Marc Savard: Winning Isn’t Everything

This past Monday, a video appeared on featuring Marc Savard during his day in Peterborough with the Stanley Cup (“Long Road Back”, TSN).  He posed for pictures, signed autographs, and talked about his continued health concerns and outlook.  Though Savard was given the same privilege of celebrating the Bruins’ cup victory that all other Bruins were awarded, he may not have his name engraved on hockey’s greatest shrine.  NHL rules stipulate that a player must play at least one game in the Finals to be eligible.  As if Marc could afford another blow to the head.

Savard: choices to make (slidingsideways/Flickr)

Savard discussed his regular battle with memory loss, headaches, and obstructed eyesight.  When asked about the ongoing debate on headshots and rule changes, he made clear that he felt the responsibility of ensuring the health of players fell upon the players themselves.  He admitted that the league must use its position to enforce new rules but that ultimately it was on the players to establish mutual respect amongst themselves.

The video then cuts to Gino Reda and Jamie McLennen for immediate analysis.  Reda, with his light-hearted exterior, can from time to time cut deeply into a sensitive hockey issue with alarming clarity.  This time was no different.  He suggests that someone should perhaps approach Marc Savard and convince him not to make an NHL comeback.  McLennen offers another, more troubling perspective.

As a former player, McLennen is given the opportunity to offer an insider’s look into the minds of professional skaters.  He hopes that Savard can retire on his own terms and, in regards to a loss in quality of life for concussed players, he casually remarks:  “Who knows what the last ten years of your life are gonna be like.  I mean, if you’re old and stumbling around…” (  He reiterates what Reda explains is the most common response of NHL players to the question of sacrificing their health for a chance at winning it all.  McLennen:  “Marc Savard did not get a chance to win the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins this year”.

Reda then hits the nail on the head.  He remarks that since most players would put winning before quality of life, there can never be a shared respect amongst players and that it is therefore the league’s responsibility to protect the players from themselves.

Well documented incidents like this one confront players and fans with the frightening notion that winning is not important.  And although we’ve all heard this mantra before from our school counselors, it dismantles our devotion to a sport that attracts athletes, enthusiasts, business owners, writers – an entire subculture and community.  Will a more health conscious sport be less entertaining and dramatic?  The NHL player is simply doing what he loves, while making a living.  The business owner is doing what’s right for the fans and stockholders.  The fantasy hockey manager gets to play a game with her friends who live in different parts of the country.  The writer is seeking engaging debate with like-minded observers.  All involved may be forced to make a choice.

Meanwhile, Marc Savard is faced with choosing between playing for the Cup and satisfying all of said subculture while risking his life, or being a reliable father and husband.  Whoa.

This writer is not suggesting that Savard go live in a house of Nerf and live happily ever after (photo not available).  There are inherent risks in every occupation.  But he is now faced with defining his legacy and shaping his future as a person, not an employee.  Will he be Marc Savard, Stanley Cup champion (which to non-Bruins fans, he is not)?  Or simply Marc Savard?   Wendel Clark will always be a favourite Maple Leaf despite not winning.  Paul Kariya left with a glimpse of good health and no ring.  Is Marc OK with being just Marc?  Whose choice should it be?

And what if something terrible happens and Marc Savard no longer resembles Marc Savard?