In March of 2011, David Savard signed a tryout contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they did not have an NHL roster spot for him. Knowing he needed to be playing regularly, he decided to jump to the AHL and play for the Springfield Falcons.
In the summer of 2010, David Savard was playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and in the summer of 2017, he was signed as a free agent to the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s quite a jump, and the journey to his signing with the Lightning shows how David Savard has been able to defy the odds in his career.
2019, the Columbus Blue Jackets made one of the biggest moves in Stanley Cup playoff history. Columbus has never won in the playoff round. They took on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had a plus-103 goal differential in the regular season and set an NHL record with 62 wins. Tampa led 3-0 in the first period of the first game. According to David Savard, a Blue Jackets defenseman at the time, the biggest turning point in the series came early in the second period. Our goalie Sergei Bobrovsky rebounded a pass from [Steven] Stamkos to [Nikita] Kucherov, who could have made it 4-0. That’s what kept us going. We scored a goal and kept believing in it. Then we followed the process. We saw some frustration in their team and that encouraged us to play the right way. After Columbus won that game and the next three, the Lightning became the first President’s Trophy winner in history to be eliminated in the first round. When Columbus met Tampa Bay in the 2020 playoffs, everything changed. Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois opted for toughness by acquiring Patrick Maroon and Zach Bogosian in free agency and then recruiting Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. I feel like we [the Blue Jackets] played a big role in bringing in Coleman and Goodrow, Savard said. They used to focus more on offense. Now it was much harder for them to defend themselves. They didn’t rely on their talent to win games, they relied on hard work. Our mentality was to defend against them, limit the number of shots and things like that, and it was almost impossible to create anything against them. Tampa beat Columbus in five games to win the stanley cup As the Lightning began to replicate their success in 2021, they identified the next player they needed to cross the threshold: David Savard. Savard, 30, spent his entire 10-year NHL career with Columbus. He is a defensive defender who was best known for his tendency to block throws. His 958 points make him the top scorer in Blue Jackets history, nearly 200 more than anyone else. He is not known for a criterion that is often used in voting for the Norris Trophy these days: Attacking skills. Savard had a 107-game scoreless streak that lasted until this season. When asked to describe Savard, a former teammate gave three sentences: It is unpretentious, requires no special care and is hardworking. I don’t usually get noticed, Savard says. And that part doesn’t bother me. I like to participate and do my best for my team, but I don’t do it to be the best or anything. But after Savard’s contract expired and the Blue Jackets realized they needed to rebuild, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen contacted the defenseman after a trip to Detroit and Florida in late March. I saw it coming, Savard said. Jarmo told me there was a good chance they would let me go. 2 Connected For nearly two weeks, Savard has found himself in an unknown place: the most coveted and perhaps most talked about defenseman in the entire NHL. I tried to ignore much of what was said, Savard said. It was very strange to know that so many people were talking about you. At the same time, it was great to know that many teams wanted you. The Lightning finally got Savard by giving up a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 fourth-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick for the robust defender. It was an incredible opportunity for Savard. Not many teams have won two Cups in a row, so this is a great opportunity to do something special, Savard said. It’s really cool to be a part of this group. For the Lightning, it was a high price to pay for a player who could leave this summer. Additional draft capital was invested to get Savard into the Lightning’s tight end, as the Blue Jackets and Red Wings retained some of Savard’s $4.25 million in cap space. The Lightning also gave up first-round picks for Coleman and Goodrow, and those moves immediately led to a Stanley Cup. Savard knew that fans expected him to do the same, even though he has less playing time now that his contract expires this summer. When you join a new team, you want to do well and you can put too much pressure on yourself, Savard said. First: They try to keep playing the same old game. Obviously, this is a team with so many skills that you try to play more than you have to. But sometimes you have to take a step back, breathe and let the song come to you. Not many teams have won back-to-back Cups, so this is a great opportunity to do something special, Savard said of his move to the Lightning. Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images It wasn’t the easiest of starts for Savard, who had been used to doing things a certain way for so long. In Tampa’s first 14 games, the Lightning were 14-3 when Savard stepped on the ice. I thought I was thinking too much about it, Savard said. You always want to be in the right place. Hockey is still the same game. I know their system, but it’s the fighting that counts. If you think too much on the ice, you’ll be late to the games. I think [the strategy] in the neutral zone is very different than what I was used to in the last six years of [John Tortorella’s] tenure in Columbus. For years I played most of my games with the same partner. I’m just starting to get used to it, and I’m even still learning training names and stuff like that because I don’t have time to learn them. But with each game I feel more and more comfortable. And that’s a good thing, because we’re getting ready for a long race. Savard is on the mend and he thanks the coaching staff for meeting with him regularly at every opportunity to keep him on track. We haven’t had much time to practice, he said. But they are very good at making me see the good or the bad. Everyone tries to help me and it was easy for me to adjust and get to know the guys. Post-game analysis and broadcast every night of the season by Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch ESPN+ At the beginning of the first round, Saward admits, I was not at my best. Towards the end of the series, he tried to play more physical, play my style, and it showed. Game 6 of the first round, for example, was perhaps one of his best in a Lightning jersey, including blocking a 2-on-1 chance for Andrei Vasilevskiy. He missed the first two games of the second round due to an upper-body injury. Watching the Lightning gave him a new appreciation for the players and what they were able to accomplish last year. It’s clear that Kuch has impressed in the first round. I was on the other side of some of those passes, but to see him every day and see him work in practice is great, Savard said. And I’m also thinking Braden Point. What he did [in Game 6 of the first round] to end the streak, the little plays he makes by people and finding open space, it’s just incredible. It was hard to play against him, but I’m really glad I’m on his team now and not on the other side of him. Mr. Savard and his wife, Valerie, live in a rental home in Tampa Bay with their three young children. The kids are pretty small, so it wasn’t that hard, they didn’t have many friends to say goodbye to, he said. But it was a new experience for them and they handled it well, which made it easier for me to play hockey. Savard will enter free agency this summer, which means he can choose where he goes next. I hadn’t really thought about it, he said. Right now I’m trying to focus on playing well here and helping the team win the Stanley Cup. When that happens, we’ll get to the bottom of it. It’s hard to say when the expansion draft will take place which teams will have an open spot in the cap, so we’ll see when that day comes.