David Savard is another RHD target that shows the Leafs are prioritizing the wrong attributes

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
The trade deadline cannot come fast enough. By the time 3pm ET on Friday hits we will have discussed every mid-level defensive talent in the league on a lottery bound team. David Savard is the latest due to some interesting gasoline being poured on the fire by Apron Basu of The Athletic:
Regarding the Leafs interest in David Savard (or possibly the Habs in general):
Watching from the press box was Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager Ryan Hardy, who has attended a few Canadiens games of late. His name was added to the Amalie Arena press box seating chart in pen, suggesting it was added at the last minute.
One day earlier, Hardy’s new boss, Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving, was telling reporters in Toronto that he would not be opposed to trading a first-round pick ahead of Friday’s NHL trade deadline. The preference would be to use it to acquire a player with term left on his contract. The Maple Leafs, despite the acquisition of Ilya Lyubushkin, still need help on the right side of their defence. They need that help to be capable of playing top-four minutes, and they need that help to be able to, well, defend.
Ryan Hardy has been a frequent traveler for the Leafs of late and David Savard and the Canadiens are far from the only team he has taken in. Given Hardy’s primary role as the Marlies GM, sending him out to NHL games is something that stands out but doesn’t mean that Savard is the top target. It could just mean that Savard is someone the Leafs feel the need to learn a lot more about the deadline relatively rapidly approaches.
From the Savard side of things, as Basu notes in his article, doesn’t have interest in moving on from Montreal. The Quebec native likes playing in his home province and at 33 years of age likely sees it is where his career would ideally wrap up. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have a no trade clause to enforce that and given that the Canadiens only have Tanner Pearson as a pending UFA left to move before the deadline, they need to consider Savard as an option, especially if a team is foolish enough to give up a first round pick for him.
So let’s come back around to what David Savard is. The first thing is he checks the box as a defenceman that shoots right. Seemingly that’s the only reason we’re talking about him. He’s also under contract for next season so optically, not being a rental helps to some degree although when we get to talking about performance we can debate how much it should.
If you are talking about Savard as a punishing physical defenceman, you haven’t been paying close attention for the past couple of years as his hit count has fallen off a cliff. He’s still a 20 minute a night guy but the discussion needs to be had about whether that is out of necessity or merit. T.J. Brodie plays nearly 22 minutes a night and how great do Leafs fans feel about him at the moment?
Based on style of play and utilization, Savard is somewhat similar to Justin Holl and I’ll give you a minute to reflect on your Justin Holl feelings to determine how whether that is something you’d want to revisit. (Holl is also likely available, by the way.)
Holl’s numbers come with the benefit being played on better teams but this isn’t talking about $650k of Ilya Lyubushkin for a 3rd and a 6th round pick in this scenario, the Leafs maybe considering trading a valuable asset and possibly taking on a $3.5M cap hit for next season to test in Savard can be a fit. If they go this route, let’s hope Ryan Hardy’s eyes saw something very encouraging.
Savard’s utilization on the Canadiens has been primarily as a third defenceman playing behind Michael Matheson and Kaiden Guhle. His most frequent partner has been Matheson but most recently his 5v5 partner has been Arber Xhekaj, which has seen him getting more favourable matchups away from top units and as a result his numbers are improved. Given the Leafs need for someone at the top of their lineup, not the bottom or middle, it’s hard to see what Savard brings beyond the opportunity for the Leafs to cross their fingers and hope he’d have instant chemistry with Morgan Rielly.
Savard seems like a bad idea, so why are we even talking about him?
That’s where we look to another article on The Athletic site, this time by Jonas Siegel to fill in some of the pro-Savard narrative around the Leafs:
Why? In short, he’s a 238-pound grizzly bear on the right side who will growl at opponents poking around the net, shove weaker players off pucks to kill plays, and put his body on the line to block shots however he possibly can.
A lot like Chris Tanev, really.
Savard happens to be nearly a year younger than Tanev and, unlike Tanev, is signed for another season.
Okay, so let’s start with that Chris Tanev comparison. Both block shots and live in front of the net. That much is true. There are also different degrees to which that style of play is effective, here’s a side by side simple comparison:
Practically the same guy, right?
I’ll concede that the Flames defence is a heck of a lot stronger than the Habs and playing with Andersson or Hanifin is hell of lot better than playing with Matheson or Xhekaj and the Flames are 9 points ahead in the standings, but I’m not sure you can equate the two defencemen just because they both love to shove people. The NHL is littered with defencemen who have made that their calling card and most of them occupy the 6D spot with some guest appearances in the press box. Tanev is an exception not the norm and that’s why he was talked about as much as he was.
Siegel also mentions that the Habs might eat have of Savard’s contract while Basu suggests Montreal taking salary back in order to facilitate a trade for Savard. Both options become more palatable about acquiring Savard, but not at the cost of a first round pick. A third round pick maybe.
There is also an argument that Savard would be a better partner for Brodie than Liljegren based on Pavel Zacha’s goal during bad coverage from Liljegren on Monday night. I’m not sure the Leafs should be willing to embrace possibly the slowest defensive pairing in the league rather than having a teachable moment with Timothy Liljegren, but it is certainly an opinion. I could make a similar argument that it would make sense to find a better defensive partner for Timothy Liljegren to play with instead of TJ Brodie and talk about how Mario Ferraro makes sense as there are a lot more encouraging things about his game than Savard’s, but it’s silly season and Savard has playoff experience, which seems to be another one of the reasons for looking at him.
When looking at Savard’s playoff experience in Tampa in 2020-21 it is worth noting he was a minus-8 in the 14 regular season games leading up to the playoffs. (A lousy stat, I know.) But in his 20 playoff games, Savard saw his icetime cut from the 20 minutes he was averaging in the final 14 games of the regular season down to 14 minutes in the 20 playoff games. Was it the 14 minutes a night of David Savard the reason why Tampa won the cup? Who can say? (Many people can say.) But I’m willing to bet the Maple Leafs aren’t looking to acquire David Savard to play him as often as they currently play William Lagesson. Savard was also playing with either Sergachev, McDonagh, or Hedman most of the time he was on the ice.
The fact that the Leafs are taking a close look at Savard is concerning, as is the fact that The Athletic seems to be priming Leafs fans for the possibility that this deal could happen. It would be nice to give the Maple Leafs the benefit of doubt that this is due diligence, a Plan B or C, or even that the target is right but the price of 1st is way off, but there is also the reality that we are not that far removed from Brad Treliving believing that John Klingberg was someone who was going to improve Toronto’s defence. There is a high probability the Leafs won’t do something you agree with this week.
Data from Natural Stat Trick, NHL Edge, and Evolving Hockey

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