that every person reacts to differently to them, but in my experience when a player suffers a concussion so severe that they can’t even do mild workouts whether it be walking or biking that those athletes are often irreparably damaged. I am not a doctor, but even doctors and athletic trainers would say studies show mixed results on whether a concussion leads to an increased risk of having more in the future; yet all agree that to continue to have them will lead to permanent brain damage. It is not a good idea to risk one’s health foolishly, even if it means giving up a career where you’re making millions of dollras like Bouchard is but to still not be skating 10 months after your injury and yet expect in a month to be ready to perform at an NHL training camp seems ludicrous. Bouchard only began “light workouts” in mid-July and prior to that he wasn’t really doing much of anything at all. The amount of atrophy in his muscles, his conditioning will take him a very long time for him to return to where he was before his concussion. I don’t care what athletic training staff that you may have at your disposal I just don’t think its realistic to expect him to be able to perform at 100% at training camp. So let me take this a step further.
Is it better for the Wild to have Pierre-Marc Bouchard out of the lineup as he was for 81 games of the 2009-10 season? I do not think his body will be ready or durable enough to handle the demands of Wild Head Coach Todd Richards‘ system. We barely got a glimpse as to how well Bouchard could perform in a two-man forechecking system where it will require him to skate hard into the corners and battle for the puck along the boards and attempt to outleg the defenseman in the process. That will invite regular collisions and does that sound like a system that bodes well for a player who has gone 10 months without skating due to post-concussion symptoms? If you’re a guy who was out for 10 months from a concussion how hard are you going to race into the corner for a puck with your 5’10″, 170lbs frame as you see a 6’4″, 225lbs defenseman also racing for the same thing? You think you’re going to really drive to the corner to get their first or are you going to slow up and let big blueliner gather up the puck? At that point, can you really be relied upon to be an effective forechecker as Richards’ system dictates? If you can’t be fearless and win that race for the puck you become a liability. Many Wild fans take joy in criticising Andrew Brunette‘s lack of speed and say he’s a liability forechecking-wise, the same would have to be said for a player who shied away from going into the corners. Yet the reasons to suggest that Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s absense from the lineup may be more of a blessing go beyond his durability and willingness to do what it takes to be a forechecker.
If Bouchard returns where do you put him? The top line of Andrew Brunette, Mikko KoivuAntti Miettinen; with a likely 2nd line of Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen and Martin Havlat. That demotes Pierre-Marc Bouchard to the 3rd line, a place typically saved for aggressive energy type of checking forwards. Chuck Kobasew, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Eric Nystrom seem like far more likely candidates for that type of assignment so now if he’s not on the 3rd line where do you put him? The 4th line? That does not seem to make much sense either where he may be placed on a line with Brad Staubitz, Casey Wellman or James Sheppard. A skilled player like Bouchard would be a tremendous waste of talent to have him play anywhere other than the top 2 lines but as I previously mentioned I do not see him displacing those players that already had a full season to develop chemistry. When you add into it the fact that Bouchard draws a $4.25 million salary next season, the 2nd highest amongst Wild forwards next season and would make him a very overpaid role player. If Bouchard is unable to be healthy, then the team can again place him on Long Term Injury and use 80% of his salary (which equates to about $3.4 million) under the salary cap to perhaps add another player. Some fans think he could be a huge offensive boost for the Wild, which is a team that has always been in search of more firepower up front. Perhaps he could, but even in his last season where he managed to stay healthy he was coming off his biggest season-to-season point drop in his career. He struggled to find his mojo without Brian Rolston and his heavy slap shot to set up. At his salary, the team cannot afford their $4.2+ million player to produce just 46 points in 71 games as he did in 2008-09. That is not good value, and if he is placed on the 3rd line could he really be expected to score considerably more than that? Probably not. and
So on the slim chance that Pierre-Marc Bouchard would read this, perhaps another passage from Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning will inspire him, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” Attitude can make a significant difference, but ultimately it still is at the mercy over what his body will allow him to do. I think any athlete would be anxious and wanting to get back into the swing of things, but sometimes your body just won’t cooperate. It may seem harsh to say that Bouchard being out of the lineup would be a blessing to the Wild, but if he’s not at 100% I think he’d be a significant liability both in terms of placing him in the lineup as well as his exorbitant salary. Then again he could prove me wrong, but look at Nashville Predators’ Steve Sullivan. After his long ordeal he hasn’t nearly been the same player. It does not make me hopeful that Bouchard will just return and be the player he was before the concussion.