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concussed, nonplussed

February 5, 2011

A more apt title for this post would actually be “Marc Savard: Why I am not concerned about the Bruins in light of his pending season or career-ending concussion.” While some are worried, confused, uncertain, I am not. Perhaps it seems strange that a die-hard Bruins fan would be comfortable with the injury of the team’s previously top-line center, skilled playmaker and $5 million a year man. But, the truth is, I am not concerned. The brutal but clean hit into the boards delivered by Matt Hunwick in a match against the Colorado Avalanche two weeks ago was devastating, in many respects. Given Matt Cooke’s heinous hit to Savard last April, the last thing in the world anyone in the NHL wanted to see was another concussion for Savard. And boom. It happens again. Savard was slowly regaining his former speed and finesse, after two months of struggling with turnovers and flimsy plays. It seemed he was growing into his old self, though he was admittedly still not “all there.” It is times like these that one needs to take a step away from hockey and look at the human being beneath the jersey, at the brain under the helmet. This is a person. And perhaps the end of his career came just two Saturdays ago. And perhaps that is not the worst thing in the world. It is a crying shame that concussions and in particular, blindside lateral hits, have affected scores of players in the NHL at the rate they have. The new NHL rule banning such hits is a great improvement, but it still lacks teeth. For any enforcement to be a worthwhile deterrent, the punishment must be strong. And at the present, it is not. There is a great difference between a hit and a blindside hit targeting the head, so for those concerned such rules will “take hitting out of the game” I think they should reflect on the wide range of perfectly clean “hits” delivered each and every night on rinks across the NHL. But enough of that.

I’d like to posit something perhaps controversial: that the end of Savard’s season is okay for the Bruins. In fact, it may be preferable. Looking at team unity, the psychological fragility of the club as of late and finally, its depth at center as it currently stands in the big club as well as in its prospect pool, the last of Marc Savard is not something to fret over. If anything, a bright(er) future lies ahead.

On team unity, ever since the disastrous series against Philadelphia last spring, during which Savard returned, his play has been scrutinized, and over the summer, his status with the team questioned constantly. I can only imagine the stress of wondering whether Savard’s salary, his health or countless other factors would lead to further disruption to team dynamics and play. He became a poster-boy for concussions, and his battle with post-concussion syndrome was public. The Bruins are no stranger to the ramifications of concussions, with Patrice Bergeron having suffered his own two years ago and Krejci as well just this season. But Savard was the poster-boy, and perhaps that attention was too much. Savard’s attempt at returning to play too soon during the Flyers series will forever be linking to the fateful collapse of the time during that same series. Savard is older, with many games to his name. His youth is not that of Krejci or Bergeron, blossoming talents with years ahead. Savard is solidly in the past, and his resurrection this season was always one of awkward shifts and line shuffles, questioned plays and uncertain NESN press interviews. We weren’t ready. He wasn’t ready.

Leading to the next point, one which is directly related to the team’s breakdown in the playoffs, is its fragility psychologically. The Bruins are fully capable of pulling out massive wins against the likes of the Flyers, Penguins, Capitals and others. But sometimes they fumble—even against the weakest of opponents. The Bruins possess the talent and the depth to make them true contenders. And yet, so often, their play is that of a lesser team. While some have pointed to coaching, I think this points to something else—a certain fragility and lack of confidence. I think this was once more associated with the uncertainty of Savard’s role on the team, of the lines and their chemistry or lack thereof. With Savard removed from the equation, I think the team stands to stride forward. Some of their best play has come in his absence. Whether that points to locker room issues or not, I do not know. But I do know the Bruins are just fine without him.

Finally, in a topic that was heavily discussed over the summer with respect to both second overall draft pick Tyler Seguin and the Bruins’ conundrum of scraping the salary cap, there is the team’s depth at center and its prospects. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are top-flight centers, Tyler Seguin is a natural at the position, despite some shuffling around at wing this season, and Gregory Campbell has thus far presented himself as an excellent, gritty fourth-line center capable of winning face-offs and setting us his wings for goals. Four centers, four lines. Savard never quite fitted. Beyond this, the Bruins have made a habit of drafting many, many centers in recent drafts. In fact, in my opinion, a frightening number of centers. Perhaps it’s a result of the brilliance that can be demonstrated at the position in terms of hockey IQ and playmaking at a young age (while defensemen and goalies so often take longer to develop and wingers are more fickle in their goal-scoring). Or perhaps they were just the best available players. But already, the Bruins have Zach Hamill, Joe Colborne, Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner and Maxime Sauve in the pipeline. All centers. At that position, there is no reason to despair.

And should Savard have played his last game of hockey, there is no reason to despair on that front, either.

 

 

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