Bergeron heads to All-Star Game focused on present with Bruins
But above all, he feels good. Above all, he can do everything he’s always done, enough to get him to the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 5, enough to lead a burgeoning Boston Bruins team.
Sometimes, though? Sometimes it just feels 36.
“I looked back and thought about when I was younger – 22 or whatever – in my youth in the League with the Bruins and I was playing with older players who were around that age and I thought how old they were,” the center said recently by phone. “I couldn’t believe myself, I was like, oh my god, I play with, like, dads. They’re old. And now I’m here, right?”
He knows what happened to those players then, that in a year, two years or three years they were out of the NHL, gone to the next chapters, replaced on the roster by one of those kids he was formerly.
So he knows what you’re thinking. He thinks about it too. Or rather, he does his best not to think about it.
“All my career, I always had the [contract] extensions and long-term contracts, so I felt like this time around I was like, I just want to play this year and see how I feel, see where we are, see a lot of things” , said Bergeron. a lot of questions that I asked myself that need to be answered.”
Bergeron is in the final season of an eight-year contract he signed on July 12, 2013, which feels like forever. Then he was days away from turning 28, childless and most of his NHL career ahead of him. Now he’s one of those dads, the eldest of his three kids enduring kindergarten shutdowns and restarts amid the COVID pandemic, and he understands that the end of his playing days is near.
As he did not know what the future held for him, Bergeron declared in September that he would not negotiate a new contract during the season. He would play 2021-22 and then address any potential new deals. This continues to be his plan. But he doesn’t want to think about it. Not now.
“As you get older and you realize the window is getting shorter and shorter, you start thinking about these questions, thinking about these things, about the future and so on,” Bergeron said. “But to be honest, right now I’m really not.
“It’s the first time in my career where I don’t have extra time, so I can really take the time to really answer all the questions I have, whether it’s personal, it’s the team, it’s whatever it is. I think sometimes people just think a little too much about it. And right now I just don’t have the answer. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t think we should read too much in there. I just don’t know.
“I don’t want to think about next year right now because I’m 36 and I feel like I can do it and I can just worry about the present and enjoy my time at the rink.”
There is a lot to enjoy.
The Bruins (25-13-3) are playing well, 14-5-3 in their last 22 games heading into a road game against the Dallas Stars on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, BSSW+, NESN, ESPN+, NHL LIVE ). Bergeron, who will represent the Atlantic Division at the 2002 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas, has scored 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 40 games this season, eighth-best points per game (.83) in the during his 18 seasons in the NHL.
Bergeron leads the NHL in game winning percentage, 63.2% in 938 total games, most in the league. He also leads the NHL in shot attempts differential, 300, showing just how good he and his line are at controlling the game.
His defense is as good as it ever was.
“He keeps doing it because he’s so smart,” said Mark Recchi, the Hall of Fame forward who helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 with Bergeron and is now an assistant with the Devils. from New Jersey. “He doesn’t waste energy. He knows how to play the game the right way. He’s almost methodical in the way he plays, but there’s a lot of determination in his game. It’s just fun to watch all the evenings.”
Video: Patrice Bergeron go to the NHL All-Star Game
Bergeron was selected by the Bruins with the No. 45 pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He is third all-time in games played for the Bruins (1,183), behind Ray Bourque (1,518) and Johnny Bucyk (1,436). He is fifth in goals (387) and fourth in assists (563) and points (950). He won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward four times, tied with Bob Gainey for the all-time record. He unforgettablely played in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals with cracked ribs, torn cartilage and a punctured lung.
“I almost feel like I’ve seen it all, but you remember how long he’s been doing this and how dominant he still is,” said Brad Merchant, the left winger who has been alongside Bergeron for a decade. “And I guess when you look at it that way, it’s even more impressive.”
And even more irreplaceable.
“Will there be another Patrice Bergeron? Recchi said. “Probably not. … He’s a great leader. He’s a great player. And the kind of person he is, that’s all. Every team wants to have a guy like that at the helm of their franchise, I can tell you.”
For much of his career, Bergeron was rocked by Zdeno Chara, who signed with the Bruins prior to the 2006-07 season, Bergeron’s third season in the NHL. The defenseman, eight years Bergeron’s senior, was immediately named Bruins captain and helped lead them to the 2011 Stanley Cup and two more Cup Final appearances, a six-game loss to the Boston Blackhawks. Chicago in 2013 and a seven-game loss to the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
The two players forged a partnership, a leadership tandem that shaped the identity of the franchise and shaped its youth.
Chara signed with the Washington Capitals after the 2019-20 season, and Bergeron became captain on Jan. 7, 2021. But even then, Bergeron technically wasn’t the Bruins’ oldest statesman. Substitute goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak had two months on Bergeron.
“I always teased him about being the oldest, looking old and all that,” Bergeron said. “But then, now I’m here, right? I’m the oldest. It’s the first time now.”
Most of the 2011 squad players are gone now. Chara is with the New York Islanders. David Krejci left after last season to play in his native Czech Republic. Sole Marchand, 33, and goalkeeper Tuukka Rask, 34, lives in Bergeron. Rask missed the first half of the season after undergoing hip surgery in July and signed a one-year contract on January 11.
Like Bergeron, Rask’s future is undetermined, and the two could be linked. It’s something they talked about, what will happen next.
“We are realistic that we are getting old and the window is closing, [whether] it’s a year, two or three years, who knows?” Rask said. “But it’s closing and we know that.”
The question for Bergeron is how soon will this happen? How much longer can he save time? How much longer does he want?
“I feel like right now I have to focus on the present moment,” Bergeron said. “I’m at a point in my career where that’s all that really matters. I shouldn’t be thinking about extra time or the future. I think it’s about enjoying the moments.
“I know there’s a lot less time for me in this League. So I’m pretty aware of that, that it ends at some point and I really have to enjoy that feeling and that moment.”
That said, does enjoying the moments and becoming aware of the passage of time mean that retirement is really on the table?
“It’s one of those questions,” he said. “It’s like the million dollar question, isn’t it? Is that one of the boxes that’s there? Yeah. It’s one of those boxes that needs to be checked, if it’s where I am or not.
“And that’s why I don’t have the answer at the moment. I feel good, I’m happy with the way our team is moving in the right direction at the moment. So, yes, it’s there. But that’s not the only question. … It’s certainly not the only reason I’m not signing.”
It’s something his teammates would rather not ponder, the end. They know it’s going to change, well, everything.
“You can’t replace guys like that, what he brings to the table on and off the ice, his leadership values, the way he controls the room and the bench,” Marchand continued. “He’s the guy we can’t replace when the time comes. But we’re not thinking about it right now. Hopefully it’ll be a long time yet. And, in the meantime, we just have to cherish the time that we have it here and enjoy it.”
To, perhaps, win another Stanley Cup.
“That’s really the driving force behind it all,” Bergeron said. “That’s why we play the game. That’s why we grew up wanting to be in this League, in this position, it’s to be able to win the Cup one day. And then once you’ve tasted it, you want more. It’s almost like an addiction where you want to have that feeling again.”
Recalling that Recchi won in his third season, again in his 17th, then this last time with the Bruins in 2011, before retiring as a Cup winner, Bergeron laughs.
“Oh man,” he said. “That would be a good way out.”