Still smarting from the loss of Joe Thornton, the Boston Bruins are looking for another playmaker to step in and take the team back to the playoffs. Enter Marc Savard: crafty, quick and a magician with the puck. With the Bruins coming on strong, Savard now has Beantown thinking about a lot more than the Red Sox.
In this week's Facing Off, the Bruins' top scorer sizes up Red Sox and Yankees fans, discusses what it was like riding shotgun during the Great One's swan song and explains why he's still waiting to "master" Augusta National.
Question from David Amber: You have played in both Boston and New York. Which city has the better baseball fans?
Answer from Marc Savard: Oh, Boston! I went down to a game this year and they're just awesome. I was young in New York and didn't get down to too many games, but going to Fenway here in Boston is awesome.
Q: So are you a Red Sox fan?
A: I like them, but I am really an Atlanta Braves fan. I have been a Braves fan forever. I have always been a Tom Glavine fan, even though he's with the Mets now. When I played in Atlanta, Andruw Jones lived in the same community as me. He lived right next to Byron Dafoe, so we all went out for dinner a few times and he came to a few games. Andruw is a really nice guy.
Q: So you were a fourth-round pick in 1995 and Tom Glavine was a fourth-round pick of the L.A. Kings back in 1984.
A: I didn't know that.
Q: Actually, he was selected 69th overall that year and you went 91st overall in 1995. So maybe he would have been as good a hockey player as you?
A: [Laughs.] Who knows. I bet he wouldn't still be playing hockey and making millions at age 40, though.
Q: You played in Atlanta for a few years; they are an up-and-coming team. Why did you leave there?
A: I was a free agent, Atlanta was my first choice, they were great to me. GM Don Waddell helped my career a lot by trading for me, and being a great person for me. It came down to dollars. They already have [[Ilya] Kovalchuk and [Marian] Hossa making so much money and they didn't want to tie up a lot of money in a third guy in the new salary-cap era. It came down to that and there were some other good offers out there. I was going to go back and play in Calgary, Iggy [Jarome Iginla] and I are really good friends and he was calling me every day and trying to get me to come back. But I really like Boston, I liked the young players they already had, and of course signing Zdeno Chara was a big boost, too.
Q: What is it like doing one-on-one drills in practice against Chara?
A: No fun. He's a monster and he never gives up. He's always trying, so when he gets you on the boards, there is nowhere to go.
Q: You finished ninth in the NHL in points last year. Why don't you get as much attention as the other guys who are stars in the league?
A: I don't know, maybe because I'm a passer. You don't get as much recognition as the scorers. But I do have an endorsement deal with Bauer/Nike. I signed a three-year deal with them, so things are getting better there.
Q: The old Boston Garden was always sold out. This season, Bruins fans haven't always been at the games. What's the problem right now with hockey in Beantown?
A: I guess they had such a tough year last year that they lost some fans and it takes some time to get them back to the rink. Hopefully we're on the right path to win these fans back. They're smart fans, so we need to work hard to keep them coming.
Q: Which coach has had the biggest affect on your career?
A: So far I would have to say Bob Hartley when I was in Atlanta. I went through a tough period in Calgary, got traded to Atlanta, I played like a week for Curt Fraser before he was let go. Hartley came in and we had a meeting the first day. He told me I would get a chance to play a lot and he said, "The ball is in your court, you can revive your career right now if you want." Things went up from there.
Q: Were Boston and Calgary the last two teams standing for you in the free-agent sweepstakes?
A: Yeah, it was a tough call. Those were the last two teams. Iggy was really working me to come to Calgary and we are such good buddies. It was really hard to make a decision. We had been talking for two weeks straight leading up to my decision and he didn't talk to me for two weeks after my decision [laughs].
Q: How weird is it for you to look at the standings and see your former team, Atlanta, in first place in its division and near the top of the overall standings?
A: I knew they would be good. They have great offense and a great goalie in [Kari] Lehtonen. It was a tough decision to leave, but hopefully we will make the playoffs here and things will go well.
Q: The Bruins have 11 one-goal wins this season. How do you explain the team's flair for the dramatic?
A: We never give up. It sounds hokey, but it's true. It's a credit to the guys in the dressing room because we had tough times early on, but we never quit and here we are now trying to make a run for a playoff spot.
Q: You played with the Rangers during Wayne Gretzky's last season. How did he tell the team he was retiring?
A: He tried to keep it quiet for most of the year, and then by January, he kind of hinted to everybody it was going to be his last year. He didn't want a circus the whole year, so he kept it pretty quiet. It was a wild experience for the whole team. I remember going up to Ottawa, my hometown, for his second-to-last game, and after the game the crowd kept calling out Wayne for a curtain call. He had to go out three different times. It was amazing.
Q: What was it like being a teammate of Wayne Gretzky?
A: It was special. Just watching him off the ice and seeing the way he deals with everything, he's such a class guy and a good guy. It was a lot of fun and something I will never forget, especially since I grew up idolizing him.
Q: What happened in the dressing room after his final game?
A: It was an emotional time for him and a lot of the guys on our team. There were a lot of tears in the dressing room. After the game, we had a big party at a ballroom at the World Trade Center and the place was filled with celebrities and NHL stars. Mario Lemieux was there, it was great being a part of that.
Q: Leaving Gretzky out of it, since you played with him at the end of his career, who is the best player you've ever played with?
A: [Long pause.] That's a tough answer. Kovalchuk is such a great scorer, the guy is amazing. Playing with Iginla, he brings so much to the game in so many ways, so you can't count him out. And I got to play with Hossa, too, so I have seen a lot of great players. I can't say just one.
Q: Sure you can, we need you to. Let's put it this way, if you're a GM and you had to deal for one of those three guys, who do you take?
A: Oh, man, you're killing me. I'd probably go with [laughs], I don't know. I'd say Iginla.
Q: Who do you room with on the road?
A: I room with the young kid Phil Kessel. It's fun, I give him a couple of jobs in the room. He's the wake-up call guy, he's the close-and-open-the-blinds guy, he's the answer-the-door guy, so he's a great roommate [laughs].
[Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Kessel left the Bruins with a cancer-related condition.]
Q: Does he carry your suitcases, too?
A: No, I do my own suitcases, but if he starts acting up, I'll put him on the suitcases, too.
Q: He's 10 years younger than you, so what's it like to be the NHL big brother?
A: It's fun. There are days that are tough on him, like some [games] he only gets eight or nine minutes and he gets down, but he'll learn. It's good to talk to him and help him out where I can. He's going to be a great player in this league; he's a good kid. He got a bad rap as a cocky kid, but that isn't true. He's a good kid and the guys like him here, and that's all that matters.
Q: You mentioned you're a baseball fan. Are there any other sports you're into?
A: I love golf. I play a lot.
Q: How good are you?
A: I'm a scratch golfer. My best round was a 65 at the Oshawa [Ontario] Golf and Country Club.
Q: Wow, maybe the PGA Tour should keep an eye on you.
A: [Laughs.] The cool thing is I became good friends with Stewart Cink when I was in Atlanta. I lived at TPC Sugarloaf and he lived there, too, and I got to caddy for him during the lockout year.
A: Yeah. At the John Deere Classic, I caddied for him. He is a huge hockey fan. Stew has been a Thrashers season-ticket holder since the team started. He loves hockey and I love golf, so we hit it off right away. I had mentioned to him that I would love to caddy for him if his caddy ever wanted a week off. I told him I would donate the money he paid me to charity.
Q: So, he is staring down these incredibly tough lies at an actual PGA Tour event, the John Deere Classic, and what are you telling him?
A: Not much [laughs]. Actually, I putt really well, I read putts well. I actually took a bit of money from him before we left for that tournament on the putting green. So during the tournament, he had a few odd putts he wasn't sure about and he asked me and I would tell him what I thought. He didn't three-putt once the entire tournament. At the time, he had a really long streak of not three-putting, so I was relieved he kept that streak alive.
Q: So you caddied a real PGA Tour event. What was the best part?
A: I loved every minute of it. It was amazing seeing how good those guys are. I say to myself, one day I would love to golf on tour, but you realize how much work you would have to put in because they don't miss too many shots.
Q: Spending a few years in Atlanta, did you ever get the chance to play Augusta National?
A: No, but I got invited last month. Unfortunately, we had a game in Toronto that day. It was a tough one to pass up, it was killing me. I would love another invite to Augusta, so anyone out there reading this column, please take me [laughs].
Q: This past summer, you signed that five-year $20 million deal with Boston. What was the first thing you bought?
A: Nothing really, I have everything I need. I like my golf clubs, though. I have more clubs than most guys. I have like 15 sets of clubs, not including a bunch of extra drivers I own. The good thing is, living in Canada in the summer, I have a bunch of buddies who play left-handed, so they help themselves to some pretty good clubs.
Q: Fifteen sets of clubs? You're like some women with shoes. If you could do it all over again and apply all your athletic ability to golf instead of hockey, would you?
A: I'd think about it, for sure. I only started golfing when I was 20, and I almost quit right away. I started playing right-handed my first year and I shot like 100, and I thought, "This game is brutal." Then, I switched to left-handed and I shot an 85 my first round, so I said, "I think I'm a lefty."
Q: When you're done with hockey, I guess we'll see you aiming for the PGA or Champions Tour.
A: You know, honestly, I'm really interested in coaching in junior when I'm done. I have thought a lot about coaching and maybe becoming a GM of a junior franchise. That would be really cool.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.