After trying to trade him earlier this summer, the Minnesota Wild avoided a salary arbitration hearing with Pierre-Marc Bouchard by re-signing the right-winger to a five-year, US$20.4-million contract.
The deal was finalized late Friday. General manager Doug Risebrough said Saturday he considers the 24-year-old Bouchard still in the developmental stage of his career. His 221 points over five seasons rank second on the club’s all-time list behind Marian Gaborik.
Minnesota’s first-round draft pick in 2002, eighth overall, Bouchard made the team at age 18. Last season he tallied a franchise-best 50 assists to go with 13 goals, after scoring 20 times during the 2006-07 season.
Bouchard, a native of Sherbrooke, Que., was one year away from unrestricted free agency, so he could have waited to see what the market for him would be next summer. But after signing a series of one-year deals, Bouchard was ready to hedge his bet and take the safer route. The Wild’s original offer was for four years, but the two sides were able to agree on five.
“At the end of the day, the players want long term and more security,” Risebrough said, adding: “He wanted to be here. When players are one year away, they can kind of give you the body language that they don’t want to be here. In Butch’s case, I was convinced that he wanted to be here.”
Listed generously at five-foot-10 and 172 pounds, Bouchard is one of the smallest players in the NHL. He has some slick passing skills and nifty spin moves to compensate for that, but his production on the second line has been up and down over the years and his size can be a limitation.
“Pierre-Marc is just 24 years old and the best years of his career are ahead of him,” said Risebrough. “He is a good example of how drafting and developing your own players leads to team success.
“This is why the Wild was willing to make such a substantial and long-term commitment to him.”
The Wild have given out long-term contracts to the other three players – Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns – drafted in the first round over their first four years of existence. Until now, Bouchard was still waiting for his. Risebrough said last month that he wanted to sign him to a multi-year deal, but he made clear he wouldn’t pay too much to do it.
Losing Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, two of their top scorers, through free agency made retaining Bouchard more important. The Wild signed Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen and Owen Nolan to bolster the front lines, but none is considered a 25-goal scorer at this stage of their careers. The Wild have long believed Bouchard has had the potential for that.
Risebrough said he promised Bouchard that he won’t trade him in the first two years of the contract.
Up next on the Wild’s agenda is a new contract for Gaborik, who has one year left on his current deal. If they can’t come to an agreement on an extension, Gaborik might find himself the subject of trade talks.