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Canadiens have a great asset in courageous Savard ahead of trade deadline

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BROSSARD, Que. — With 11 minutes remaining in Saturday’s game, David Savard did the one thing you’d expect only him to do in the situation he was in.

The 33-year-old was standing three feet in front of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen and at least 10 feet away from New Jersey Devils sniper Timo Meier. He was in an incredibly vulnerable spot as Meier capitalized on a turnover and barreled into the offensive zone with a full head of steam and the puck tethered to his stick. But as Meier pulled it into his body to release it, Savard didn’t budge.

The big defenceman predictably held his ground and blocked the shot.

There are many players in the NHL willing to step in front of shots, but most of them stuck in no man’s land (like Savard was on this play) would’ve moved and given way to the goaltender. And if they couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, they’d have at least contorted themselves to brace for impact.

But Savard isn’t most players.

The game was 2-2 at the time, but it could’ve been 5-2 for either team; every player on the Canadiens knows Savard still would’ve eaten that shot.

“Because that’s who he is,” said Allen on Monday.

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“He’s tough as nails,” added the goaltender about the defenceman, who’s played more than 800 gritty games at this level (regular season and playoffs combined). “He also understands that as soon as you move, it changes everything in terms of the position of the shot or threat, and he’s such a veteran presence that he understands that he’s in the way and there’s no reason to move.”

The guaranteed pain would be reason enough for most players to jump out of the way, but Savard has shown throughout his career that he’s far more willing to absorb that than the pain of seeing the puck hit the back of his net.

That’s a unique quality of his that, when combined with a couple of other ones Savard possesses, really underlines just how valuable a player he is.

The Canadiens appreciate it.

But so do a lot of other teams in the league, and that’s going to continue to stimulate a lot of conversation about the player between now and the NHL’s March 8 trade deadline.

Savard may be signed for one more season after this one, he may be in possession of a $3.5-million salary cap hit, and he may have already told anyone who’ll listen that he’d prefer to stay in Montreal than be traded. But none of that is going to kill the buzz.

Nor should it, because contending teams know that after Calgary Flames defenceman Chris Tanev moves, there aren’t many players potentially available who can bring what Savard does. They know the six-foot-one, 238-pounder isn’t a free-wheeling skater who moves the puck perfectly and generates all kinds of offence, but they’re also well aware there may not be another right-handed defencemen on the market who exhibits the type of fearless, do-anything-to-win resilience he consistently does and they’re going to be calling the Canadiens about him.

Montreal general manager Kent Hughes shouldn’t hang up when they do.

He said recently that he’s not shopping Savard, and that makes sense. He’s under no pressure to trade the player over the next 11 days, and he won’t if he can’t extract fair value. But Hughes must still listen.

If fair value ends up on the table for Savard, we can’t see him turning away from it.

Not that Hughes will disregard what Savard brings to the Canadiens.

Arber Xhekaj, who is currently Savard’s defence partner, was one of four young blueliners we spoke with on Monday who perfectly encapsulated what he means to this rebuilding team.

“He guides us,” the 23-year-old said, adding he reveres Savard’s stress-free approach to the game and considers his positive reinforcement and calming presence to be highly influential.

Kaiden Guhle, 22, vaunted those qualities and labeled them “contagious.”

Rookie Jayden Struble said Savard “brings a presence every day” and referred to him as “a rock” on the ice.

And Johnathan Kovacevic, who has just 129 games of experience in the league under his belt, said Savard inspires him.

“Without exaggerating,” Kovacevic said, “I think he’s the best shot blocker in the NHL.”

He added a bit about how Savard’s poise (both when standing in shooting lanes and handling the puck) also makes him a role model.

Hughes knows the Canadiens aren’t overflowing with them.

But the GM also has to consider what all of these players have already taken from Savard and ask himself how much more they’ll grab if he hangs onto him instead of trading him. Because offers for the player may not get any better than the ones that are likely to come across his desk over the next 11 days.

Again, contending teams covet these types, and history has shown they pay a lot for them.

Heck, recent history saw the Tampa Bay Lightning give up multiple picks (including a first-rounder) in a three-way trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to add Savard at the 2021 deadline.

He helped them win the Stanley Cup that year and can potentially help another team win it this year and next.

They can search for players like Savard, but few are as unflinching as he’s proven to be in the toughest of situations. He showed it again on Saturday, and he’ll continue to show it whether he remains with the Canadiens or not.

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