Stu Cowan: Veteran David Savard plays important role with Canadiens

“It’s good to have him around. He’s just relaxed. He’s one of the older guys here and he’s definitely a leader,” Jayden Struble says.

Article content

At 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, barrel-chested David Savard is built more like a world’s strongest-man competitor than a hockey player.

With his big, bushy beard, he also looks like he could be a lumberjack.

Article content

But in his 13th NHL season with 742 regular-season games under his belt, Savard remains a very effective defenceman with the Canadiens — despite probably being the slowest player on the ice.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“It depends on how you measure speed,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said after a recent practice when asked about Savard. “His brain speed’s pretty fast.

“You can be very fast, but you can be very fast going in the wrong direction,” St. Louis added. “You can be too fast sometimes. Speed control is everything. Savvy can control his speed pretty good.”

Savard scored a goal in the Canadiens’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at the Bell Centre. It was his second game back in the lineup after missing 22 games with a fractured hand. It was only Savard’s seventh goal in 131 games since signing with the Canadiens as a free agent before the 2021-22 season after helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup.

When asked if he was disappointed St. Louis never called his name during Wednesday’s shootout — in which each team used 12 shooters — Savard smiled and said: “It’s not my strength.”

Savard has a lot of other strengths, including his ability as a penalty-killer and shot-blocker. Last season, despite missing 20 games because of injuries, Savard finished eighth in the NHL with 176 blocked shots — an average of 2.84 per game. In the seven games he has played this season, Savard is averaging 2.86 blocked shots per game.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“He calms things down,” St. Louis said after practice Thursday in Brossard. “Savvy is always in control. He’s very intelligent. The puck always goes where it’s supposed to go with him at the moment it’s supposed to go at the speed it’s supposed to go. I think it helps our group a lot to maintain its calm and poise.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Rookie defenceman Jayden Struble has only played 11 games with the Canadiens since getting called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket, including two with Savard in the lineup. The 22-year-old Struble has been impressed by Savard both on and off the ice.

“I didn’t really know him that much before,” Struble said after practice Thursday. “But he’s a loud presence … loud personality. Really funny guy. He’s kind of like a dad. He sits next to me right here (in the locker room) and he’s always cracking a couple of jokes and keeping it light. It’s good to have him around. He’s just relaxed. He’s one of the older guys here and he’s definitely a leader.

“He’s just so reliable (on the ice),” Struble added. “He always makes that good, hard play every time. He’s just a well-rounded veteran defenceman.”

That’s why Savard could become a valuable commodity for Canadiens GM Kent Hughes ahead of the March 8 NHL trade deadline. Hughes has to open up some spots on the blue line with so many young defencemen in the organization, including Struble, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, Logan Mailloux, David Reinbacher and Lane Hutson.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Savard has one year remaining on his contract with a US$3.5 million salary-cap hit. When the Lightning acquired Savard ahead of the 2021 NHL trade deadline they only had to give up a fourth-round draft pick. Hughes will be hoping to get more than that after acquiring a conditional first-round pick as part of the package from the Florida Panthers when he dealt defenceman Ben Chiarot ahead of the 2022 NHL trade deadline.

Savard did his job with the Lightning. He picked up five assists in 20 playoff games, along with an even plus/minus differential, while averaging 14:07 of ice time to earn his first Stanley Cup ring before signing a four-year, US$14-million contract with former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.

Savard could be a good fit on a playoff team with some young defencemen looking to add valuable experience.

“We have good communication on the bench as a D corps, picking each other up,” Struble said. “Like, ‘Here we go! It starts with us. Keep it simple.’ Stuff like that. (Savard’s) definitely leading the charge there.”

Kaiden Guhle, now in his second NHL season, said Savard has played a key role in his development as a defenceman.

Advertisement 6

Article content

“He’s been huge,” Guhle said. “He’s definitely a big reason why I’ve had success so far and hopefully I keep having it. … He’s literally like a dad.”

St. Louis noted that Savard is a leader both on and off the ice.

“I think that the young guys can go to Savvy and Savvy always has great feedback for them,” the coach said. “To have him back in the swing of things and around the guys every day for games and practices and what you’re trying to accomplish as a group, he’s a big part of that. So we’re happy to have him back.”

[email protected]

Related Stories

Advertisement 7

Article content

Article content

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *