Marc Savard’s NHL career was cut short due to lingering effects from concussions — most notably from a dirty hit by Matt Cooke during a Pittsburgh Penguins-Boston Bruins game in March of 2010.
Savard missed the remainder of the regular season but returned for the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins ended up losing the series, and Savard continued to deal with post-concussion symptoms that sidelined him to begin the following season.
In a game against the Colorado Avalanche in January 2011, Savard’s career came to an end after he suffered another concussion — this time from a clean hit by Matt Hunwick. Savard’s head bounced awkwardly off the glass and that would be the last time he took the ice.
It was one of those hits where many knew that was it for Savard. After everything he endured just 10 months prior, watching him slowly become a different player because of what he continued to go through, it just felt like it was the end of what should have been a much longer NHL career.
“I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL.”Marc Savard in the Players’ Tribune in 2017
Savard also knew it was the end when he was on the ice after the hit.
“I immediately dropped to my knees. I had my eyes wide open, and I couldn’t see anything,” Savard wrote in the Players’ Tribune in 2017. “Everything was black. I shut my eyes and then opened them again. All black.
“That’s when I started to panic. Because I knew it was over. I just knew. I remember hearing the voice of our trainer, Don DelNegro, asking me what I felt.
” … My teammates escorted me to the dressing room, and I had a tough couple of minutes in there. I was sobbing. I remember my coach, Claude Julien, coming in and trying to console me. But I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL. I kept thinking: ‘I have kids. I have a family to worry about. I’m only 33. What am I going to do? I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t go through these dark days. Again.'”
Savard never was quite the same after the hit from Cooke, leaving a slew of questions about what his career would have looked like had concussions never taken over.
Would he have reached the 1,000-point mark?
Would he have retired with the Bruins when his contract expired in 2017?
Would he have amassed 100 points in a season?
Would the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup in 2013?
Would he have his No. 91 retired?
Would he be a Hall of Famer?
It’s a shame we’ll never know the answer to any of these questions and have to ponder what the rest of Savard’s career could have been. But his injury did force the Bruins to go out and get some help. They did that when they traded for Rich Peverly, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle in 2011. We all know how much they played a role en route to the Bruins lifting their first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years.
Had Savard never been injured, it then begs the question of whether they even win the Cup in 2011. It’s fair to say they probably do given how Savard performed in the playoffs and his contributions to the team before his injuries. They were a deep team with Savard and became even deeper when he got hurt.
In some ways, Savard continued to help the Bruins in 2010-11. When his season came to an end just 25 games after he returned to action, his salary came off the books which allowed the B’s to make those trades for some extra depth they needed.
While it wasn’t the way Savard envisioned helping the team, the role he played in helping them get back into the playoffs year after year and becoming a prolific player will always be remembered by Bruins fans.
When the Bruins closed out Game 7 in Vancouver, Savard couldn’t celebrate with his team to help it celebrate reaching something he was part of.
“Words can’t describe what I was feeling. I was still able to genuinely enjoy it, knowing that I was a part of a team that had gone through so much together over the years. We had worked for years to rebuild the team and become a contender, and now the boys were on my TV … hoisting the Cup.”
“But for Game 7, I couldn’t travel to Vancouver, so I was at home watching all my teammates lift the Stanley Cup above their heads,” Savard wrote in the Players’ Tribune.
Savard never got to walk away from the game of hockey on his own terms, and even though his name is on the Stanley Cup, things could have been much different had Cooke never laid that dirty hit that changed the course of Savard’s career forever.
At the end of the day, Savard finished with 706 career points in 807 games. He probably would be in the 1,000-point club that includes Patrice Bergeron. He probably would reach 100 points in a season and he probably would have his No. 91 raised to the rafters.
While we’ll never know how much more Savard would have accomplished, he’ll forever have his name on the Cup where it rightfully belongs, and one what if we never have to ponder is what he means to the Bruins, their fans and the city of Boston.