Savard's head injury is familiar territory for Bergeron

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Savard's head injury is familiar territory for Bergeron

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

EL SEGUNDO, CA With Marc Savard back in Boston recovering from a head injury -- and with a question mark next to his name -- the Bruins went about the job of putting the pieces together Sunday.

Claude Julien rearranged his lines during a Sunday afternoon practice at the Toyota Sports Center practice facility home of the Los Angeles Kings, and reunited the trio of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton that so effectively churned out points in the opening weeks of the season.

Julien similarly positioned Blake Wheeler at center on a line with Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin while leaving Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi together after a monster game on Saturday.

The Bs were uniform in their concern for Savard as he touched down in Boston on Sunday. He plans to meet with doctors and specialists for testing on Monday, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli.

Perhaps nobody empathizes with Savards plight more than center Patrice Bergeron.

The 25-year-old center suffered his own damaging concussion in the opening weeks of 2007-08, when he was jumped from behind by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones.

Bergeron missed the remainder of the season, despite noise he might have been available during Bostons playoff run that year, and then suffered a second concussion after colliding with future teammate Dennis Seidenberg in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes the following winter.

While there was plenty of fear and anxiety following Bergerons second concussion at the time, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to him.

He missed a month of action while taking his time to ease back into the lineup.

But he also felt better within a matter of days and realized there wouldnt be a repeat of his first terrifying experience.

It wouldnt be months before Bergeron could read a book or simply leave his house unsupervised, and that made all the difference.

I dont know what the situation is with Savvy, but for me it was hard to take at first. But a couple of days later it was positive and I started feeling good, said Bergeron. It made me realize eventually that I was fine. It was just a bump in the road. I was okay and fine. I could look forward now. So it did help me a little bit in a way.

It also gave me the time to have the feel of getting back on the ice, and a couple of weeks to regroup and get back in shape. To think about it and realize I was okay. I think I was a better player afterward.

Like Bergeron a couple of years ago, Savard was just starting to put his game together at the time he went down again. The center had points in four of his previous five games leading into the weekend meeting with the Avalanche, but that was all put out mind after the unfortunate sequence with Matt Hunwick.

Bergerons best advice to Savard after coming out on the other side with his health intact: Take his time coming back if this latest bump in the road is a concussion.

If its two weeks, then take the two weeks to heal and recover. If it means missing a month, then so be it.

Weve seen it too much around the league. Even Sid Crosby has to do it. We all have to take time to recover from a concussion, said Bergeron. A lot of guys from the past say they didnt have concussions, but its just that the league didnt know anything about it. Its obvious that its dangerous.

You need to take the time and heal. Weve seen what can happen if guys try to play through it, with depression and all that. You need to be careful and now the doctors know more about it. Make sure you take the time.

Theres really no easy way to quantify the anxiety level of professional athletes forced to avert simple things like bright lights, reading or a brisk walk for weeks or months at a time as a result of a brain injury.

There is an unavoidable fear associated with re-occurrence of post-concussion symptoms.

Bergeron admitted his mind went to that horrible place in the first day or two after that December collision with Seidenberg in 2008, and it isnt hard to imagine Savard going through the same thing.

It was clear Savard was emotional on Saturday as he appeared dazed while trying unsuccessfully to get to his feet after slamming his head, and Bergeron remembers that awful feeling vividly.

It was more of a Here we go again kind of feeling. Kind of Am I going to be okay? But then two, three and four days after, I realized it wasnt going to be even close to the one before. That gave me some hope, said Bergeron. I was positive after that, but the first few days I was wondering if I was going through the whole thing again.

It wasnt as bad as the symptoms. The symptoms were there, but they werent quite as hard as the last time. It was more my spirit that was hurt more than anything else.

The hope is Savard hasnt been concussed, or has suffered a mild concussion that would only keep him out a matter of weeks -- or a month like Bergeron -- without any of the long-term complications that seem to be automatically included when post-concussion syndrome strikes.

Depression was one of the big symptoms that Savard grappled with as he attempted his return earlier this season, and theres always a fear that can creep back in.

That kind of altered brain chemistry could easily come into play each time Savard has a close call like last weeks collision Deryk Engelland of the Penguins, or a minor concussion as may have been the case after his head slammed off the boards.

There will be some answers immediately for Savard on Monday.

The hope is that the answers he gets will be optimistic and that any potential fog he's experiencing lifts quickly from his brain as it did for Bergeron two short years ago.

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

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it.