By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After Marc Savard took to Twitter on Jan. 22 to officially announce his retirement from the NHL, memories were stirred.
“Yeah, anytime [something like that happens] it brings back memories of having to retire when you don’t want to,” Bruins president Cam Neely told me days ago. “But obviously he came here when things started to turn around. And I know he was well-liked by our fan base, but more importantly, it was just a matter of most people don’t get to retire the way they want to.”
There are two legacies Savard left here in Boston. The first was the lesson about the fragility of a career, the same one Neely learned when his playing days were cut short. No one is guaranteed to play more than the 807 games Savard logged in the NHL, even when one signs a cap-friendly seven-year contract extension (worth just north of $4 million per season) at 32 years old.
Second, there’s the legacy of what Savard’s signing with the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $20 million contract on July 1, 2006, and his ensuing production, meant to the team. They had become something of a league-wide laughingstock after management misread what the landscape for player acquisitions would look like after the lockout-lost season of 2004-05.
For what he did to help the Bruins get back on the road to relevance, and eventually a championship, Savard should be honored sometime soon at TD Garden.
“He had a huge impact in our offense,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. “And I learned a lot from him, on the power play or being patient with the puck. Obviously, I wasn’t and I’m not the passer that he was but you learn a thing or two and you could tell he wanted results all the time, he wanted to be that guy that would make the plays.”
Savard’s influence on Bergeron’s offensive instincts was just one of the myriad of ways he helped the Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and he continues to make an impact. He helped re-establish the Bruins as a destination organization and planted the seeds for them to be a perennial winning organization when he, and Zdeno Chara, decided to become Bruins in the summer of 2006.
The Bruins had just completed a playoff-less season, had traded Joe Thornton and were transitioning their general manager position from Mike O’Connell to Peter Chiarelli, who was hired from Ottawa. Interim general manager Jeff Gorton was handling the Bruins’ free-agent business while Chiarelli was still serving out his contract with the Senators.
“I think we signed very close to each other,” Chara said. “I’m not really sure who was the first and who was the second. But obviously that day we became free and ended up signing to the same team. It was exciting because I knew what a good player he was to play against him and now we’d be on the same team, it made it nice and easy.”
The Bruins missed the playoffs one more time in 2006-07 under coach Dave Lewis, but the true impact of Savard and Chara’s arrival was felt after coach Claude Julien took over the team and established an identity and a style that would get the Bruins to the playoffs well beyond the length of Savard’s career.
Savard had 305 points (74 goals, 231 assists) in 304 games over five seasons with the Bruins. Like Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Blake Wheeler all had Savard to look at as a mentor. Savard had learned to be more of a 200-foot player while in Atlanta, and he brought that along with his magical offensive powers to Boston when the Bruins when they needed it most, an organization in danger of falling into a rut of mediocrity that could’ve lasted years.
What happened to him from there has been well-documented. The hit from Matt Cooke in March 2010 started Savard’s health problems and his premature return for the playoffs that season didn’t help. Then Matt Hunwick’s hit in January 2011 basically ended any hopes Savard had of playing again.
Although Chara and Bergeron are two of the most dedicated athletes to ever put on a Bruins sweater, their appreciation of how precious their careers are and how important it is to work hard every moment possible is hammered home by Savard’s plight.
“That’s something that the doctors have always told me, that’s what’s so tough with concussions, you don’t know,” said Bergeron, who had his own battles with concussions from 2007-2011. “It’s the unknown and you don’t know how to treat it necessarily, it always differs from one guy to another. So yeah I do think about that. It’s unfortunate that Savvy went that way and I feel pretty lucky that I was able to overcome it and feel good.”
Said Chara: “It’s really unfortunate sometimes that these injuries do happen and sometimes it’s short-term, sometimes it’s long-term and sometimes it’s very unfortunate that it’s ending a career. … But yeah, it makes me appreciate every game.”
Savard only played 25 games in 2010-11 and was unavailable for the playoffs, but he was able to get his name etched on the Stanley Cup after a petition to the NHL by the Bruins. He participated in the championship parade days after the win in Vancouver. Although the Bruins eventually traded away his rights, he’s still vocal about his support for Boston and his Twitter avatar is him in his Bruins sweater.
The Bruins shouldn’t miss the opportunity to commemorate someone who had a great career cut short, someone who was responsible for a major turning point in the franchise’s history. There have been rumblings in the front office of doing something for Savard, and the Bruins shouldn’t hesitate. The Bruins might not want to distract from what they’ve accomplished this season and the stretch run ahead, but with their spot in the standings so comfortable right now, seeing Savard and reflecting on his accomplishments might be the perfect way to keep their juices flowing and recall what it took to reach the top of the league. It also wouldn’t hurt to get Savard around the Bruins’ handful of rookies who’ll be going through the playoff gauntlet for the first time.
Savard has gone from one of the Bruins’ greatest players to one of their greatest cheerleaders. Certainly, a public tribute is due him, if for no other reason than the Bruins and their fans could say a well-deserved thank you.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.