WILMINGTON -- Marc Savard, with a hockey stick in his hand, lacks nothing in direction. The personal GPS of the Bruins' 29-year-old pivot is programmed for him to get the puck, find the open man, dish off a pass, and drive to the net. He would prefer to get rid of the puck rather than handle it too long, and he also has a bit of Ken Linseman-like edge/nastiness to his game.
``Yeah, I like to get under the other guy's skin," Savard said earlier this week, noting that his agitating, Rat-like ways led to 100 penalty minutes last season with Atlanta, where he also piled up a career-high 97 points. ``It's part of my game, what I do, and I sort of don't feel that I'm in the game unless I'm playing that way -- not so much yakking at a guy, but maybe give him a little jab, just a nudge, let him know I'm there, you know?"
Hardly an intimidating presence at only 5 feet 10 inches and 195 pounds, he added, ``I joked around with the guys in Atlanta, saying I had all those penalty minutes because I was the only power center left in the game."
Savard has been in town for about a week, skating in informal workouts led by team-captain-to-be Zdeno Chara, and will take the ice in earnest for the first time today when the Bruins officially open training camp at the Ristuccia Center. He has found a place to live, opting for the same building where longtime friend Wayne Primeau lives, which is within walking distance of Causeway Street.
Based on Savard's sense of direction, when holding a steering wheel instead of a stick, it sounds as if he has made the right choice in both living quarters and reconnecting with Primeau, his old friend from junior hockey days.
``I bet I've been over that Tobin Bridge 30 times already -- and I've been lost every time," said the exasperated Savard, echoing a lament familiar to most newcomers to the Hub of Hockey. ``I've got to get a car with navigation. Right now, I just call Preems -- he's on my speed dial. If I get lost, I call him. If he doesn't answer, I pull over, put it in park, shut the engine off, and wait for him to call back."
Patrice Bergeron finished last season as the club's No. 1 center, and in the midst of Boston's wild one-day free agent shopping spree July 1, Savard was touted by the media as a No. 2 center. That is possibly how it will play out, but new general manager Peter Chiarelli isn't so quick to embrace the ranking of vox populi.
``Who knows how it will end up?" said Chiarelli, who first got to know Savard some 10 years ago when Chiarelli was an Ottawa-based agent with Larry Kelly and Savard was one of the agency's clients. ``In some ways I think you'll see Bergeron and Savard play off each other, based on which one of our lines draws the other team's best checkers. I see it more as we have a 1A and 1B center, and to be honest, I don't know which one is A and which one is B."
What Chiarelli likes about the A or the B that is Savard, though, is that the former Rangers draft pick plays with an edge (the GM buys into the Linseman comparison) and has a penchant to put up points. At times, Chiarelli admits, the latter trait has led to a stereotype that Savard is one-dimensional, caring more about piling up points than playing a solid two-way game. But he says he has seen Savard's game mature over the years, in his stints with the Rangers and Flames and Thrashers, and now casts him as a solid two-way player who lives up to his end of the bargain (read: plays defense, too) in all three zones.
``Most of all, I like the way he competes," added Chiarelli, whose working model is to have a Bruins team with speed and tenacity. ``He can be a bit selfish on offense, because he wants the puck, he wants to score, he wants to produce. I like that. He doesn't have the speed to beat guys one on one, but he's fast enough, and if a guy's open, he finds him. He's quick. Fast enough to get from point A to point B, and then, bang, hit the open man. And he's a prickly little competitor."
``There was a lot going on at once," recalled Savard. ``And everything, financially, was pretty much in the same ballpark."
A short time later, Kelly was back to Savard with news that Chara, considered the prized catch of summer '06 free agency, had hitched on with the Bruins for five years, $37.5 million. Great news for the Bruins, Savard figured, and he immediately began to ponder life in Nashville, Calgary, or Manhattan.
``I said to Larry, `Well, that's that, they don't want me anymore,' " recalled Savard, assuming the cash commitment to Chara would lead the Bruins elsewhere. ``And then Larry said, `No, they still want you.' I liked the idea of Boston anyway, because I knew [Chiarelli] was going there, and I thought they had a good team when I was with Atlanta. Then Chara signed, and hey, that was it. I played against him a lot when he was with Ottawa, and I'll tell you, it was painful. He just pounds guys. I knew coming here that I'd be in for some tough drills with him here, especially down low with one-on-one stuff. But that's OK. I'll take the tough practices, and not have the tough games."
For much of last season, when Savard posted career highs in goals (28) and assists (69), he played with premier winger Ilya Kovalchuk and broad-shouldered checker Scott Mellanby. Over the last quarter-season, he teamed with slick wingers Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov. The NHL's new rules, limiting obstruction, no doubt helped Savard put up numbers, and he had some of the very best strikers by his side in Kovalchuk, Hossa, and Kozlov.
Meanwhile, there is no telling if the Bruins can shoulder Savard with that kind of scoring class and dimension. Murray can be a feared sniper, but he also can fall into long, perplexing offensive droughts. In 2002-03, he banged in a career-high 44 goals, but has averaged only 28 his last two seasons, his production falling through the floor once Joe Thornton, his favorite setup man, was traded to San Jose. Brad Boyes and Marco Sturm figure, at least for now, to ride with Bergeron. Here on the dawn of camp, Murray and the newbie Kessel could be Savard's running mates. It doesn't look quite like Atlanta anymore, at least not yet.
``I'm a playmaker -- first and foremost I like to pass," said Savard, asked how he envisions life with new partners. ``Muzz [Murray] has scored a lot in the league, and if I find him he should be able to put it away."
On the power play, Savard envisions being out there regularly, perhaps with both Bergeron and Murray. In Atlanta, he often played on a hybrid unit that had him working the puck on the right half-board, with Hossa down low near the net or behind the goal line, and the big-shooting Kovalchuk ready to rip off crackling shots in the high slot.
It was Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, who grew up in the same area outside Ottawa, who convinced Savard to incorporate more defense in his game. Hartley's threat of cutting back his ice time, said Savard, made him more accountable all over the ice, and he's convinced that he has to play the same game to be successful in Boston.
Beyond hockey, said Savard, his other passion is golf, which he didn't take up until age 20. As a kid, he grew up playing hockey and lacrosse day and night. After a rough start with the irons and woods, he said, today he typically finishes a round at par. Scrappy on the ice and a scratch golfer on the course.
``I started out, I played righthanded for a year, and I stunk," he recalled. ``The next year, someone said, `Maybe you should try lefthanded, that's how you shoot in hockey.' So I tried it, and I think I shot 85 my first time, and I thought, `You know what? I kinda like this game.' "
Put a stick in his hand, and he'll usually find his way.