Thursday, January 27, 2011

Unlucky Marc Savard

Diverting from my normal commentary subjects today, into a sport I hardly write about (though follow fervently), would like to say a few things about hockey player Marc Savard. Note there are many videos I have embedded here. I've a soft spot for the guy.

Savard is one of the few amazingly talented NHL players I have had the opportunity to watch, that is to say given my age, encompassing the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, and as is the subject of this post, he has suffered numerous injuries, including two concussions in less than a year, neither of which are at all his fault.

Many times a player gets a headshot or a concussion it is half his own fault. Either he's got his head down, or he turns his back at the last second, or he's going up the Trolley Tracks, which I am surprised and delighted that this Don Cherryism made it's way into the Urban Dictionary. “Suicide pass” for the rest of you's.

See what I did there? ...Ah shucks, okay, moving on.

Not Marc Savard though. No, Savard is in the statistically insignificant < 5% margin of things.

Marc Savard was drafted a remarkable 91st overall by the New York Rangers in 1995 (in other words, don't believe the rookie draft hype by TSN). Marc would turn into one of the top players in the league in due time, though he didn't even play in the AHL for Hartford until 1997. He didn't become a full-time NHL'er until 1999 when he was traded in the off season to Calgary.

He recorded his first point-per-game season, though cut short, in 2003-04 with the Atlanta Thrashers. Following the lockout in '04-'05 he spent the time in Europe like many other players. As anyone who follows hockey knows, he lit it up the rink with fellow teammates Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk which stood as the top firepower line for that season. Savard recorded a whopping 97 points, good for 9th overall...not too shabby for a lowly 91st draft pick.

That performance earned him a high-calibre contract with the Boston Bruins in 2006. After his 97-point season in Atlanta he recorded 96 with the Bruins, proving he wasn't a flash-in-the-pan. The following season he recorded a highly respectable 78 points in 74 games while missing the remainder due to a nagging injury. In 2008-09, he played a full season, 82 games, putting up 88 points.

If you've followed the stats and history thus far, and understand it, '08-09 would be his last point-per-game season. His amazing career, unappreciated and overlooked abilities, would never be the same again.

The game between the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7th of 2010 would produce one of the most vicious and uncalled-for hits in NHL history. This is of course the Matt Cooke hit that anyone who follows hockey has seen ad nauseam, which was a clear headshot and a clear intent to injure. Savard had no protection, was following through with a shot in the high slot, and no attempt was made by Cooke to take the body.

If you have not seen this hit enough times to make you sick, you can watch it here:

Stunningly, Matt Cooke was not fined, nor was he suspended or reprimanded in any way for this hit. As I write this in 2011, where players have been suspended for less and in many cases arguably legal hits, it seems ludicrous that even in an era where the NHL did not penalize for headshots, that Matt Cooke was let off scot-free.

Don Cherry that week, provided a blistering sermon against Matt Cooke, displaying Cooke's tendency for cheap shots. A user on Youtube has conveniently edited this segment out of that week's Coach's Corner.

“Marc Savard now, is in a room, he's gotta have it dark, he can't watch TV, he can't watch anything.”

“I've never seen this in my life before,” Cherry says, noting the look on Sidney Crosby's face after the hit, showing the sickening fear that overtakes Crosby as he realizes that it could be him sprawled out on the ice. Crosby though, isn't that unlucky.

Nobody knew just how long Savard would be out. Many people including myself waited on the edge of our seats upon news that he was skating with the team leading up to the 2010 playoffs. As the Bruins got through the first round against the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins announced that Marc Savard would miraculously return for Game 1 of the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers. You bet I watched every second of that game.

With the game tied 4-4, the puck in the Flyers' zone and a scrambling, disorganized Flyers team, the puck ended up on no-one other than Savard's stick, putting a screamer into the top corner.

Savard then exploded, producing one of the most emotional celebrations in NHL history. Bruins fans went ballistic. NHL fans across the continent nodded and smiled in telepathic, mutual satisfaction.

You can watch it here, slow motion goal and celebration starts at about 2:00:

The goal and reaction would make it on to one of the best series of advertisements ever (you probably won't ever hear me say that again), “History will be made” series, which ran last year during the NHL playoffs.

The Bruins would go on to lose to the Flyers in 7 games. When the 2010-11 season began, Savard wasn't to be seen. Somehow he played through a few playoff games, but post-concussion symptoms returned, removing him from play again. He wouldn't return until December 2nd in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which the Bruins won handily 8-1, but the only mark Savard would make on the game sheet was a lonely single shot on goal during 16 minutes of ice time.

Unlucky surfaced again for Marc in a nail-biting incident, again unluckily, against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 11th, a little over a month after his post-concussion return.

Deryk Engellend decided to give a tough shot to Savard, throwing his head into the boards. Again note that nothing about this hit is Savard's fault, his head is not down, his back is not turned.

He wouldn't miss any games, however, it was only a nine-day wait until his next unlucky encounter, and this one would put him out for a second time within a year with a concussion. While chasing the puck in the corner, Savard would be clipped in the head. And again, for a third time in less than a year, Savard was not at fault, he wasn't in an icing race, his head was not down and his back was not turned. A poorly timed hit placed by Matt Hunwick of the Colorado Avalanche would deliver Savard's next unlucky moment.

Now we wait. Fans of the Bruins, fans of Marc Savard and fans of hockey wait to see if the rest of this season will be a write-off. If post-concussion symptoms will again haunt Marc throughout the off-season, and more importantly, if he will ever be able to return to the game of hockey in the 90+ point capacity that he is capable of.

I'll end with a humorous clip from Coach's Corner, where Don Cherry picked up on Marc talking to his stick. If you can't stand Grapes, you can skip to around 5:20.

Godspeed and get better, Marc. Probably the best 91st draft pick ever. No wonder he wears #91.


Outlaw said...

Terrific Read. And a true tale of the inequity within the NHL. Marc Savard deserves better, especially for aplayer with such heart.

Mat said...

My absolute favourite article you've written; well fucking done.