It wasn't exactly shocking news that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted that the Bruins are already planning for the possibility of Marc Savard not returning this season.
The Bruins won't make any decisions until Savard returns to Boston for further evaluation on Wednesday after spending the past week resting at home in Ontario. But after seeing him go down with another concussion in Colorado on Jan. 22 and knowing how long it took the playmaking center to get back in the lineup after suffering a serious concussion on a blind-side cheap shot from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke in March, it was obvious the team had to at least start making contingency plans for playing without Savard for the remainder of the season.
Even though Savard was still struggling to regain his form after his long layoff, his loss is still a major blow to Boston's offense. He had just 2-8-10 totals in 25 games, a far cry from his usual production, as he had averaged more than a point per game in his first four seasons in Boston with 295 points in 279 games coming into the season.
Savard had started to show some signs of regaining that scoring touch though, with four assists in the five games before that fateful day in Colorado. And if he had continued to make strides, it may have made a huge difference in Boston's mediocre power play, which ranked just 16th in the league at the All-Star break at 17.6 percent. Last year, the Bruins were a solid 21.7 percent (33-for-152) with Savard in the lineup and a woeful 9.7 percent (11-for-113) without him.
Losing Savard again will hurt, but it is a reality the Bruins will likely have to face. So how do they compensate for his absence this time?
The Bruins are fortunate that even without Savard, the center position remains an area of strength with their depth down the middle. Patrice Bergeron has already taken up much of the slack offensively, having just been honored as the league's No. 1 Star of the month for January after posting 8-9-17 totals in 14 games. But he also made it clear he doesn't see himself filling Savard's skates on his own.
"I don't feel that because Savvy's out, it's all on me," Bergeron said. "When a guy like Savvy goes out, you can't really replace [him] with one guy. It's about everybody chipping in to help and we'll have to do that for the rest of the year or whatever time Savvy is going to be out for."
Bergeron will have help, though the Bruins need more from David Krejci, who has gone 16 games without a goal but does have eight assists in his last nine games, and rookie Tyler Seguin, who has no points in his last eight games and just two goals in his last 25. The Bruins don't want to put too much pressure on the youngster, but it would definitely help if he could take a step forward down the stretch and start contributing more consistently.
The Bruins have gotten surprising production from fourth-line center Greg Campbell (7-11-18), and he could play a bigger role if needed, though Claude Julien would prefer not to tinker too much with what has been arguably the league's best fourth line this season. With Blake Wheeler also showing earlier this season that he can play effectively in the middle, the Bruins don't necessarily have to go outside the organization for help at center.
The Bruins also have former first-round picks Joe Colborne and Zach Hamill as possible call-ups from Providence. Colborne could probably use more seasoning in the minors, but Hamill (16 points in his last 19 games) is coming on strong after struggling early in the season and could be an option. Jordan Caron, who performed well with the big club at the start of the year, and AHL All-Star Jamie Arniel could also be summoned for help since the Bruins' don't necessarily need another center with their depth at that position.
The Bruins will at least explore the trade options though, as placing Savard on long-term injured reserve again would open up some cap space. The club will have to be careful how it uses that space, though. The intricacies of the cap are far more convoluted than simply removing Savard's $4.007 million cap hit from the books and replacing it with another $4 million player, but the Bruins would have some space to play with.
If the Bruins do go the trade route, there are plenty of options. Ottawa's Mike Fisher, New Jersey's Jason Arnott and Florida's versatile forward Cory Stillman are all potentially available. Arnott ($4.5 million cap hit) and Stillman ($3.53 million) are rentals in the final year of their deals, while Fisher has a $4.2 million hit through 2012-13.
The Bruins could also make a play for Zach Parise should he become available, but even with him due to become a free agent after the season, the cost could be prohibitive. Chiarelli has shied away from mortgaging the future on rentals in the past, and it would be very difficult for the Bruins to free up enough space to sign him long term.
Even without Savard, the Bruins' biggest need isn't necessarily up front anyway. They have solid depth on the blue line with Mark Stuart relegated to healthy scratch status of late, but other than impressive rookie Steven Kampfer, they lack that coveted puck-moving dimension on the blue line. That's not easy to find though, and the cost can be exorbitant with so many teams in the market for the same thing.
Potentially available defensemen like Ottawa's Chris Phillips and Calgary's Robyn Regehr are more stay-at-home types than the offensive upgrade the Bruins are looking for, while one-time Bruin Sergei Gonchar is no longer the impact offensive defenseman he once was and carries a $5.5 million hit through the 2012-13 season. And despite the never-ending rumors, it's highly unlikely that Chiarelli would be able to go back to the well again and try to pry Tomas Kaberle from Brian Burke.
The trade deadline is less than a month away, and if the Bruins get definitive news on Savard this week, they should have enough space to make some moves. But don't count on it being a blockbuster. Chiarelli has built a team with depth and balance. With Savard sidelined again, it's time for that depth to deliver.
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