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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What Marc Savard's status does for Boston's draft strategy

Just a month ago, if you monitored draft conversations on the internet about the Boston Bruins and their approach to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, you might have seen various folks talking about how the B's don't "need" centers and therefore wouldn't be likely to draft one with their top pick.

Well, all of that is now off the table given the announcement Monday that veteran pivot Marc Savard, after suffering a second concussion in less than 12 months, has been placed by the Bruins on Long Term Injured Reserve and will not play at all for the rest of the 2010-11 regular season and playoffs. Savard's NHL future is now in doubt, and supporters of the team and around the league can only now hope and pray that he can resume his passion and livelihood without any long-term consequences. The decision to return or retire is Savard's alone to make, so we can only stand by him as he wrestles with a new round of post-concussion symptoms from the hit delivered by former teammate Matt Hunwick in an innocuous-looking play a few weeks back.

From the team's perspective, this latest development has potentially far-reaching effects. With Savard now out, the question becomes whether GM Peter Chiarelli will go out and try to find a veteran solution up the middle via trade. He has 2007 top pick Zach Hamill on hand to give it a try, but the reception for the one-time eighth overall selection has been tepid at best. Hamill has not delivered on the promise the B's had for him when he led the WHL in scoring with 93 points and was picked one spot ahead of leading Calder Trophy contender Logan Couture as top NHL rookie. But if ever there was a chance for Hamill to step up and take advantage of a fleeting NHL opportunity, it is now.

Looking beyond this season, Tyler Seguin has all the makings of a top NHL centerman, and even prospect Ryan Spooner is an option at the position, as that his been his primary location as a junior in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes and Kingston Frontenacs. Jamie Arniel is another center who is believed to have a better projection on the wing as a pro, but could see that plan change if Savard does not return next season or, heaven forbid, suffers another setback.

What this means for the Bruins is that more than ever, they will adhere to the best player available (BPA) philosophy and where perhaps when Savard's health was not an issue, they may have looked to add a slightly less-ranked winger or defenseman over center given their depth at the time. Now, with the top pick, if a center was available to them with the Toronto selection, they will likely re-think that position and opt for the center if he's the top guy on their board.

Top picks are all about upside and taking a star player, and if that happens to be a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Sean Couturier available to the Bruins, it's hard to imagine they would opt for a player they have lower on their board even if it addresses more of a need. Even a player like Niagara center Ryan Strome could work his way into the mix depending on where that Toronto pick ends up.

This is not to say that the center is going to be a player the Bruins value more than whomever is available on the blue line or on the wing when the pick arrives, but based on current projections, there is the possibility that one of the top-ranked centermen could fall to Boston. If that happens, then understand that if the team opts for another center, they are taking the longer view that Savard may not in fact be in the equation, or at least if he is, will be on the downside of his productivity and will be one of those "day-to-day for life" players you can't count on to be there when needed most.

It's about acquiring top-end talent and assets-- not about addressing needs by settling on lesser-rated players. Savard's loss reinforces the importance of thinking strategically and not being short-sighted when it comes to building the organization.

Oh, and one final note- here's a genuine appeal to Savard to take all the time he needs to get well. You can't put a timetable on the recovery, but Savard has the rest of his life to consider in the decision to return to action next season or later. Legions of hockey fans are pulling for Savard and wish him the absolute best. Please get well, Savvy- that's the most important thing.

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