Hockey Notes

Depression adds to Savard’s burden

An emotional Marc Savard met with the media yesterday to discuss his struggles with postconcussion syndrome. An emotional Marc Savard met with the media yesterday to discuss his struggles with postconcussion syndrome. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
September 26, 2010

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A somber Marc Savard, his eyes welling up a couple of times, stood in the TD Garden dressing room yesterday morning and made it clear he won’t be able to play hockey for a while.

“I am definitely going to take my time,’’ said the Bruins’ No. 1 center, “and make sure that I am 100 percent in every aspect before I even think about playing.’’

What ails Savard, in the broad and often-ambiguous definition, is postconcussion syndrome, the lingering effects of the Grade 2 concussion he sustained last March when he was viciously blindsided with a crack to the head by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. In the center of that syndrome, Savard made clear yesterday, with his words and demeanor, is depression. Of all the usual symptoms related to concussions, that’s his biggest hurdle right now — one that can be difficult to overcome.

When I asked him during the informal media scrum if he were dealing with nausea, headaches, dizziness, seeing spots, and depression — many of the common issues related to concussions and often PCS — he said, “I think everything you just summed up there. I’ve had issues with everything so far, so, like I said, I have to see the doctors, get the help that I need and go from there.’’

And the most difficult of those symptoms?

“Oh, probably the depression part,’’ he said, his tone somber, his emotions clearly stirred. “That’s probably the toughest, so . . . that’s it.’’

This is why Savard’s road back is total guesswork and likely will remain that way for weeks, possibly months. His myriad symptoms of PCS must abate before he can begin working out; then he will have to get back on the ice and work his way into game condition.

Considering that he hasn’t played since mid-May, and that he skated for only a short time over the summer, he has a hefty, if not daunting, body of work in front of him.

“It’s one of those sciences that no one’s been able to figure out yet,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Everyone’s dealt with it differently, everyone’s recovered from it differently.’’

In one sense, Savard is fortunate, not only to have identified depression as his most nagging symptom, but also to be playing in modern times when something that can be so bedeviling is treatable, accepted. In the old NHL, as well as perhaps most pro sports cultures, it easily could have gone undetected or dismissed by teammates as so much excuse-making, malingering, even faking.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that has ever not been exposed to that kind of thing,’’ said Julien, noting that he “absolutely’’ understood what Savard said about depression. “Whether it’s family-related, friends or whatever, it is something that is very, very common, I think.

“Right now the toughest thing for him is that trouble controlling your feelings, and it has nothing to do with [him] personally. It’s inside. Guys find things that they can’t control tough, and right now he can’t control that.’’

Savard’s head is hurting, his emotions are scrambled, his career is on hold. The calendar tells us that hockey season is upon us. For now, Savard’s PCS has rendered his start date PPD, and that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.

Veteran talent available now
Ex-Bruin Kyle McLaren, without NHL employment since his 61 games with San Jose in 2007-08, reported to Atlanta on a tryout agreement that began last weekend, only to be cut free by the Thrashers Thursday.

“He’ll take a deep breath right now,’’ said his agent, Neil Abbott, via e-mail. “He has a few options but wants to take the weekend to consider everything.’’

McLaren is only 33 and has the kind of size (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds) that might still attract some interest. Let’s not forget, Chris Chelios found work well past his 86th birthday.

Another option for Boston’s former first-round pick (No. 9, 1995) could be Europe, although league play has begun overseas. It could be a few weeks before general managers on either side of the Atlantic show any interest, which means McLaren will have to find a safe harbor to keep up his fitness level.

Some of the other veteran talent still looking for gainful employment:

Miro Satan — As he was at the start of last season, he is still window shopping. The 35-year-old winger wasn’t bad with the Bruins, picking up 14 points in 38 regular-season games, then adding a respectable 5-5—10 in 13 playoff games. “We’re not in a position to add to our roster right now,’’ said Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. “He provided us with very good service last season, but right now we’re looking to stock with the players on hand.’’

Jose Theodore — He put in his two years with the Capitals, but coach Bruce Boudreau lost confidence in him last season. At 34, this could be the end of the trail for the 2001-02 Vezina and MVP winner. Another former Habs goalie, once considered a Montreal deity, who just faded away very quietly.

Marek Svatos — The Czech winger, only 28, broke in with 32 goals his rookie season, and some felt he projected as a perennial 35- to 40-goal scorer. But he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. He was limited to 54 games and 11 points with Colorado last year. His speed and scoring résumé, though a bit dusty, should bring some interest.

Steve Begin — Lost his job here when Boston picked up Gregory Campbell in the Dennis Wideman trade with Florida. Did not provide enough of the edgy, antagonizing forecheck the Bruins hoped for when he signed on as free agent out of Dallas. Now 32 years old and left out in the cold because too many kids can do the job for minimum salary.

Plug is pulled on TV team
The Bruins are among five teams that won’t have their television play-by-play guys working their games in Europe. Of the half-dozen squads that will open the season with a pair of games each overseas, only the Sharks will have their play-by-play and color guys in the booth. Here in the Hub, Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley will call the two games vs. Phoenix, both in Prague, off a monitor in NESN’s Watertown studios. Let’s not forget, the Bruins are partners with the Red Sox in NESN ownership. If the Sox were to open with a pair of games in, oh, Antarctica, would they have Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on the job? Bet your Aunt Gert’s pink BoSox hat and apron on it. NESN’s A team made it to Japan when the Sox opened there, correct? True, NESN’s Sox ratings tubed this year, along with ad revenue, but the network’s presence on basic cable still makes it, as we have said here before, a bloated cash behemoth. What the Bruins must do, post haste, is convince John Henry’s wife, Linda Pizzuti, to view NHL games as sort of an offbeat, aberrant entertainment viewing experience (as much of America does), and then maybe a little NESN love would come the Black and Gold’s way. Not sure Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs will ever grow tired of his team being slotted as second-class citizens on a network in which he allegedly maintains an ownership position.

A new Leaf?
Note from deep inside the Maple Leafs dressing room: Pre-camp testing had ex-Bruin Phil Kessel blowing a 60 in the VO2 max (which measures cardiorespiratory endurance), then cranking off 22 chinups. Regular visitors to the room report that the speedy 22-year-old looks stronger and fitter, something management asked him to improve upon as he was leaving for summer vacation. Look for coach Ron Wilson to open with a No. 1 line this year that has Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin centered by Tyler Bozak, and the top D pairing to be captain Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin. J.S. Giguere is likely to be the No. 1 goalie, unless Jonas Gustavsson wrests the job away in the next 7-10 days.

Formula ends at 409
The final tally in St. Paul: 409. The Minnesota Wild, who opened the franchise doors in the fall of 2000, drew a crowd of 16,219 to their exhibition game Wednesday night vs. St. Louis, thus ending the franchise’s sellout streak at 409. Capacity at the Xcel Energy Center is 18,064. The Trappist Wonks might want to reconsider their decision not to bring back ex-Globie Chris Snow, who never knew anything but a sellout during his days as director of hockey ops. The only two sellout streaks longer than Minny’s: the Avalanche (487) and the Red Wings (452). “Everything comes to an end,’’ said an upbeat Craig Leipold, the Wild owner. What must come to an end next is the team’s playoff DNQs. The Wild missed the postseason in 2009 and 2010.

Flying start for Holmstrom
Former UMass-Lowell center Ben Holmstrom earned rave reviews from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette last week for his work pivoting an energy line with Ian Laperriere and Jody Shelley. The Colorado Springs-born Holmstrom, ULowell Class of ’10, isn’t likely to start the season on Broad Street, but he’s likely to be the first forward recalled from the Adirondacks (AHL).

Loose pucks
Ah, the power of marketing. Coca-Cola Zero bought out the Air Canada Centre, allowing customers into the Leafs’ comfy home for free to see them take on the Senators in an exhibition game. The Senators blanked the Leafs, 5 to Zero. Gotta love that kind of synergy . . . Boston University coaching legend Jack Parker continues to recover from heart surgery he had over the summer. If he needs a night off behind the Terrier bench this season, associate coach Mike Bavis will handle the duties, accompanied by Pertti Hasanen, who is back on Commonwealth Ave. again after pursuing other business interests . . . New Jersey’s big line has $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk flipped from left to right wing (does it really matter?), with Zach Parise on the left and Travis Zajac at pivot. With Jason Arnott refitted in Devils duds, the New York Post’s Mark Everson has dubbed the Patrik Elias-Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner unit the “Again Line’’ . . . The tattoo Kris Versteeg got on his arm over the summer: “06-09-10.’’ It marks the day the former Bruins prospect, now with Toronto, clinched the Cup with the Blackhawks. According to what he told the Globe and Mail, Versteeg got the ink job at 4 a.m, a couple of days after the Cup clincher. Your faithful puck chronicler has never been to a tattoo parlor and has only driven by Harvard Business School, but I am willing to bet that 97.26 percent of all tattoo income is realized between the hours of 2-5 a.m. and that only 2.74 percent of the customers could pass a Breathalyzer.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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