Haggerty: Savard should consider calling it a career

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Haggerty: Savard should consider calling it a career

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON I bumped into a doctor friend on Wednesday afternoon, and he had a simple message for me to pass along.

If you run into Marc Savard, please do me a favor. Please tell him to retire while he still can.

Only the hockey gods know when Ill see Marc Savard next after he returned home to Peterborough, Ontario, this week to recover from the fourth concussion of his NHL career.

Savard proved his toughness by returning from a hellish concussion caused by a monstrously irresponsible Matt Cooke elbow last spring. The struggles Savard has gone through in returning from that cheap shot show how toothless the NHL was in making the original ruling on Cookes cowardice.

But Savard proved his toughness all over again by returning from the depths of post-concussion syndrome this fall, despite bouts of depression and anxiety that threatened to cripple the playmaking center for good.

Instead, No. 91 did what hes always done as an undersized scrapper of an assist man blessed with barely average skating speed: He battled and raged against those that doubted hed ever make it back. Its that Shrek-sized chip on Savards shoulder thats allowed him to excel in his NHL career, and it had served him well yet again.

The 33-year-old actually had made it back to 85 percent of himself in his last handful of games with the Bruins, and had posted points in four of his last five games heading into that fateful meeting last Saturday against the Avalanche.

Savard had received a warning shot just a couple of games before, when Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland drove his face and head into the corner boards at TD Garden.

But Savard managed to escape that potential car wreck with a dazed feeling in the hours following the game, and a little residual neck pain from the collision. The Bs center was sufficiently concerned that he met with doctors and underwent testing.

But things appeared okay for Savard after he bounced back from the scary incident.

He wasnt so lucky when Matt Hunwick finished a check on Savard, who was trapped in an unfortunately awkward position in the corner. And now things have come down to a simple plea from a vocal majority in the hockey community.

There have been too many cautionary tales with Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine, Paul Kariya, Keith Primeau and so many others that have had their NHL careers -- and their very lives and happiness -- altered by the destructive concussions perpetually looming as a threat to every hockey player.

Savard doesnt need to be a cautionary tale.

Hes made plenty of money over the years, hes been named an All-Star on multiple occasions, and he became a respected member of the hockey community in Boston as a part of some strong Bruins teams.

Savard has young children and a promising golf career that awaits when his hockey-playing days are behind him.

The Bs center simply has too much going for him to continue tempting fate that the next massive hit to his head will be the one to permanently ruin his life -- and irreparably scramble his brain into a confused mess.

The fact that Savards brain chemistry has already been altered from the Cooke hit while affecting his moods and changing his thought patterns should give him pause.

At the very least, the circumstances should push Savard toward sitting out the rest of the current hockey season while he rests and recovers at home.

Give it eight months while the Bruins sort out the rest of the current regular season and playoff run, get healed, and then give it one last try again next September when the symptoms, headaches and frightening brain fog have hopefully subsided.

Some within the Bruins may use Patrice Bergeron as an example of a player able to rebound from that second concussion within a 14-month span, but there are a few differences between Savard and Bergeron that make it a tough parallel.

Savard has had two more concussions than Bergeron in his career and Savard was 10 years older than Bergeron when he had to deal with the succession of serious head injuries.

Both of those factors make a gigantic difference and, sadly, neither of them work in Savards favor.

Nobody wants to deprive anyone of their livelihood or their passion, and hockey is most certainly that for Savard.

But nobody wants to ever see the image from Colorado again after Savards delicate head smashed off the unforgiving plexi-glass at the Pepsi Center.

The video of Savard struggling to get his feet before collapsing again and then overcome by emotion, grief and pain as he skated off the ice was enough to tie anybodys stomach into knots.

Just think how much worse it would be for Savard if theres ever a next time at this point in his career.

The answer seems pretty clear: Savard should seriously think about closing the door on his career -- and the concussions that have marred it over the last two seasons -- while he still has a choice in the matter.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .