Lightning Retro Profiles is a series of profiles on former Lightning players. Some are well known to fans even today, some not so much. 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 where the team is today.
Today, we get to look at 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 one to play for the Lightning. That player is Denis Savard. Let’s dive right in.
Before the Lightning
Savard started his juniors career in 1977-78 playing for the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL as a center. Not an overly big forward, he had quite the scoring touch and racked up points in the QMJHL over his career. He had three straight seasons of putting up over 100 points, topping out at 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 another 15 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 Reclaim Draft as the WHA merged into the NHL (none of that really make sense to anyone who started following hockey after the 1990s, let’s just say things were different back in the day). Chicago had drafted Cloutier in the 1st round of the 1976 draft, but he remained with the Nordiques and continued putting up over 100 points per season, so it’s understandable why Quebec wanted to hang on to him.
The draft pick ended up being 3rd overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft which Chicago used on Denis Savard. With his prolific juniors scoring and high draft status, Savard jumped right 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 the Calder voting.
Savard spent the rest of the decade in Chicago, playing with them through the 1989-90 season recording 351 goals and 1,013 points in 736 games. He also served as a Captain and Alternate Captain in the last few seasons with Chicago. During the 1990 offseason, Chicago sent Savard to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Chris Chelios and a 1991 second round pick. Savard re-signed with the Canadiens for 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 recorded 72 goals and 179 points in 210 games played. Prior to joining the Canadiens, the only season in which Savard failed to record at least a point per game was his rookie season of 1980-81 when he came up one point short of the mark. In Montreal, his points per game dropped under 1.0 in all three seasons, but he was still a high end point producer.
Montreal did not pick up 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 expansion.
With the Lightning
Savard stepped into the Lightning line-up in their second year of existence. However, he was already in decline and didn’t produce even as well as he did with Montreal. He did bring some veteran presence to the Lightning locker room though and wore an A for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 season.
He recorded 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 1996 sixth round pick.
After the Lightning
Savard finished out his career with two and partial season with Chicago. During that span he recorded another 26 goals and 83 points in 145 games. He announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 1996-97 season. His final career numbers totaled up to 1,196 games played, 473 goals, and 1,338 points. He added 66 goals and 175 points in 169 career postseason games.
As a Hall of Fame candidate, Savard provides an interesting case. In part because his height was during the 80s when Wayne Gretzky dominated most of the postseason awards available to forwards, Savard never took home any hardware. His best came in 1982-83 when he was named to the Second All-Star Team and finished third in the Hart Trophy voting. He never ended up as a finalist again for any award.
What Savard did have going for him though was longevity and production. He was pretty consistently in the top 10 or 20 in points and assists through most of the 80s. Plus any player that gets over the 1,000 games and 1,000 points mark, their election to the Hall of Fame becomes much easier. Normally, postseason hardware and All-Star selections are necessary, but when an era is dominated by just a few players, more leeway is given.
Savard didn’t have to wait long for his election to the Hall of Fame 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 starting in 1997-98. He became an interim head coach in 2000-01 midseason, but went back to being an Assistant in 2001-02. He once again became head coach mid-season in 2006-07 and remained head coach of Chicago into the 2008-09 season until being replaced by Joel Quenneville.
Savard was also a recognizable name for established fans in Tampa trying to embrace the new team. While his contributions to the Lightning weren’t that big, he did end up being the first Hall of Famer to play for the Lightning. He was followed by four other players, so far, with more likely to come in the future as some current Lightning players wrap up their playing careers in the coming years.