When Elliotte Friedman said Tuesday that the Columbus Blue Jackets were “trying to get into” the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes, Blue Jackets fans were no doubt imagining the Swede’s dazzling passes and flowing locks in the union blue.
Of course, the Blue Jackets already have one of the five best defensemen in the world as their top right shot d-man in Seth Jones. While adding Karlsson’s unique talent and relegating Jones to the second pair (likely with emerging stud Markus Nutivaara) would be a coup, the Jackets are still in damn good shape if it, as we expect, doesn’t come to pass.
That’s right, folks, we’re going to talk about David Savard.
First, let’s take a look at these three HERO graphs (via Own The Puck). Two of these are right shot defensemen, while another is a left shot defenseman who spent plenty of time on the right side last season.
These charts use two-year sample sizes and measure shot contributions (shots and shot assists). Player A is a former first overall pick, Calder Trophy winner and NHL All-Star in Aaron Ekblad, who is seen around the league as a no-doubt top pairing defender. Player B is Markus Nutivaara, and Player C is David Savard.
With five full seasons under his belt and diminishing point totals in each of the last three seasons, Savard is seen as a bit of a known quantity: a steady, shutdown defenseman, not a great skater, but an impressive beard. That may all change this season, though, for one huge reason.
Jack Johnson is off playing in a ‘winning culture’ (for five years!), freeing David Savard from the boat anchor that’s been around his neck for most of his Blue Jackets tenure.
Johnson and Savard have been tied together for much of the last few seasons, with Johnson’s play largely overshadowing Savard’s – for better and for worse. The 2016-17 season, in which the two formed one of the league’s best second pairs, was seen as Johnson’s resurgence. The narrative was that, with Zach Werenski emerging, Johnson could finally shine as a second pairing defenseman.
Still, even during that season, Savard fared far better away from Johnson at 5-on-5 (54.33 CF% in 291 minutes) than he did with (50.59 CF% in 1058 minutes)
This season, things came crashing back down to earth. When Johnson and Savard were out there, they looked lost. After being split up, both players had more success with other defensive partners (although Johnson’s numbers were still poor regardless and he eventually fell out of the lineup altogether).
When Ian Cole came along in March, the tide shifted, and suddenly it was his smart, simple game that got credit for turning Savard’s season around.
Looking into the numbers, though, that may not be entirely accurate. Savard obviously fared far better with Cole (51.48 CF%) than he did with Johnson (an abysmal 46.93% CF), but Savard was even better when paired with mobile, puck-moving defenders like Markus Nutivaara (55.51 CF% in 131:31 together) and Dean Kukan (55.88 CF% in 109:31).
While Nutivaara played large stretches of last season on the right side opposite Ryan Murray, it’s clear that his place is in the top four, and his skills seem to compliment Savard’s very well.
A Nutivaara-Savard pairing would be fairly above average across the board, and especially adept at getting into the offensive zone and getting pucks on net. Cole did admirably in his limited Blue Jackets run, but he is no Nutivaara. For perhaps the first time ever, Savard could have a mobile, top-four defenseman as a partner.
That’s a recipe for one hell of a glow up.
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