Note: this article is by Dominic Tiano and Doug Watson.
It is the $4,007,143 question Bruins’ fans have been asking themselves since a Matt Hunwick hit caused Marc Savard a second concussion in less than a year: will anyone see the all-star center in an NHL sweater ever again?
The questions are numerous; the answers don’t exist, at least not publicly.
By now everyone knows that Savard made a couple of trips to Boston during their playoff run, and fans began to have hope. But when he was not cleared to fly to Vancouver for game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the questions started once again.
We spoke with a friend of Savard’s who is close to the situation. We asked him to give us his opinion on where Savard is today.
"[Savard is] done!" he replied. "You know, I'm not a doctor or an expert, so I guess there is always the possibility, but he has nothing resembling a normal life right now, that is to say, that he is accustomed to. And other than the depression being almost nonexistent right now, there has been little to no improvement over the last few months."He added, "As for Savard himself, he will not speak about retirement or returning to the NHL. His goal is to be as healthy as he can be before making any decision." The headaches and the memory loss he is still experiencing have been well documented.
There are rumors circulating that the Bruins will ask Savard to make a decision by training camp. There are no indications that the Bruins will ask Savard to retire, and some believe frankly, there is no need to. The long term injury exemption allows the Bruins to exceed the cap by Savard’s salary if they so wish and his salary will be covered by insurance. Or it would seem.
But, there is a benefit to the Bruins here however. The Bruins are getting dangerously close to the maximum 50 contracts allowed under the current CBA. Currently, they have 47 players under contract with Brad Marchand as the last key cog to sign. They have other restricted free agents to sign, so that contract spot is important, especially if they try and make a deal at trade deadline that doesn’t have a roster player going back. However, as stated, there is no indication from the Bruins that they are in a hurry to settle the Savard situation. They have made it clear in the past that it is Savard’s decision to make along with the doctors and only theirs.
We tried on a couple of occasions to contact Savard’s agent Larry Kelly to get a comment but he declined, which is his prerogative. Some may believe that his silence speaks volumes, but that is not the case here. A misinterpreted comment could be taken the wrong way by Savard himself and could have any number of repercussions. He’s doing what he is supposed to be doing and that is protecting his client.
Protecting his client – key words here. Almost assuredly, Kelly will be involved in any conversation involving the Doctors, the Bruins or Savard’s family when discussing retirement. If Kelly thought another injury would be devastating, would he make the request of Savard himself? Not likely, or at least he won’t initiate it, but based on information he receives from the Doctors or the Bruins, he could very well recommend that it is best. And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be protecting his client.
The rumors that Savard will not retire because of the money he would lose must also be quashed. His contract is insured so his money is guaranteed. And under the CBA, because he is forced to retire because of injury, the NHL (not the Bruins) will continue to pay into his pension plan and other benefits (CDN) for a period of 5 years from the Player’s Emergency Assistance Fund (Section 21.5, page 103 of the CBA).
>But even if Savard’s contract was not insured, Savard would be guaranteed his salary for the duration of his contract. Section 23.4, page 107 of the CBA states: A Player under a Standard Player’s Contract (SPC) who is disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player by reason of an injury sustained during the course of his employment as a hockey Player, including travel with his team or on business requested by his Club, shall be entitled to receive his remaining salary due in accordance with the terms of his SPC for the remaining stated term of his SPC as long as the said disability and inability to perform continue but in no event beyond the expiration date of the fixed term of his SPC.
In a layman’s terms that means that without insurance, the Bruins themselves would be responsible for paying the remaining portion of Savard’s salary, until the expiration of his contract. But a Savard retirement would take that salary off of the salary cap.
The CBA also guarantees that the NHL and the NHLPA carry insurance for players that are forced to retire because of injury. The NHL must hold a policy that pays the player $500,000 (USD) while the NHLPA must hold a policy that pays the player $250,000 (USD) (Section 23.3 (a) page 106 and Section 23.3 (b) page 107 of the CBA). These are separate policies held by the league and the Player’s Association over and above the contract insurance the Bruins have on Savard’s contract and is paid by the NHL and NHLPA and not the Bruins.
The issue here is not money as is being speculated in some circles. There is absolutely no financial benefit for Savard to stay on long term injury reserve and collect a pay check over retirement. In actual fact, Savard would earn more money ($750,000 US more) by retiring. This is strictly about health and what another blow to the head could potentially cause to him in terms of his health.
When Savard finally sits down with his family, Kelly, the Doctors and the Bruins, money won’t be an issue. It will be solely about the health of Marc Savard, where he is at, and the seriousness of another hit and what that could do to him.
As for Savard, we spent some time with him on Monday on his day with the Stanley Cup. After giving him some get well messages from fans he said "Thank you, I appreciate all of them." When asked about how he was feeling he said "I have my good days and some bad days." Savard seemed happy and jovial on this day.
It is fast approaching 7 months since his last concussion and since Savard admits to having some bad days, we can assume that he is not symptom free and there is absolutely no guarantee of ever getting clearance from doctor without being symptom free.
Savard wouldn’t give any indication of when or if a return to hockey is in the future saying "I’m just trying to get better."
But the issue isn’t whether he gets well enough to be symptom free and thus get medical clearance. The issue is: What will the consequences be of another hit, another concussion?
The Hunwick hit wasn’t all that hard. It was unlucky for Savard. Most players would have come away relatively unscathed by it. So was it the previous concussion that made this hit as devastating as it was? Had Savard come back too early from the Matt Cooke hit even with a summer in between? These are questions that can’t be answered.
What it does tell you is that Savard was vulnerable to any type of hit, even a good clean, soft hockey hit. And this is the question the Doctors, Savard and his family, and even Kelly will be asking themselves: Will another hit be as devastating or more devastating?
More importantly, is it worth the risk and is Savard willing to take that risk?
The answer could come in the coming weeks, or it could take months.
The Bruins and their fans however, should prepare for a future without Marc Savard.