Savard/By S. Bradley

We’ve beaten this fact to a pulp ever since the regular season ended: the Bruins scored the fewest goals in the NHL in 2009-10.

But that’s obviously not the only negative associated with the Bruins and scoring. We all know that when Marc Savard was out of the lineup, they were even worse — both at even strength on on the power play, where the difference between Boston with and without Savard was the same as listening to an aria sung by Miley Cyrus or Andrea Bocelli.

The Bruins’ reasoning for shopping Savard is elusive. Is it an on-ice issue? Is it about character? Is it about money?

Savard is far and away the Bruins’ best playmaker. Whether Patrice Bergeron could add a more dynamic bent to his offensive game while still serving as a shutdown center, or David Krejci could fill Savard’s skates by taking his creative offensive game to another level is a mystery no one can solve without considering that the odds are against the Bruins being able to replace a special talent like Savard.

It’s not just the offense, however, that makes Savard a player to build a team around. He has also made major strides in his defensive game over the last three seasons, even earning the right to kill penalties on a team that’s been one of the better shorthanded teams around over the last two campaigns. While Team Canada had its reasons for not inviting Savard to its orientation camp in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, just the fact that many of us in the media and in the coaching ranks were able to make an argument for his inclusion shows that he has come a long way from his pouting days in Calgary.

Still considered to be a bit of a selfish, quirky, stats-obsessed player behind closed door (I for one have witnessed Savard’s intense perusing of the NHL stats pack after practice a time or two), he has obviously matured into enough of a leader that head coach Claude Julien, who doesn’t take such matters lightly, has allowed his center to wear a letter on his sweater for stretches.

While Phil Kessel, who was tight with Savard, is probably a poor example of someone Savard took under his wing and nurtured based on the Toronto winger’s character issues, Milan Lucic is another guy who has been close with Savard since landing in Boston. Obviously Lucic arrived in the Hub with a surprising amount of polish for a teenager, but he hasn’t been corrupted by his friendship with Savard, nor has anyone that’s passed through the Bruins’ locker room the last two years.

Savard is never going to be the personification of a “Big, Bad Bruin” but he has shown some measure of toughness the last three seasons. Steve Begin broke a bone in Savard’s back late in ’08 and Savard battled back to contribute to Boston’s impressive playoff showing against Montreal. Savard put it all on the line against Carolina in Game 7 in ’09 despite a knee injury suffered in Game 6. And last season no one would’ve accused Savard of insubordination if he just packed it in after his Grade 2 concussion in March. However, he got up off the couch and worked his way back into the lineup. While he obviously wasn’t the same player as that Philadelphia series, he showed courage not only coming back from a serious head injury, but doing it against a Broad Street Bullies squad that didn’t shy away from taking pot shots at Savard’s melon.

Sure, Savard can sometimes be sneaky with his away-from-the-puck and after-the-whistle slashes and face-washes. An anonymous vote of the Bruins’ locker room would probably reveal a couple guys that wouldn’t want to dress next to Savard in the locker room or play a round of golf with him. But this isn’t church camp. Not everyone has to get along, not everyone has to play the same way. I’m pretty sure any roomful of 22 men would reveal some disagreements and disgust with each other. Any winning team in any sport has a mix of guys with different styles, different attitudes. As long as he’s not tearing down his teammates or ignoring the coach’s orders, a player of Savard’s caliber should be allowed to go about his business, and do it for a team that he obviously loves and wants to be a part of — as evidenced by the cap-friendly contract extension he signed a third of the way through last season.

That extension seemed to show a mutual desire to keep the Savard-Bruins relationship alive until he can’t skate anymore. This talk that maybe Cam Neely is pushing a Savard-less agenda seems off-base as well. Neely was vice president Dec. 1 when Savard was re-signed. While his new title of president might carry more clout, he was still above Chiarelli in the pecking order that day and could’ve vetoed the move then and there. Watching this season, if Neely did a complete 180 on Savard’s presence, that might show a fickleness that could prove costly in the long-run.

By all accounts, if the Bruins can move Tim Thomas, even if they have to take back a couple million in contracts in the deal, they would haven enough cap room to re-sign their free agents and then maybe move a minor play (a Matt Hunwick or Blake Wheeler) to upgrade wherever else they feel they need help. Moving Savard would create a hole that would definitely set them back in pursuit of their stated goal of a Stanley Cup championship. Not Jason Spezza, or Tomas Kaberle, or the No. 4 pick or any of the assets rumored to be heading to the Bruins, if they come at the expense of Savard, make Boston a title-worthy team. Great teams build down the middle, and the Bruins have a triumvirate of centers, a defense corps and a goaltender that you can match up against anyone else’s. Sure, sometimes you have to deal from a position of strength. But not when the returns are so unimpressive.

If this is more about the money, that would unfortunate. Maybe Chiarelli has been told that he won’t be allowed to pay Michael Ryder $4 million for playing with the Providence farm club if the winger is beaten out of a spot in camp. Or maybe the days of spending to the salary cap ceiling are over now that the cap has increased again. There is NO evidence of this right now, so this is just speculation. Savard’s deal, while cap-friendly, is front-loaded and owes him $23.5 million over the next three seasons, as opposed to just $7.5 million over the last four years (credit CapGeek.com). The same thing that’s scaring some teams away from Savard’s deal might also be the reason the Bruins are trying to send him away. Again, Cup-worthy teams invest all they can — money included — to go for it all. A player with Savard’s skill set, carrying a $4 million cap hit and a love of Boston and the franchise (and there’s been no reason to believe that assumption is wrong) don’t just show up on Causeway Street beating down the door to play for the Bruins every day.

Marc Savard is just too good a player to be shipped out for anything less than equal return. It might be that at this stage in his career and in this era of teams locking up their own players with cost-prohibitive, “lifetime” contracts, there is no comparable asset the Bruins could get for Savard. It seems like everyone has a contract that’s a bit out of whack or a no-trade clause that has to be waived.

Savard is a player well-worth paying what the Bruins are committed to dish out, and keeps the Bruins in the championship chatter. They should keep him and find other ways to cut payroll or upgrade at other positions.