He can’t be feeling any better now.
A report, this one out of ESPN.com on Monday night, has an anonymous source stating that the Bruins are still "actively shopping" Savard. And thus the soap opera rolls on, and the relationship between the franchise and one of its marquee players risks becoming even more strained.
No one in this neverending saga has benefited from the constant rumors, and no one has bathed themselves in glory in how they’ve handled the fallout. Savard comes across as a complainer to those unsympathetic to a 33-year-old making millions to play a boy’s game, regardless of where he may end up playing it. The team certainly looks no better, coming off as callous as they reportedly dangle a star player for the highest bidder.
The holdup on any potential deal, according to the ESPN.com report, isn't any concern over Savard's feelings or worries over any lingering effects from the severe concussion he suffered in March. And it doesn't appear to be from any sense of loyalty to a player who helped turn a last-place team into a perennial playoff contender, then signed a cap-friendly seven-year, $28.05-million extension — ironically with a no-trade clause — to seemingly finish his career in Boston.
Instead, the biggest obstacle is the fact that the deal was so team friendly that it remains under investigation by the league for possibly circumventing the salary cap. Until that issue is resolved, other teams are wary of trading for a player who could potentially be declared a free agent if the league challenges the contract and an arbitrator upholds the ruling.
If that really is the holdup on a deal, then Bruins fans — and Savard himself — should stop worrying about him being traded. That uncertainty isn’t going away any time soon. The NHL benefits from holding that threat over the teams’ heads, but the league won’t risk losing that advantage by actually trying to void the deal.
Despite the rhetoric thrown around in the wake of the arbitrator’s ruling to uphold the league’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s front-loaded contract, the NHL isn’t going to deregister Savard’s deal. The league wants to use the Kovalchuk ruling as a deterrent to future deals with similar structures, and it isn’t going to risk losing that ability by taking any of the other contracts they’re investigating into an arbitration hearing that could reverse that precedent.
So where does that leave Savard? Almost definitely still in Boston when training camp opens on Sept. 17.
Yes, the Bruins still need to find a way to shed significant salary to stay cap compliant this year. They are currently over the $59.4 million limit by slightly more than $3 million, and that’s without carrying a healthy spare forward. They can start the season that way by moving Marco Sturm’s $3.5 million salary to long-term injured reserve, but they still need to clear out that excess $3 million-plus by the time Sturm is ready to return, which is expected to be sometime late in November.
With no market for the likes of 36-year-old Tim Thomas (at a guaranteed $5 million per season for three more years) or for Michael Ryder at $4 million this year (who' coming off a disappointing 2009-10 campaign), it’s understandable that the Bruins would explore moving Savard. His new deal checks in at a $4.007 million cap hit per season, a relatively modest sum for a proven point-a-game playmaker who'd be attractive to other teams yet still clear enough cap space for the Bruins to retain the rest of their roster.
And the Bruins, while they shouldn’t be looking to move their best offensive player one year after finishing dead last in the league in scoring, could conceivably survive his loss thanks to their strength at center with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and potentially rookie Tyler Seguin down the middle.
So it’s completely understandable for the Bruins to have at least kicked the tires on a potential Savard deal this summer. It comes off a bit unseemly after signing him to an extension to finish his career here, but sometimes business concerns trump sentiment.
Still, there are better ways to handle business affairs, and the bulk of the hurt feelings could have been avoided with a little more transparency.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has been given opportunities all summer long to either squash the Savard rumors or explain why the Bruins would need to explore such options. Instead, he’s stuck to the party line of refusing to address any rumors.
Under normal circumstances, that is understandable. No team should want its executives negotiating deals publicly. But these haven’t been normal circumstances. The whispers already were out there and growing louder with each passing day. Chiarelli squandered a chance to control the message and limit the damage, instead letting the wounds on one of his most important players – and possibly most valuable trade chips – fester all offseason.
Asked point blank in June if he wanted to shoot down the Savard rumors, Chiarelli responded simply, "I don’t comment on trade speculation, you know that."
That didn’t end the chatter, however — it gave it legs. The nondenial assured that every media outlet would be commenting plenty all summer long on potential Savard trades, and Chiarelli had to know that.
So now the Bruins are left with a disgruntled star and a potential distraction that could undermine team chemistry, all while still getting no closer to solving their cap issues.
"They hurt me a little bit just because I went to Boston and I helped to build that team back up," Savard told the Ottawa Sun of the trade rumors earlier this month. "I’ve really tried to work hard with the young guys and being a core player. I was really focused on staying there for the rest of my career. To hear all this stuff this summer bothered me inside more than anything else."
If those wounds had healed at all in the last couple weeks, the scabs were picked at again with this latest round of reported rumors. And the scar that will be left keeps getting uglier.
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