By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
With the Bruins season ending just over a week ago at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning four games to one, former B’s top line center Marc Savard the time to discuss the series, and the team’s bright future going forward.
BSD – Your thoughts on the series with Tampa and the way they were able to shut the Bruins down over the last four games?
MS – Yeah, it was frustrating. I mean, you could make excuses that they had guys hurt, but everyone has that this time off the year. I think Tampa just outplayed them. Maybe the Bruins did get a little tired, their schedule towards the end of the season was pretty tiresome compared to everyone else in the NHL.
But it wasn’t a horrible year by any stretch of the imagination. They finished a lot better than anyone thought they would, so I give them credit for that.
BSD – You mention the schedule, I’m pretty sure they played the least amount of games in the league heading into the Christmas break and then played pretty much every other day for the last six weeks of the season. As a player, how frustrating is it facing such a daunting schedule heading into the most difficult playoffs in professional sports?
MS – Well, you hit the nail on the head. It’s probably the most difficult playoffs in all of professional sports, and to go into to it being a little bit tired because they played every other night, you kind of wonder why the schedule was made that way.
But, like I said, they had a really good year. A lot of kids took a huge step forward this year and it will put them in a better spot for next year.
BSD – How do you compare this group the Bruins team that you and Zdeno Chara helped transform into contenders – and eventually Stanley Cup Champions in 2011 – when you both came here in ’06 in terms of the mixture of a solid base of veterans combined with an influx of young talent.
MS – You know, it kind of does. It takes time to build a winner and they are taking all the right steps. Like you said, we learned a lot of lessons along the way – the Philadelphia [Flyers] series [in 2010], being up three games and losing it – you almost have to lose sometimes to learn how to win. And I think that’s what’s gone on here. These guys will be back and contending for a long time.
Their first line is going to be together for the foreseeable future and they have a long line of kids coming along. As long as they stay healthy, they are going to contend for multiple [Stanley] Cups going forward.
I know we’re all upset that it’s over – I had them going all the way, myself – but there are so many positive things that happened and so much to build on, it’s hard not to be super excited for the future.
BSD – I know you touched on the number of young players that they currently have in their system. Given that, what do you think the likelihood is that Don Sweeney and the Bruins brass will pass on unrestricted free agents like Rick Nash, Riley Nash, and Tim Schaller – who will all cost considerably more in salary next season?
MS – Yeah, I think that’s what we talked about [earlier]. The kids being put into higher leverage situations earlier – especially when there were injuries at the beginning of the season – and it looks like guys like [Jake] DeBrusk, [Danton] Heinen – and especially [Charlie] McAvoy – are ready to take on even bigger roles next season.
I know Riley Nash had a big year, but unfortunately got hurt just before the playoffs. That’s a tough situation – I’ve been in that situation – you want to play because it’s the playoffs, but you just don’t know how healthy he really was.
I think they will let some of those veterans go, but I think they have plenty of kids who can step in and do those jobs.
BSD – We spoke about him briefly before, but the play of Charlie McAvoy this season – battling through a knee injury late in the season and a heart ailment earlier – was one of the several bright spots for the Bruins this year. Based on what you have seen, do you think he is the next in a long line of franchise defensemen over the years, including the likes of Chara, Ray Bourque, Brad Park, and the incomparable Bobby Orr?
MS – I do. I really see a lot of [Los Angeles Kings defenseman] Drew Doughty in him. And most exciting for Bruins fans is they get to see a couple more years of Zdeno Chara because this kid’s really partnering up well with him and helping him carry the load. All Zee needs to do is worry about his defensive end and let the kid take care of the rest.
The sky is the limit for this guy. I think he has some Norris Trophy’s in his future if he stays healthy. He just does everything well, and I think he is only going to get better offensively.
BSD – Given the way that the Bruins struggled with five on five play offensively against the Lightning, what do you think Sweeney needs to do this offseason to help the team go deeper into the playoffs next spring?
MS – Well, I think that you would really want to see how the kids we spoke about pan out at the beginning of the year. I think they have their top six with [the Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak line] and [David] Krejci, DeBrusk, and now [Ryan] Donato. If they could get a veteran 25-goal scorer – if there’s a guy out there – who will sign a reasonable deal with a chance to win, that would be great.
I think they have so many young guys who can come in a compete for a position on the team, there isn’t much that needs to be done. It’s going to be another exciting year in Boston, and I look forward to watching it.