Sports

Fluto Shinzawa | Sunday Hockey Notes

Marc Savard’s injury sets discipline standard

Minnesota’s Erik Haula (bottom) was sprawled out on the ice after a hit to the head by the Rangers’ John Moore.
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Minnesota’s Erik Haula (bottom) was sprawled out on the ice after a hit to the head by the Rangers’ John Moore.

Marc Savard dished out 499 career assists. In Atlanta, he teamed with Ilya Kovalchuk to form one of the NHL’s most lethal scoring combinations. Savard’s name is on the Stanley Cup despite playing in only 25 regular-season games for the Bruins in 2010-11. He signed a seven-year, back-diving deal (he’s due $575,000 annually in 2015-16 and 2016-17), the type of cap-skirting contract the NHL targeted during the 2012-13 lockout.

Savard’s most significant contribution to the league, however, is the one that’s had the most lasting effect on his health. On Monday, Erik Haula took a drop pass from Nino Niederreiter and snapped a shot on goal from the high slot. Upon the left-shot forward’s release, John Moore of the Rangers curled in from Haula’s right. Moments after Haula let his shot loose, Moore flattened the unsuspecting Minnesota forward with a hit from the side, sending him twirling to the Madison Square Garden ice.

On March 7, 2010, in Pittsburgh, Savard reeled in a feed from Milan Lucic and put the puck on goal from inside the blue line. The next thing he knew, he was spinning in the air with his head snapped backward, the result of Matt Cooke’s blindside hit. Like Haula, Savard is a left shot. Cooke approached from his right. Like Haula, Savard never saw his opponent approach.

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The hits were similar. The outcomes were not.

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Cooke was neither penalized nor suspended. Referees Gord Dwyer and Frederick L’Ecuyer tagged Moore with a match penalty, which prompts an automatic ejection and suspension.

Two days later, the NHL suspended Moore, a repeat offender, for five games for an illegal check to the head. Moore got lucky. He deserved a longer sitdown.

When Moore launched, everybody in the league was guessing the length of his suspension before Haula hit the deck. This is Savard’s legacy. By being on the wrong end of a life-changing wallop, Savard helped to initiate real and lasting culture change in less than five years. Not many players make the game a different place than the one they knew when they entered.

Moore was subject to supplemental discipline because of the existence of Rule 48. In 2010, this rule did not exist.

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Colin Campbell, then the league’s disciplinarian, was in a jam. At the time, as it is now, supplemental discipline was framed by the rules.

It didn’t matter if Campbell or anyone with untroubled eyesight could recognize that it was a bad hit. Campbell could not flip open the rule book and point to text that would allow Cooke to be punished. Lawyers are involved in the disciplinary process. A “Law & Order” watcher, to say nothing of a professional who’s passed the bar, would have appealed any suspension and done so successfully.

Campbell had a history with Savard. The two did not get along when Savard was a Ranger and Campbell was his coach.

But Campbell, with guidance from the general managers and owners, had to do something. He was responsible for determining that the 2009-10 NHL rule book was not a final draft.

It just so happened that year that the GM meetings started a day after Cooke’s hit on Savard. The incident was a primary topic — not just of discussion, but action. Later that month, the NHL fast-tracked penalizing hits to the head of an unsuspecting player. This became Rule 48, which debuted in 2010-11. It made it illegal to throw lateral or blindside hits where the head was targeted and/or the principal point of contact. At the time, commissioner Gary Bettman called the rule a fundamental shift.

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The rule still stands today. It has been tweaked to punish hits in which the head is the main point of contact. Rule 48 is one of the major improvements to the NHL’s daily operation. It allowed the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which did not exist in 2010, to determine that Moore did not hit Haula squarely through the body because he took a poor angle of approach.

Haula got lucky. He left the game after the hit but was not diagnosed with a concussion. Haula, 23, didn’t play the following night in Boston. The Wild held him out on Thursday against San Jose, too. But the forward resumed skating three days after the check. Prior to this injury, he had not missed any time because of a hit to the head.

“It was pretty much our call to keep him out,” coach Mike Yeo said on Tuesday prior to the Wild’s game against the Bruins. “Obviously a bad hit. We were told he’s not diagnosed with a concussion. But sometimes with those symptoms, a couple days later you find out. So we have to make sure and protect the player in this case. We’re not 100 percent confident that he’s not at risk of going out, playing tonight, and taking another hit.”

Savard was not so lucky. He did not start 2010-11 because of post-concussion syndrome symptoms, including depression. By the time Matt Hunwick knocked him out on Jan. 22, 2011, Savard had suffered multiple concussions throughout his pro career.

The 37-year-old is on the Bruins’ books through 2017. But his playing days are over. He is living with his family in Peterborough, Ontario. Savard is a part-time scout for the Ottawa 67s.

Now the Rangers and the rest of the NHL will see if Moore’s suspension, his second in less than five months, will have an effect. Moore’s first sitdown (a two-gamer in the playoffs for an illegal check to Dale Weise’s head) didn’t change his behavior. It’s his responsibility to make sure the second one does. Moore owes it to himself, his employer, and his peers. No player deserves to end his career early like Savard.

ROLE PLAYER

Scott only fulfilling
his job requirement

John Scott is out $17,073.18 after the league suspended him for two games following his fight last Sunday with Anaheim’s Tim Jackman. The Sharks should do the right thing and get that cash back in Scott’s pocket. On the play, the San Jose tough guy did exactly what his employer hired him to do. Scott and Jackman had tangled earlier in the game.

Scott didn’t have issues about that fight. But the ex-Sabre didn’t appreciate Jackman’s third-period engagement of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Jackman had 10 scraps last season, according to www.hockeyfights.com. Vlasic, the Sharks’ ace defenseman and one of their best players, has one career fight: a hiss-and-scratcher against Daniel Briere in 2009.

Jackman’s tangle with Vlasic mushroomed into a Ben Lovejoy-Joe Pavelski fight. It didn’t end well for Anaheim and Lovejoy, who broke a finger in the fight. Jackman’s attempt to go with Vlasic also guaranteed a future dance with the most dangerous fighter in the league.

Scott thought he did it right. He didn’t leave the bench immediately. Later in the third, when Matt Nieto came off for a change, Scott rolled onto the ice, pursued Jackman, gave his opponent a chance to drop his gloves, then started the fight. Scott’s violation of Rule 70.2 — starting a fight after a legal line change — triggered Rule 28, an amorphous catch-all that allows the league to issue supplemental discipline on any incident.

In reality, the notion that a tough guy serves as a deterrent is a myth. This was no different in Anaheim. Jackman already had committed the crime of targeting Vlasic. Had the concept been true, Jackman wouldn’t have dared jab Vlasic because of Scott’s presence on the bench.

But Scott did his job. He made sure that such nonsense would be addressed. Actions like Scott’s bring teams together. That’s worth more than $17k.

BATTLE LINES

Bruins need better
work along the walls

The Bruins had their issues in October. Tuukka Rask didn’t play at a Vezina-winning level. Their defensemen missed down-low assignments. They had lines go missing, even the two-way threesome of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Reilly Smith.

But their biggest area of weakness was their battle level along the boards around their blue line. The Bruins have traditionally been efficient at controlling neutral-zone play. Their forwards backcheck aggressively. Their defensemen have been given the green light to close gaps when support is available.

Thus, the Bruins spring the trap in the neutral zone, force turnovers, and flood the offensive zone with speed and numbers.

In the first month, the Bruins lost too many battles and were regularly second to pucks on the wall. This allowed opponents to gain clean entries over the blue line or send pucks deep into the Bruins’ zone. It’s why the Bruins have had so much trouble with clean breakouts.

The defensemen have had neither time nor space to retrieve pucks and turn the other way before forechecking forwards rammed their heads through the glass. When the Bruins tried their standard D-to-D breakout, opposing forwards either cut off the pass or slammed down on the defenseman who received the pass. The other escape routes — to the center down low or the strong-side wing — were sealed off, too.

If they want to ease the heat on their defensemen, the Bruins’ forwards have to be more thorough at winning battles up the ice. Otherwise, teams will continue to swarm in on the forecheck. The Wild, Islanders, and Sharks succeeded this way. Other teams will follow.

Kings forced to play shorthanded

Yet another reason the Bruins had to deal Johnny Boychuk: roster flexibility. The Bruins could have traded Adam McQuaid or Matt Bartkowski, two of their less-expensive defensemen. But this would have handcuffed the Bruins. They would have bumped up against the salary ceiling, which would have prevented them from carrying extra players. The Kings learned this the hard way on Tuesday. The defending champions dressed only 19 players against the Flyers because Anze Kopitar was unavailable because of an injury. For most of the night, coach Darryl Sutter rolled three lines and sat spare parts Andy Andreoff and Jordan Nolan. The Kings are still carrying Slava Voynov’s cap hit while the defenseman is suspended indefinitely because of a domestic assault charge. This isn’t helping the Kings. But they already were playing with fire by leaving little breathing room under the ceiling.

Nolan doing the dirty work in Buffalo

Jim Rutherford hired Mike Johnston. On the same day Brian MacLellan became Washington’s GM, Barry Trotz was named its coach. Ron Francis brought on Bill Peters. Jim Benning hired Willie Desjardins. This is standard operating procedure. Among a new GM’s first and most important priorities is signing the right coach. This wasn’t the case in Buffalo, where Tim Murray inherited interim coach Ted Nolan. Instead of letting him go to hire his man, Murray signed Nolan to a three-year extension through 2017. Given the degree of Buffalo’s rebuild, it’s easier to understand Murray’s decision now. The Sabres are on pace to finish last and draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. They need help at every position. Neither Jhonas Enroth nor Michal Neuvirth is the answer in goal, and the contracts of both are up after this season. They will deal unrestricted free agents-to-be Chris Stewart, Drew Stafford, and Andrej Meszaros for more draft picks. It’s Nolan’s job to bite the bullet, develop the organization’s young players, and ride out the rebuild. By the time the Sabres are ready to play legitimate NHL hockey, Nolan’s contract will be up and Murray can hire his replacement. It’s a tough job for Nolan. But he probably knew the work required to gut the roster. Otherwise, it does not say much about Nolan’s eye for talent.

Minnesota not wild about Vanek’s offense

After nine games, the Wild’s Thomas Vanek (0-7—7) was averaging just 1.67 shots on goal. In comparison, teammate Zach Parise had landed 45 pucks on net. The numbers reflected their engagement level (or lack thereof). Vanek doesn’t seem to have changed much since last year’s playoffs, when he was a bleu, blanc, et rouge ghost. “He was brought here to add offense,” said coach Mike Yeo. “We’ve definitely seen him and his playmaking ability and some of the plays he’s set up. But we definitely want to find a way on our end to get him on the scoresheet as far as the goal column as well.” Vanek is due $6.5 million annually through 2017.

Canadiens getting better of this swap

The Canadiens are pleased with the play of P.A. Parenteau, rebranded as Pierre-Alexandre upon his return to his home province. Parenteau has been the right wing on Montreal’s second line with Alex Galchenyuk and Tomas Plekanec. He’s given Michel Therrien a dependable presence (2-3—5, 15:52 of ice time per game) who goes to the dirty areas. The Canadiens acquired Parenteau from Colorado for Daniel Briere, who’s been quiet in 10 games. After playing only 6:31 against San Jose on Wednesday, Briere (2-1—3, 11:07 ice time per game) was a healthy scratch for Colorado’s 5-0 stomping of the Islanders on Friday. The trade was curious from the start and looks even worse for Colorado now.

Loose pucks

Another tough guy said goodbye for now on Tuesday. To make room for Matt Cullen, the Predators placed Rich Clune on waivers. The 27-year-old Clune had 166 penalty minutes last season. Through eight games, the Predators had dressed Clune just once for 5:30 of ice time . . . Ex-Penguins GM Ray Shero caught up with two of his Pittsburgh coworkers, Chuck Fletcher and Tom Fitzgerald, in Boston on Tuesday. Fletcher, now Minnesota’s GM, was Shero’s assistant. Fitzgerald’s former title was assistant to the GM. Shero’s son, Kyle, is a student at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., where former University of Maine coach Tim Whitehead heads up the varsity. Possible landing spots for Ray Shero include Florida and Winnipeg, where Dale Tallon and Kevin Cheveldayoff are watching over teams treading water . . . So far, Galchenyuk, picked No. 3 in 2012, looks like the more complete NHLer than No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov. The main difference: strength on the puck. Galchenyuk pulls off skilled plays at high speed because defensemen can’t take the puck off his stick. Yakupov has yet to show that kind of strength. As such, Yakupov hasn’t earned as much rope in Edmonton as his former junior teammate has under Therrien . . . Six of the Bruins are currently wearing skates with removable pop-out blades. This number should grow as players acknowledge the ease of switching blades in seconds instead of minutes . . . Claude Giroux averaged 4.7 shots through 10 games. Only two of those shots, however, had gone in. Giroux’s 4.3 percent shooting accuracy is way off his 12.6 percent rate last season, when Philadelphia’s top-line center buried 28 goals. Once Giroux shakes his bad luck, his goal scoring should improve. The Flyers captain and linemate Jakub Voracek are up there with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin as a dangerous offensive pairing . . . The Sabres did the right thing on Friday by returning Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, to the Kootenay Ice, the forward’s junior team. Reinhart’s nine games with Buffalo will not count as a year on his entry-level contract. In Kootenay, for the first time this season, the 18-year-old will be able to play with players who belong in the NHL.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.