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Bruins Must Think Long-Term With Marc Savard's Health

Apr 23, 2010 – 10:28 AM
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Christopher Botta

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A championship is not worth risking any athlete's health, let alone a first round series. This is why Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien are wise to temper expectations for the return of dynamic center Marc Savard. This is why you hope the general manager and head coach of the Boston Bruins back up their words, even if their team's 3-1 lead over the Buffalo Sabres starts to dwindle after Game 5 on Friday in Buffalo.

The Bruins should not look for inspiration from a heroic return by Savard in this series against their division rivals. Julien is far better off sending the optimistic message, "Win this series and we get Savvy back for Round 2."

It would be so easy for the Bruins' brass to talk themselves into a Savard return. "We really need him on the power play, and no one's going to touch him there," could be one reasoning. "We'll break him in easily with some fourth line duty," is another. After all, with Bergeron and Krejci at center, the Bruins don't need Savard for his usual 18 minutes a game.

Hopefully, Julien will remember his words on Wednesday morning after Savard passed his neuropsychological exam and was cleared to practice.

"For me to stand here and predict he's going to be back at this stage would be unrealistic," the head coach said at a press conference before Game 4. "We're going to go day-by-day with him. If he gets better sooner, great. We're still working on getting him in shape right now and doing the things we're told to do with him.

"He's been out for six weeks," Julien added later on. "He hasn't been able to exercise or do anything. When you bring a guy back in the playoffs, you've got to make sure for his sake that, number one -- he's ready to jump in. If he passes that test ... he still has to go through other types of tests. He hasn't taken any contact yet."

Exactly. Although the NHL and its teams have made giant strides over the last decade in the approach to concussion recovery, there is still a long list of players who came back too soon. The Bruins themselves made the most of the new information in their handling of another star center, Bergeron. After suffering a Grade 3 concussion after a hit from behind by then-Flyers defenseman Randy Jones on Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron was sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. When Bergeron finally improved to a level in which he began skating in March of 2008, Bruins management considered his return in the playoffs before wisely thinking long-term.

Bergeron tied Krejci as the team's leading scorer this season and was named to Team Canada at the Olympics.

The Savard case, of course, is different. Although he admittedly had some dark days, as recently as two weeks ago, Savard appears to have made a much quicker recovery. And while Bergeron missed the five and a half months of the regular season, Savard has missed 22 games since absorbing Matt Cooke's blindside hit on March 7.

"If he gets better sooner, great," was the only alarming portion of Julien's message. No. No. No. Great news for Savard that he traveled to Buffalo to skate with his teammates before Game 5, but keep him away from game action until at least the start of Round 2.

Boston is playing with house money, no matter how you want to look at it. Even without Savard, they are up 3-1 against Ryan Miller and the Sabres. The Bruins may have had a poor, underachieving regular season to finish sixth in the East, but it's a fairly safe bet to say they are the only team in the playoffs in position to draft a franchise player in June. Chiarelli holds the second overall pick in the draft, courtesy of his trading of Phil Kessel to Toronto.

Whether the general manager ends up with Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, Chiarelli has the Bruins in good shape for the future. He should have the same approach towards Savard's health.
Filed under: Sports