Denis Savard

Denis Savard is one of the most electrifying players in the history of hockey, and almost certainly the most exciting of his era. That is quite a claim considering Savard played in an era that boasted the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. The Great One and Super Mario left crowds wowed and thinking "Did I just see that?!" but they couldn't pull the fans out of their seat quite like Denis Savard.

Savard was one of the quickest players in the league, with tremendous one step acceleration. He was so fun to watch as he'd dart in and out of danger, rapidly change directions, and even perfect the "Savardian Spin-a-rama" in which he'd do a full 360 degree turn while carrying the puck to protect it from checkers. His great skating was complimented nicely by his incredibly soft hands. He could stickhandle through an entire team and was an excellent playmaker. He was also a very good shooter, particularly with his laser-like wrist shot. He was also known for taking bad angle shots. He was a puny player in terms of size but he had a solid center of gravity that made him tough to knock off the puck if you were lucky enough to catch him.

Savard would put all of those qualities together and leave defensemen dizzy and fans amazed!

"Denis is one of those players who is not only a great hockey player but a player with charisma," explained Bob Pulford, the long time general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. "He's got that quality that keeps people coming out see him play."

Lou Nanne, then the general manager of the Hawks arch rival Minnesota North Stars, agreed.

"There just isn't a better skater in the league than Denis Savard. When Denis has the puck, he's got the ability to do a million things with it."

Of course Savard didn't think much of the idea that he was as much an entertainer as much as a hockey player. To him, he was just doing his job.

"I'm still surprised when people say I'm exciting to watch, even after all this time. Sometimes I'll try to put the puck between my legs or fake a pass, things like that. or maybe I spin a few times. It seems to make people talk. But mostly it's just instinct," Savard said. "I want to get the puck to a certain place, so I fake in and turn around on the defense because I feel the defense is confused. I don't do it to excite people. I know what I'm doing is different. I just don't know why."

Comparison's to the league's best player, Wayne Gretzky, were common.

"In my opinion, Savard is trickier than Gretzky. He moves better side to side than anybody in the league, and you never know what he will do when goes behind the net," said Vancouver Canuck goalie Richard Brodeur.

While comparison's to number 99 may be the ultimate compliment, style-wise, Savard and Gretzky were dissimilar. The essence of Savard's game is speed, agility and quickness. Gretzky' incomparable statistics have been attained mainly by an unmatched ability to foresee, comprehend and react to any given situation. Though he excelled alongside line mates Steve Larmer and Al Secord, Savard was more of a soloist than Gretzky.

"The Savardian spins and all the moves nobody else had . . . You can look at guys and try and learn their moves, but Denis was the inventor of the moves; he was the guy everyone else copied. In the middle of a play he'd come up with a new move. Just amazing," remembers coaching legend Dave King

Denis Savard was chosen by the Blackhawks' as their first-round pick (3rd overall) in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Many were shocked that Denis fell past number one, as the Montreal Canadiens held the first pick. Savard, a Quebec native from Point Gatineau, was a junior standout with the Montreal Jr. Canadiens, and everyone expected the Habs would take perhaps the most exciting junior francophone since Guy Lafleur. Instead, the Habs took Doug Wickenheiser, who had an even better junior season than Savard, but would prove to be an ultimate draft bust.

Savard broke into the league immediately after being drafted and showed he belong, scoring 28 goals and 75 points during his rookie season, and went on to post 119 points the following year, making him the second Blackhawk to score 100+ points in a single season. He was named to the NHL All-Star second team during the 1982-83 season, when he compiled 35 goals and 86 assists in 78 games. Though he played 7 all star games, it would be the only time he'd be honored as a post season All Star member due largely to the logjam of great centers in the 1980s.

Following his third 100+ point season in 1984-85, Savard tallied a career-high 47 goals during the 1985-86 campaign. He tallied career highs in assists (87) and points (131) during the 1987-88 season. His 131-point outburst in 1987-88 is a Blackhawk record and his 87 assist seasons in 1981-82 and 1987-88 are also Blackhawk records.

"Savard basically turned the Chicago franchise around," remembers former teammate Bob Murray. The Hawks had long been also-rans in the NHL power rankings. Not unlike Bobby Hull in the 1960s or Tony Esposito in the 1970s, Denis Savard was the identity of a proud franchise

Those were great days in Chicago, but playoff success was not part of the puzzle.

"I had great years in Chicago. We had a number of shots at winning the Stanley Cup in my first 10 years, but we lost in the semifinals five times. The Edmonton Oilers - by far the best team in hockey at the time - stopped us from getting the job done, but getting that far was still a great thrill," said Denis in Chris McDonell's book For The Love Of The Game.

Once Iron Mike Keenan arrived in the Windy City, Savard's days were numbered. The two did not see eye to eye. So in 1990, after 10 seasons as Mr. Chicago Blackhawks, Savard was traded to, ironically, the Montreal Canadiens for Chris Chelios in 1990.

While Chelios would become a true star in Chicago, Savard played three seasons for the Habs, compiling 179 points in 210 games, and more importantly winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. He wasn't nearly as dynamic as he was in his heyday, but he remained a serviceable player, creating a much needed offensive spark at times.

Savard extended his career with a short stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning to Chicago in a late season trade in 1995. He helped spark the Blackhawks in the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the team with 7goals, 11 assists, and 18 points as they advanced to the Conference Finals.

Savard would hang up the blades after the 1996-97 season. He had posted some of the greatest offensive numbers ever seen. 473 goals and 865 assists for 1338 points in 1196 games was good enough to get him elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

Had it not been for Wayne Gretzky, perhaps Denis Savard would be recognized as the most electrifying and dominant player of the 1980s. Regardless, he is recognized as a Legend of the Ice.


Anonymous,  5:23 PM  

I agree with the last statement on "Savoir faire." If Denis had played at any other time period that didn't involve Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemuix, he would be mentioned each and every time as an all time great. People forget just how good he was.

Anonymous,  6:29 PM  

By far the most exciting player ever! I became a Blackhawks fan just because of Denis. He pulled me out of my seat at home everytime he was on the ice! Man, was he able to skate!

Anonymous,  1:58 PM  

He was smartest player and most exciting of all time.
He was the only reason I watched all the Hawks games back in the 80's.
If had all those skilled oilers on his team in those days he be easy 200 points.
With no hitting in today's new NHL and rule changes he would be best player out there now.

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