Marc Savard Has Memory Problems: Should Boston Bruins Center Call It Quits?

Alison Myers@AlisonM_110Correspondent IMarch 30, 2011

Last week, an ESPN article reported that Boston Bruins center Marc Savard was concerned about memory problems he was dealing with as a result of his second concussion in less than a year.

Savard has said in the past that he cannot remember asking someone a question and feels as if things are moving slower. He has also experienced common concussion symptoms such as headaches and dizziness.

He officially announced that he would not play for the remainder of the NHL season back on Feb. 7, just two weeks after suffering his second concussion in 10 months.

Savard is contemplating what his next move will be. He told the media that he still needs to have some medical tests done and will make a decision on his future once his test results come back.

Let’s take a look back at Savard’s problems and discuss whether or not he should bring his NHL career to an end.


March 10, 2010: The First Concussion

On March 10, 2010, in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Savard was dealt an open ice hit by Penguins forward and agitator Matt Cooke. He had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and missed the rest of the regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Cooke was not penalized on the play.

Savard was diagnosed with a Grade 2 concussion. According to various grading systems for concussions, a Grade 2 injury carries symptoms such as confusion and no loss of consciousness. Problems last for 15 minutes or longer.

Savard returned for the second round of the playoffs, where the Bruins were ultimately eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers. He tallied three points in seven playoff games upon his return.


2010-11 Season: Post-Concussion Syndrome and Concussion No. 2

As the 2010-11 season drew closer, the Bruins announced that Savard would miss the start of the year due to post concussion syndrome.

The Mayo Clinic website states that experts are unclear as to what causes post-concussion syndrome. Some believe it is a result of psychological factors, and patients with depression or anxiety disorders are more likely to develop the problem. Others feel it is a result of the structural damage to the brain that happens on a blow to the head.

The article goes on to say that those who suffer from concussions in sports are less likely to have post-concussion syndrome. Unfortunately, Savard did not fall into this category.

Savard returned to action after missing 23 games, but had played just 25 games and posted 10 points before the concussion bug bit again.

In a Jan. 22 matchup against the Colorado Avalanche, defenseman and former Bruin Matt Hunwick checked Savard into the boards. This time, Savard was able to be helped off the ice by two of his teammates. However, he was diagnosed with his second concussion in less than a year.

Two weeks later, Savard spoke at a press conference and announced his intentions to shut himself down for the remainder of the season.


Other Important Concussion Information

Back in 2006, the University of Pittsburgh did research on athletes and concussions.

The report stated that athletes should not play while symptoms of a concussion are present and allowing them to return too early increases the chances that they will suffer another injury.

This is something the Penguins organization is practicing right now with star player Sidney Crosby. The NHL is trying to ensure better awareness and treatment of concussions across the league by mandating that players who are hit in the head are immediately removed from the game and evaluated for concussions.

Pitt’s research also states that athletes with three or more concussions are nine times more likely to suffer severe symptoms.

Savard has already had two concussions.

When you think about Savard’s history and compare it to the research, it is scary to think about what will happen if he returns to the game and gets his third concussion at any point.

If he is having memory problems now and feels like everything is moving slower, will he even be able to keep up with the pace of the NHL game?


Comparisons to Other NHL Players

Although many NHL players have suffered concussions, there are a few who are unfortunate enough to have a long history of them.

For example, Eric Lindros, who primarily starred with the Philadelphia Flyers and also played with the Quebec Nordiques and New York Rangers, suffered eight concussions in his career. He endured five in the latter part of the 1999-00 season alone, and all happened very shortly after he was returning from another concussion.

None of Lindros' concussions came more than two months after he had returned from one. He forced himself back into action too soon and thus put himself at risk. He ended up paying for it, and ultimately, he was unable to be effective for a long stretch of his career. He retired in 2007 at the age of 34.

Pat LaFontaine was another player who dealt with concussion issues, though not as great as Lindros. 

LaFontaine suffered one of his most debilitating concussions in the 1996-97 season while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. He received a hit from Penguins enforcer Francois Leroux, and team doctors and team management encouraged him to retire.

Although Savard’s agent or Bruins management have not come out to suggest that Savard should retire, it has to be weighing on their minds.

In 1998, LaFontaine was playing for the Rangers when he collided with teammate Mike Keane in a game against the Ottawa Senators. LaFontaine had 62 points in 67 games that year, but it was the last NHL season he would play. He could not recover from his concussion and retired in 1999.

While every case is different, Savard should be thinking about whether or not he wants to put himself at risk for Lindros-like problems.


Savard’s Career to Date

Let’s just pretend for a minute that Savard decided to hang up his skates today.

If he did so, he would have played in 807 NHL games and posted 706 career points. He had three seasons where he posted 80 points or more, including back to back 90-point seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07 while playing with the Atlanta Thrashers.

He was also named to the 2008 and 2009 NHL All-Star Games.

Perhaps it’s not a career resembling that of some of the NHL’s most elite players, but Savard has still done well for himself since earning a permanent place in the NHL in the 1999-00 season.


To Retire or Not To Retire?

Ultimately, I am no doctor, and I don’t pretend to be one. Therefore, I can’t make any conclusions about Savard’s medical condition or say what treatment he still needs.

However, based on what I have found out from the research reports I have read, I think Savard is going to be too at-risk for problems if he keeps playing. I feel it is best for him to retire to avoid further injuries and possibly brain damage.

Although Savard may feel he has not fulfilled some career dreams, and I would understand that feeling, compiling statistics and even playoff victories can feel irrelevant when you are talking about your health.

That said, if Savard decides he wants to play next season, I would be happy to see it happen. It would make a great feel good story and put him in a good position to win the Masterton Trophy.

If you have any thoughts about what Savard should do from here, leave me a comment or take the poll.

P.S. I know that a certain player on my team has been partially responsible for Savard's problems. I do feel terribly about it and don't like to see any player, regardless of team, deal with something like this.


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