Could Bruins benefit from league investigation?

Savard/By S. Bradley

Marc Savard showed how much he wanted to stay with the Bruins last December when he re-signed with the club, and the Bruins have seemingly determined they can keep Savard around after a couple months of allegedly shopping him around to clear cap space.

Now it seems there’s a chance the Savard-Bruins marriage could be broken up by a third party, and that might not be the worst thing for the club.

As first reported by the Team 1200 in Ottawa and confirmed by a number of other media outlets, Savard’s seven-year, $28.05 million extension – which pays him just $525,000 over the last two years of the deal – is one of four so-called “retirement contracts” that is still being investigated by the NHL.

This information was revealed in a footnote in the arbiter’s decision that voided Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract with New Jersey Monday. The others deals being examined by the league belong to Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Chicago’s Marian Hossa and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Only Hossa has begun to be paid as part of his 12-year, $63.3 million contract.

The hypocrisy of this is obvious. The league approved and registered the contracts and, by almost all accounts, they’re allowable under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. While the Kovalchuk ruling seems to have given the league new life in fighting the battle against the would-be cap-circumventers, the timing in all this is just ridiculous. Should the league reject one of the investigated deals, and win the inevitable arbitration afterward, four of the biggest stars of the league would be deemed unrestricted free agents just weeks before the opening of training camps. What the league would rule about Hossa as part of the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago team last season could only be ascertained by climbing into commissioner Gary Bettman’s brain. If you thought the major media outlets of the U.S. and the other major professional sports entities looked at the NHL as a circus act before, just wait to see how large the big top would be should the league start voiding contracts some eight months more after approving said deals.

Without digging too much through the muck that is the NHL and its dealings with the NHLPA, let’s look at this from a purely Boston Bruins-based perspective. The league investigates, the league rescinds the deal and Savard is rule an unrestricted free agent. Then what would the club do? His contract contains a full no-trade clause, which combined with his recent concussion problem and not-so-great locker room reputation around the league, has made him untradeable despite the friendly cap hit he carries (slightly more than $4 million). Seemingly, the Bruins have no room for him on the depth chart when you pencil in No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin as a third center behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

If the league removed Savard from the Bruins’ roster, the team would free up $4 million in cap space. But more importantly, they’d have $7 million cash more to spend in each of the next two seasons and $25.5 total to spend over the next four years. That type of dough would come in handy when trying to re-sign Zdeno Chara and Bergeron, not to mention bolstering the depth on the wing and at defense.

Now all summer I’ve argued against the idea of trading Savard. Removing the best offensive player from the league’s worst offense smells like a step back to me, despite the addition of Seguin and Nathan Horton. I also couldn’t see how swapping out Savard would be much of a help for Boston’s cap because any player the team would take back in a trade – if it wanted to get value – would probably be making an equal amount. And most teams taking on a Savard-sized deal would have to cut some payroll of their own.

Oddly, the idea of losing Savard for nothing appeals to me a little more. You save the cap space and the cash. You devote some of it to brining in Bill Guerin to help up front and/or Willie Mitchell to lend a hand on the back end. The cash flow makes sweetening Chara and Bergeron’s pot a little easier. In essence, the Bruins get a mulligan on a contract they gave out before they knew that Seguin would fall in their laps, Tim Thomas would become a $5 million No. 2 and Savard would get knocked into the next dimension by Matt Cooke.

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