'Refreshing’ Savard seizing role as Flames new ‘offensive coordinator’
Marc Savard is embracing his role as the Calgary Flames new ‘offensive coordinator.’
The 46-year-old played 807 games in the NHL as a centre between 1997 and 2011, including 221 with the Flames after they acquired him from the New York Rangers in 1999.
After spending the 2019-20 campaign as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues and two seasons after that as the head coach of the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, the Flames hired him this summer as an assistant coach in charge of the forwards and the power play. Last season, the Flames were 19th in goals-per-game (3.15) and power-play percentage (19.8).
To hear Savard describe his job, however, makes it sounds more like he’s the offensive coordinator of a football team and how they call out plays before the snap. Lauded for his creativity, Savard has a library of offensive zone plays he likes to run during games, with names like Kamikaze and On The Money. In Windsor, he had a thick workbook full of plays, but it got lost in a flood. While he still remembers most of the plays, he’s rebuilding his playbook from scratch.
“It’s all coming back to me,” the Ottawa native said of the plays.
“Just every play I could think of, I had in the book. I’m structured and detailed, so I had a faceoff part of it, a breakout part of it, in zone faceoff part of it…I don’t remember the names so much, so it’s good to have some new names.”
Like a play in football, a hockey play consists of where a player will go (on the playing surface – the ice), the speed of the play, and what Savard wants them to do once they get the puck.
“There’s different routes that guys run, so you know their route and where the puck’s going,” he said.
“You know what you’re doing and the timing…it might not even come together, but if we push the D off on that play, we’ve done our job.”
His players are excited as the 2023-24 season nears.
“Every game, we’re going to have so many options,” forward Jonathan Huberdeau said.
“It’s our time to pick and choose which one we want to use…he’s says [the plays] will be automatic goals, but we’ll see,” he added, laughing.
Under previous head coach Darryl Sutter, the Flames were a fairly predictable group offensively. They’d usually dump the puck in and retrieve it, and play a north-south game that relied on shot volume as opposed to shot quality. That didn’t suit the team’s skilled forwards like Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, who fit better in puck possession systems that value creativity and east-west playmaking.
Under new head coach Ryan Huska, Savard has been given the green light to push those plays and implement a system that emphasises controlled entries into the offensive zone, freedom to create, faceoffs, and those set plays he loves.
Savard’s practice sessions with the forwards are fast-paced and detail-oriented. The coach is very vocal in telling his players to value the puck and move it quickly. “Two seconds too long” is a favourite mantra of the coach.
“We’re moving [the] puck, we’re moving bodies, we’re getting into our spots,” he said of the progress so far.
“A guy that’s always looking to implement some creativity,” Kadri said of Savard’s coaching approach.
“That’s refreshing for us.”
Huska compared Savard’s demeanour to that of energetic young forward Jakob Pelletier, in how enthusiastic and positive he is to be around.
“He’s got a different way about him,” Huska said.
“He just creates a different vibe around the room. He’s got a way of getting to players like Jonathan [Huberdeau]. He finds a way to make the power play light and enjoyable, but at the same [time], he gets them to understand that it’s maybe the biggest part of a game that they need to be ready on.”
The Flames desperately need Huberdeau to return to form if they have a chance at returning to the postseason.
Huberdeau, who set an NHL record for points by a left winger with 115 as a Florida Panther during the 2021-22 campaign, looks like a completely changed player during this training camp than the one that ended his first season in Calgary with 55 points. Most importantly, he’s far more at ease with his surroundings and organization. The team’s trying to get him to shoot more and he’s made a conscious effort to do that during the preseason, netting two goals in three games while averaging 2.67 shots per game, well above the 1.59 shots per game he had in his first campaign as a Flame.
“He wants us to have some freedom offensively to make some plays,” Huberdeau said.
“You’ve just got to work hard…offensively, it’s fun. I think he tries to pump your tires too on the bench. It’s fun, you come back after you make a play and he’s all pumped up.”
“I’m working closely with him,” Savard said.
“A lot for him is just getting that confidence back…you watch, it’ll start snowballing.”
Savard had other options during the off-season, including a couple of head coaching opportunities, but ultimately chose to come to Calgary. Since he played here, two of his kids were born here. Savard felt the sentimental pull to return to the Saddledome. He was also drawn by the talented Calgary team and what he can help guide them towards. Savard already has a couple of predictions for his new team.
“[Huberdeau] is going to have a huge year,” Savard said.
His prediction for the power play this upcoming season?
“I think we have a top-five power play in the league, personnel-wise,” he said.
“It’s just about executing and doing it on the ice.”