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Savard situation is a headache

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / September 22, 2010

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The Bruins held their annual “State of the Bruins’’ meeting with season ticket-holders last night at the Garden, but the most pressing question around the team — yesterday, today, and perhaps tomorrow — was the state of Marc Savard’s head.

Savard, who returned home to Peterborough, Ontario, over the weekend after being diagnosed at Massachusetts General Hospital with “issues related’’ to postconcussion syndrome, was expected back in the Hub of Hockey yesterday. But by the end of the day, Savard was still home in Peterborough, while espn.com/boston was reporting that the crafty pivot could miss the entire 2010-11 NHL season.

The report, according to Peter Chiarelli, “is, frankly, far from the truth.’’

But as noted in this space over the weekend, when it was first reported that Savard was headed home for R&R, it is often, if not always, impossible to draw definitive timelines of recovery from concussions and “issues related’’ to postconcussion syndrome.

Chiarelli, who released a statement early in the evening essentially to deny the report on espn.com (not directly mentioned in the statement), reiterated after the “State of the Bruins’’ lovefest that Savard will be back in town this week, that he remains in good spirits, and that the club has “never considered’’ the notion that he won’t play this season.

All that said, no one, including Savard himself and the doctors at MGH who reviewed his neuropsychological status, knows where it goes from here for the high-scoring 33-year-old center. PCS symptoms vary in nature and severity, often including dizziness, nausea, depression, mood swings, headaches, and irritability, just to name some of the more common and menacing bugaboos. Chiarelli, keeping to his standard practice, will not detail Savard’s specific symptoms.

And that espn.com report?

“It is contradictory and untrue,’’ said the GM. Had he not “felt fairly strong the other way’’ about the report, said Chiarelli, he would not have issued the statement, one that was made available to the media only minutes after the 7 p.m. start of the “State of the Bruins’’ meeting on Causeway Street.

OK, but when asked how doctors suggest Savard moves ahead once he returns to Boston, it became telling from Chiarelli’s comments that the veteran’s future is, well, vague.

Again, welcome to the nebulous, often troubling world of PCS.

“Getting him back, seeing him day to day,’’ said Chiarelli, when asked about Savard’s immediate future. “Really, it is observation, seeing him, and how he performs tasks, does things little by little. He is in a good frame of mind, generally speaking. The doctors gave us their report.’’

And their report, in turn, made Chiarelli feel it was important to dispute the online story.

“But,’’ cautioned the GM, “I’m not going to do it anymore.’’

Truth is, again, categorizing the condition of Savard’s head is trying to hit a moving target. Upon returning this week, he soon could feel much better and begin light workouts, perhaps get back to playing in 4-6 weeks. Or his head could remain addled, leaving him right where he is, his potential for full recovery unknown. Or he could worsen.

Consider: According to multiple reports, Savard felt fine for a stretch this summer, fit enough to play some competitive golf (his co-passion). But as summer played out, some of the cobwebs of that nasty Matt Cooke hit resurfaced, leaving Savard out of the mix when camp officially opened Saturday.

Players, even veterans like Savard with $28 million guaranteed over the next seven years, live for the start of training camp. It fuels them, renews them, brings them to life with the vibrancy and vitality of a butterfly shedding its cocoon. To hockey players, even when they are injured, the sound of a Zamboni in September is downright intoxicating.

For Savard to arrive here (per contract stipulations, of course), to meet with the docs, to learn his diagnosis, and then bolt back home? Even without a white coat, tongue depressor, or portable CAT scan, I can tell you something really isn’t right with Savard’s head and that no one, not even Savard, knows when, or if, those symptoms will abate.

Let’s not forget, it took well over a year for Patrice Bergeron really to feel fit again after the clobbering Flyers defenseman Randy Jones put on him. Cooke’s hit on Savard was less severe, and he was back playing in about two months, but Savard is older than Bergeron and is believed to have suffered prior concussions. Age and number of blows often affect a player’s ability to recover.

The Savard issue aside, the “State of the Bruins’’ hockey hootenanny brought some 2,000 fans to the Garden, where Andy Brickley hosted a polite 90-minute affair that included fans asking questions of Bergeron, Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara, Claude Julien, Jeremy Jacobs, Cam Neely, Charlie Jacobs, and Chiarelli.

For the most part, the fan questions were creampuffs, the likes of which included one young fan confessing that Chara, the team captain, is his hero.

“Thank you,’’ said the ever-earnest Chara, “for me being your hero.’’

The 6-foot-9-inch strongman later told the young man, “If I can give you advice, it is if you have dreams, go after them, and anything is possible. Just believe.’’

One fan, making open-mike night pure gold, blurted Chiarelli’s way, “I’d like to thank you for trading Dennis Wideman.’’

A middle-aged female fan politely asked owner Jeremy Jaccobs about perhaps sprucing up the Garden concessions menu, first kidding that steak and lobster would be nice additions to the fare. Or, she said, hamburgers would suffice. “Or even salad,’’ she said. “Anything healthy.’’

Asked the secret to his longevity, the ageless Recchi said, “I’ve said it before: red wine.’’ Cheers to that vintage bit of wisdom.

Later, Recchi committed a harmless and humorous faux pas regarding the color of the Bruins sweater, which he identified as yellow.

“Gold!’’ corrected Neely, in the stern voice of the Black-and-Gold’s president.

Repeatedly, Chiarelli noted that he believed the 2010-11 Bruins would prove to be a “more resilient’’ lot, a club more consistent on a night-to-night basis and one with the kind of mettle and temerity to battle through injury.

“The strength of the team,’’ he said, “will be its resolve and its resiliency — and we are going to have a successful year.’’

It is only Sept. 22, training camp not even one week old, and it is clear the first test of that resiliency will be the team’s No. 1 center, who remains home, his head hurting, his career on hold.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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