It is without question that the Bruins have struggled without Marc Savard as a part of the team. Even though the Bruins went on a miraculous Stanley Cup run in 2011 and again in 2013, the Bruins have areas in which they consistently struggle in due to Marc’s absence; mainly the powerplay. Marc Savard just turned 36 yesterday, he hasn’t played a game in the NHL since he was 34 years old. Savard’s career was ravaged by a concussion delivered by then-Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke in 2010, Savard suffered a grade 2 concussion knocking him out of the game for nearly 4 months; Savard would return in the 2010 Semi-Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers scoring the overtime winner in Game 1. But Marc was not fully healthy, and he missed large parts of the series and the Bruins struggled in his absence. They would go up 3-0 on the Flyers but drop 4 games in a row losing the series and becoming one of 4 teams to ever drop a 3-0 series lead. Savard would attempt to make a come back during the 2010-11 season, although it was obvious his health was still questionable. In a game against the Colorado Avalanche former Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick laid an awkward hit on Savard, ending his career for good. Having already suffered a grade 2 concussion the year before and still dealing with the lingering effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome the 34 year old Savard would never play in an NHL game again.
In the NHL concussions seem to be a very common thing today, in the years before the lockout and when people though concussions they mainly thought about Donald Brashear and Eric Lindros. Concussions, while not extremely rare, were also not extremely common at the time; even before then when the infamous “instigator” rule was put into place they were even scarcer. The NHL has placed several rules and regulations in place to fight this problem, and coupled with the 2011 Enforcer Deaths and Savard’s injury it’s a huge hot button topic in the hockey world. But what makes Marc’s injury so unique, many would look at what has happened to the Bruins over the years and bring up how “Bergeron has suffered multiple concussions and he came back, and Horton did too.” In order to answer this we need to look at exactly what happened to Marc Savard when he was blindsided by Matt Cooke.
This is the infamous incident between Matt Cooke and Marc Savard that occurred on March 7, 2010. Matt Cooke was not suspended for this hit, but that isn’t the point of this. When Savard was hit he suffered a Grade 2 Concussion. Concussions are graded 1-3 on their severity and below Grade 1 is a mild / light concussion. A Grade 2 concussion is detailed as “Loss of consciousness less than 5 minutes, post traumatic amnesia greater than 30 minutes” in the Cantu Grading System. But from all concussions stem post concussion syndrome. A concussion is after all the brain being violently jostled back and forth within a person’s head, and with an organ that sensitive it’s going to leave some long term problems. These long term problems are known as “Post Concussion Syndrome”, the common side effects include: headache, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, and irritability. Marc suffered for 2 months before finally being cleared by the Bruins doctors to play in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Although Savard was able to return it was obvious he was uncomfortable. The Bruins would then lose two more key players in Marco Sturm and David Krejci to injuries and drop their 3-0 series lead. Savard’s health gradually did begin to improve. Afterall, PCS (post-concussion syndrome) can go away in most people but for Marc who had suffered a very heavy head hit was still largely at risk. Things came full circle for Marc when he was hit awkwardly by his former teammate Matt Hunwick in a game against the Avalanche. Unlike Cooke’s hit, Hunwick’s was not intentional and at first glance it seems like the kind of hit that would certainly jar someone but they would be able to get back to their bench and probably miss a few games with a very mild concussion, not for Marc.
Savard can be seen struggling to even keep his head up and eyes open once he turns to the referee. Savard would never play another NHL game again after this hit, as the PCS symptoms came back much stronger than before. Savard still today complains about headaches and memory loss, and in an article written by Medical News Today in February of this year it details two important pieces of information that can explain why exactly Marc’s second concussion, although not has bad as the Cooke hit, still was able to put him out for good. Neuropsychologist, Dr. Maryse Lassonde had previously worked alongside members of the Montreal Canadiens who had experienced concussions and similar head injuries and to quote “However, even when the symptoms of a concussion appear to have gone, the brain is still not yet 100 percent normal” (Lassonde, MNT). Savard also was hit very hard face first into the glass and top of the dasher-boards at TD Garden by Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland only 8 days prior to the hit by Matt Hunwick, although it appears Savard was initially injured he went back to the bench and was looked at by Bruins trainer Don DelNegro although Savard would not leave the bench. Savard’s brain was not 100% ready to come back to hockey and the hit by Engelland very well may have been softening blow that would lead to Marc’s injury from Hunwick.
So what happens to Savard now? The Bruins have put him on Long-Term Injured Reserve meaning he will still get his salary of $4M AAV but it will not effect the cap hit of the team. Initially Savard expressed hope in one day returning to the Bruins roster, but Peter Chiraelli has gone on record as saying that “it’s very unlikely Marc will ever play again.” It’s been 2 years since Savard’s injury and there have been a lot of questions floating around if Marc should just retire or will he ever retire? Well the big reason that Savard isn’t retiring now is because it will hit the Bruins on the cap, by placing him on long term injured reserve they don’t need to worry about dealing with the retirement cap hit. Savard will more than likely run the tables on his contract and announce his retirement once his contract with the Bruins is up. Another question is will Savard ever get better? More than likely not. While his post-concussion symptoms will probably go away, the brain damage he received from the hits will leave him with problems. The most common among older concussed athletes is Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Marc has a long road ahead of him, and it is certainly sad to see him have to go out this way. But he will always be remembered as a Bruin, and because of his injury new outlook on concussions in the NHL and how to handle and prevent them has is being talked about. Savard’s injury will help hopefully shape a new era of the NHL where things like this don’t happen anymore, and this can be one of the last horror stories about concussions in the NHL.