With Patrice Bergeron’s retirement, the Boston Bruins are in a difficult position.
One familiar figure will be conspicuously absent when Milan Lucic arrives in Boston for the Bruins’ training camp this autumn.
The 35-year-old returned to the organization that drafted him, where he played for eight seasons before winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, on July 1st by signing a one-year contract.
However, Patrice Bergeron dispelled any doubt on Tuesday regarding his decision to play for the sole NHL team of his life in order to play for a 20th season. The Bruins captain formally announced his retirement one day after turning 38.
In a statement made public by the Bruins, Bergeron said, “As difficult as it is to write, I also write it knowing how blessed and lucky I feel to have had the career that I have had and that I have the opportunity to leave the game I love on my terms.” “I didn’t make this decision hastily. However, after talking to my family and paying attention to my body, I feel strongly that it’s time for me to stop playing the game I adore.
In the highly anticipated 2003 NHL draft, which is now considered to be one of the greatest classes ever, Bergeron was a bit of a sleeper when the Bruins took him 45th overall. This was after he had scored 73 points in 70 games in his first complete major junior season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL.
The 6’1” center, who was 18 years old, entered the NHL right away and made an immediate impact. In his rookie season, he averaged 16:21 of ice time and scored 39 points in 71 games.
With 104 points, the Bruins won the Northeast Division that season. However, after losing to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, Bergeron joined Team Canada for the 2004 men’s World Championship, where he won gold seven months before competing in his only World Juniors, where Canada also won.
Following the 2004-05 NHL lockout, when he spent a season with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, Bergeron came back to the NHL with a 31-goal, 73-point campaign as a 20-year-old in 2005-06. He was given an ‘A’ the following season, cracked Team Canada’s deep and talented Olympic roster in 2010 and won a gold medal in Vancouver, then completed his Triple Gold Club qualifications at age 25 in 2011. In the same arena where he had won Olympic gold, the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972 in Game 7 against the host Canucks.
Over the next decade, the Bruins continued to contend. They reached the Stanley Cup Final again in 2013, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, then dropped a Game 7 decision to the St. Louis Blues in 2019. They also won the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular-season team in 2013-14 and the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, then set new NHL records for wins (65) and points (135) in the 2022-23 season.
That landmark season ended, disappointingly, in the first round, with a Game 7 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.
In his final season, Bergeron posted 27 goals and 58 points in 78 games, won an impressive 61.1 percent of his faceoffs, and was voted the winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward for a record-setting sixth time in his career. But various health issues caused him to miss four games near the end of the regular season, as well as Boston’s first four games against Florida. When he did return to the lineup, he posted one goal in three games but was an uncharacteristic minus-6. In Game 7, he was on the ice for Brandon Montour’s third-period goal which forced overtime, and for Carter Verhaeghe’s sudden-death series winner.
After reaching unrestricted free agency a year ago, Bergeron thought long and hard before deciding to come back for what proved to be his last hurrah. On August 8, 2022, he signed a one-year contract which carried a cap hit of just $2.5 million for the 2022-23 campaign. It also included an easily reachable $2.5 million bonus for 10 games played — and by structuring the contract in that fashion, the Bruins were able to defer the payment of that bonus by one year.
The other key center from the cup-winning 2011 team, David Krejci, also returned last season after playing in his native Czechia for the 2021-22 season. His $2 million in bonuses also count against the Bruins’ salary cap in the 2023-24 season.
As of Tuesday night, 37-year-old Krejci has not yet announced his plans for next season. If he also chooses not to return, the Bruins will be going into next season without last year’s top two centers, measured by ice time.
That likely means that Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha will slot into the top two center spots next season. The Bruins also signed unrestricted free agent Morgan Geekie to a two-year contract with a cap hit of $2 million per season. The big 25-year-old should be able to help fill a bottom-six role.
Beyond that, Trent Frederic could get a longer look in the middle as a big-bodied 24-year-old. The Bruins also have fringe players like Patrick Brown, Jesper Boqvist and Jayson Megna under contract at low cap hits.
According to CapFriendly, the Bruins currently have $5.4 million in available cap space. But most of that will likely be used once restricted free agents Frederic and Jeremy Swayman are signed to their new deals. Both have arbitration hearings scheduled — Swayman for July 30 and Frederic for August 1.
So when Lucic lands back in Boston, the only teammate from the Cup-winning 2011 team that will be waiting for him may be Brad Marchand — a brash rookie then who is Lucic’s contemporary, at age 35.
In his last year in Boston, in 2014-15, Lucic also played with David Pastrnak — at the time, a promising 18-year-old who spent 46 games at the NHL level in his rookie season. Now, he’s a superstar who’s fourth overall in goals since his rookie year, with 301, behind only Alex Ovechkin (400), Leon Draisaitl (306) and Connor McDavid (303).
As for Bergeron — Lucic was one of many to post a tribute to Boston’s outgoing captain on social media on Tuesday.