The Montreal Canadiens landed the first big free agent for themselves in what could turn out to be a busy summer for Marc Bergevin as he attempts to cobble the defence back together in the absence of Shea Weber. The first piece of that was signing long-time Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman, and 2021 Stanley Cup champion David Savard to a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season.
The fine folks at Evolving-Hockey put together salary predictions with the likelihood of deals at each term and dollar amount, and it looks like Bergevin got him right along the lines of their projected cost; their prediction was $3.526 million on a four-year deal.
Four years might seem like a long while, but it’s right in line with what Marc Bergevin has done with previous defencemen in free agency. Ben Chiarot signed a three-year deal and Joel Edmundson signed a four-year contract, both at the exact same value as what Savard is getting. All thing considered, with the other prices being paid thus far in free agency, Savard’s deal is palatable especially given what his expected role is set to be.
Now, money aside, what does David Savard bring to the Montreal Canadiens?
I chatted with members of our sister sites Raw Charge and The Cannon to get the lowdown on what to expect from Savard. The simple answer is he’s a stay-at-home defender who isn’t going to provide a whole lot in the offensive end, but will happily eat up minutes in the defensive zone and bring physicality.
Savard spent most of last season paired with Vladislav Gavrikov in Columbus, and split time with Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev in Tampa, with the latter being a better fit.
Both sets of writers mentioned one major drawback in Savard’s game: his footspeed isn’t what it once was. That makes him vulnerable to quicker counter-attacks. To offset this, they recommend a more mobile partner who can cover for Savard’s lack of speed. In Montreal that sounds like Jeff Petry, or if the coaching staff trusts him enough Alexander Romanov or possibly even Mattias Norlinder. Considering the success of the Petry and Joel Edmundson pairing last year, it seems unlikely that they will break that pairing up.
It’s also not worth anchoring the Canadiens’ best offensive defenceman in the defensive zone, where Savard is likely to be counted on to eat up the minutes formerly taken by Shea Weber. It’s likely that the Canadiens will start with him alongside Ben Chiarot, which could form a nice duo as Chiarot has shown a willingness to be the puck-mover on his pairing with Weber, but it’s far from a strength. Which is what leads me to thinking he’s a very good fit for Romanov in the Canadiens’ lineup.
Having a mobile partner allows Savard the ability to play back a bit, and have someone who can cover if he’s caught in the offensive zone for any reason. As for Romanov, it provides him a highly stable option to play off of in the defensive zone, since it’s likely Savard will keep his game simple.
Like our friends at the other sites mentioned, Savard is not going to push the needle offensively, and hasn’t really at any point in his career. While defensively he doesn’t stray far from the net, even in his worst seasons Savard has shown himself to be a solid hand when called upon.
So Habs fans shouldn’t be expecting any kind of offence from him. He’s out there to eat up shots, and keep people out of the slot in the defensive zone, which is something Montreal has struggled with recently.
This is where Savard differs heavily from Weber. Despite Weber eating the heavy defensive minutes, he possessed plenty of offensive talent — at the very least the threat of it — when he had a fully functioning hand. So don’t expect to see Savard in three-on-three overtime or on the power play, but we can very much expect him to be a penalty-killing mainstay.
The penalty kill transformed into a juggernaut in the post-season for the Canadiens after struggling mightily for most of the regular season. Part of that was Weber’s work, and the arrival of Savard eases his loss slightly. With Savard preventing pucks in the slot, and hopefully the rest of the defence retaining some semblance of their playoff form, it’ll make life easier on Jake Allen and Carey Price next season.
Both writers we spoke to were quick to point out that Savard is also a much-loved leader on his teams, and will no doubt be a welcomed member to the veteran core coming into this upcoming season.
To bring it all together, the Canadiens found a serviceable middle-pairing defender in David Savard, who made it known that playing so close to home was a major factor in his signing.
"This was a family decision. We had other teams that approached us, but the Canadiens offer was the right one for my family." - David Savard, when asked if he left money on the table.— Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 28, 2021
"No matter the salary, when they offered the contract we said yes right away."
Dominique Ducharme’s staff will need to find him the proper partner who can cover for his flaws as well, and it might be a great chance for a young blue-liner to get more of an opportunity. Considering some of the other contracts signed today, Savard’s comes in at a solid value, that will be capable of being moved in the future.
For the Habs’ big splash at the start of free agency, it’s a safe bet on a well-established player in David Savard.