Lightning Retro Profile: Denis Savard

Lightning Retro Profiles is a series of profiles on former Lightning players. Some are well known to fans even today, others less so. These retro profiles will highlight some of the names from the Lightning’s past. What kind of player they were, what they did with the Lightning, and their contributions to the current state of the team.

Today we see a Hall of Famer, the first Hall of Famer to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning. To be fair, he’s not a Hall of Famer because of his play with the Lightning, but he was the first to play for the Lightning. This player is Denis Savard. Let’s dive into it.

Before the lightning

Savard began his junior career in 1977-78 playing for the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL as a centre. Not too big of a forward, he had a great scoring touch and racked up points in the QMJHL during his career. He had three straight 100-plus seasons, topping 63 goals and 181 points in 72 games in his final season of 1979-80. He finished his QMJHL career with 146 goals and 455 points in 214 games. He added 15 more goals and 54 points in 34 career playoff games.

The Chicago Black Hawks acquired a 1980 first-round pick from the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for Chicago not selecting Real Cloutier in the 1979 salvage draft as the WHA merged with the NHL (nothing none of this really makes sense to anyone who started following hockey after the 1990s). , let’s just say things were different back then). Chicago had drafted Cloutier in the 1st round of the 1976 draft, but he stayed with the Nordiques and continued to accumulate more than 100 points per season, so we understand why Quebec wanted to hang on to him.

The draft pick ended up being 3rd overall in the 1980 NHL Draft which Chicago used against Denis Savard. With his prolific junior scorers and high draft status, Savard jumped straight into the NHL with Chicago for the 1980-81 season, recording 28 goals and 75 points in 76 games as a rookie finishing 5th in Calder’s vote.

Savard spent the rest of the decade in Chicago, playing with them throughout the 1989-90 season, recording 351 goals and 1,013 points in 736 games. He also served as captain and alternate captain in recent seasons with Chicago. During the 1990 offseason, Chicago sent Savard to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Chris Chelios and a second-round pick in 1991. Savard re-signed with the Canadiens on a three-year contract and a one-year option.

Savard spent the next three seasons with the Canadiens, eventually winning a Stanley Cup in 1992-93. With Montreal, he scored 72 goals and 179 points in 210 games played. Prior to joining the Canadiens, the only season in which Savard failed to register at least one point per game was his rookie season of 1980-81, when he was one point from the mark. In Montreal, his points per game dipped below 1.0 in all three seasons, but he was still a high-end point producer.

Montreal did not choose the one-year option on Savard’s contract and he signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning for their second season after the expansion.

With Lightning

Savard entered the Lightning roster in his second year of existence. However, he was already in decline and didn’t even produce as well as he did with Montreal. He did, however, bring some veteran presence to the Lightning locker room and wore an A for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.

He had 18 goals and 46 points in 74 games in his first season and followed that up with six goals and 17 points in 31 games in 1994-95. The Lightning were still a struggling team at this point, and the Lightning traded Savard to Chicago for his second stint with them at the trade deadline for a sixth-round pick in 1996.

After the lightning

Savard finished his career with two and a partial season with Chicago. During that span, he recorded another 26 goals and 83 points in 145 games. He announced his retirement at the end of the 1996-97 season. His last career numbers were 1,196 games played, 473 goals and 1,338 points. He added 66 goals and 175 points in 169 career playoff games.

As a Hall of Fame nominee, Savard presents an interesting case. Partly because he had reached his height in the 1980s when Wayne Gretzky dominated most post-season awards offered to forwards, Savard never won any gear. His best came in 1982-83 when he was named to the Second Team All-Star and finished third in Hart Trophy voting. He never found himself a finalist for any award again.

What Savard had going for him was longevity and production. He was pretty consistently in the top 10 or 20 in points and assists for most of the 80s. Also, any player that goes over 1,000 plays and 1,000 points, their Hall of Fame election becomes much easier. Normally, post-season material and All-Star selections are required, but when an era is dominated by just a few players, more leeway is given.

Savard didn’t have to wait long for his Hall of Fame election in 2000. He also had his #18 jersey retired by Chicago shortly after his retirement.

After retiring as a player, Savard became an assistant coach with Chicago from 1997-98. He became interim head coach midway through the 2000-01 season, but returned to assistant status in 2001-02. He returned to head coaching mid-season in 2006-07 and remained Chicago’s head coach through the 2008-09 season when replaced by Joel Quenneville.

Savard was also a recognizable name for established Tampa fans trying to embrace the new team. Although his contributions to the Lightning weren’t that great, he ended up being the first Hall of Famer to play for the Lightning. He’s been followed by four other players, so far, with more chances to come in the future as some current Lightning players wind down their playing careers in the coming years.

Robert M. Larson