Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard. (CPimages/AP, Rick Silva)
"They gave me an opportunity to play and I'm thankful for that," Savard said Tuesday before taking a flight to Atlanta. "I owe a lot to GM Don Waddell and coach Bob Hartley. It's going to be tough because I've got a lot of friends over there. But once you're on the ice it's business."
Savard, who played three seasons in Atlanta, still keeps in touch with Thrasher buddies Scott Mellanby and Eric Boulton.
"And coach Hartley, too - I still talk to him quite a bit," said Savard. "He was a big turning point in my career."
His character came under attack on his way out of Calgary four years ago, but Savard blossomed in Atlanta and became the No. 1 centre he always thought he could be.
He's hoping the Atlanta fans on Wednesday night understand it was business when he left this summer.
"I hope it goes great,: he said. "I thought I was good with the fans and they were great to me when I was there. But they want to team to win and I understand that as well."
In a perfect world, Savard would still be a Thrasher. But in the salary cap world, Atlanta couldn't afford him.
"When you pay two great players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa that kind of money and even Bobby Holik, it's tough to pay that many guys that much," said Savard. "So I knew it didn't look great for me there going into the end of last season. But Don Waddell was great about things, he just told me to 'go out and test free agency and let us know when you do come up with something."'
The 29-year-old Savard turned a career-high 97 points into a US$20-million, four-year deal in Boston.
"I had about four to five solid offers right off the bat," said Savard. "Boston was always on my radar. When I played against them last year, even though they didn't finish high, I saw a lot of talent and I thought I would fit well in here."
It was too rich a deal for the Thrashers to match.
Atlanta has tried to replace his team-high 69 assists with the additions of centres Steve Rucchin and Niko Kapanen, but they'll have trouble matching that.
Savard and Kovalchuk had chemistry. The passer and the shooter.
"We found something there for sure," said Savard. "It was tough leaving him because he's the best scorer in the game today. But I'm happy where I'm at. I see some resemblance in Glen Murray with the shot and the quick release he has.
"And Marco Sturm is a real underrated player, he's a great hockey player from what I've seen so far. Things will connect here but obviously I'll miss Ilya a bit."
Murray has been looking for a centre ever since Joe Thornton went West last November.
"We've had a lot of chances," Savard said of the line. "We're pretty close to having something good. We feel confident going into Atlanta."
With Patrice Bergeron centring the other scoring line with Brad Boyes and rookie Phil Kessel on the wings, the Bruins have a solid 1-2 punch down the middle.
"And Wayne Primeau is playing great as our third-line centre," said Savard. "We're really strong up the middle. Both Patrice and I have long-term deals here and some good players surrounding us.
"I think it's going to be good for a lot of years."