Perfect Patrice. Saint Patrice. More commonly, Bergy.
And now, Captain Obvious.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney all but coined that temporary moniker for Patrice Bergeron this past week, when he followed Zdeno Chara’s departure with some far less surprising news: the “C” will be handed out this year, and, well, you can guess who’s getting it.
We are kicking off 2021 properly around here. This just feels right. And this is to take absolutely nothing from Chara, a mammoth figure in his 14 years as captain, one of the most respected players, intriguing interview subjects, and feared opponents of his generation. He readily admits: When it came to steering the ship, he always had help.
No small part of the Bruins’ success over the last decade-plus — one Stanley Cup, three Final appearances, seemingly always a contender — has been the professional culture built around two pillars that just get it, on every front.
“He’s absolutely the right person to have as a captain,” Chara said of the 35-year-old Bergeron. “He’s done so much for the team, for the organization, for the community. He’s going to be an unbelievable captain, leader. He’s obviously well proven in crunch time to deliver.”
No joke. Bergeron’s playoff performances have put him near the front of the line to lift the Cup (Vancouver, 2011) and inspired all-time Boston sports radio calls (Toronto, 2013: “Bergeron! Bergeron!”) For him, crunch time has ended in hospital stays (Chicago, 2013). He has brought teammates to his level in crunch time, such as before Game 6 against St. Louis, 2019, when his pregame speech — not found on video — made his teammates “want to run through a wall,” in the words of teammate Jake DeBrusk.
For the community? Ask any of Patrice’s Pals, the organization that brings children from local hospitals to Bruins games, or former Norwood High player Matt Brown, who found friends in both Bergeron and Chara after suffering paralysis during a 2010 game. Both won new fans outside of Boston with their words and deeds surrounding social justice. Bergeron posted a heartfelt statement after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“As a white man, I have always tried to live by respect and equality, but I also acknowledge my privileges,” Bergeron wrote. “I am disappointed in myself that it took this long for me to truly open my eyes. Seeing all this pain truly breaks my heart and forces me to seek answers . . . I will not be quiet anymore.”
He accompanied that with a $25,000 donation to the Boston branch of the NAACP, and $25,000 to Centre Multiethnique de Quebec.
“The impact he has on the players, teammates, coaches, fans, and everybody in the community is tremendous,” said Chara, who bonded with Bergeron over those values as they set out to change the struggling Bruins’ fortunes.
Bergeron has been alternate captain since Oct. 3, 2006 — the same day Chara became the franchise’s 18th captain. No current player has worn their team’s letter for longer. The Penguins named Sidney Crosby captain in May 2007. Chicago pinned the “C” on Jonathan Toews in July 2008. Duncan Keith (Chicago) and Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh) earned their “A’s” in October 2008. All are obvious future Hockey Hall of Famers.
Remember how far Bergeron has come. By the time Chara arrived here, he was a rising star with a 30-goal season on his résumé, three years into a career that began as an 18-year-old right winger in October 2003.
He was then the youngest player in the NHL, having spent one full season in Canadian junior hockey, and expected to be sent back to the QMJHL by the end of camp. He was studious and skilled, but still very much a kid. Listed at 6 feet and 178 pounds, he was bunking at the home of fellow Quebecois Martin Lapointe and his family in Andover.
“I’m so happy here,” the kid said during camp, using newfound English words. “I’d be disappointed a little bit if I didn’t stay, but I think they’re going to choose the right decision for me and my development.”
There was no disappointment, just discipline. Every day, the right plays, the right moves, the right choices. At home, he washed dishes without asking. He offered to baby-sit the Lapointe kids. His billet dad/teammate remarked in the Globe that Bergeron happily ate his fruits and vegetables. “That’s rare,” Lapointe said. At that time, plenty of NHLers believed ice cream and pancakes were backchecking fuel.
He made the team, shed No. 56 for his familiar No. 37, and began mastering the on-ice spatial awareness, impeccable timing, and problem solving that has manifested in four Selke Trophies, Triple Gold Club membership, and a Cup. Also lodged between his ears: a miles-deep appreciation for the game.
Remember that afternoon in 2007, some 12 days after the hit from behind by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones, when Bergeron shuffled to the podium at TD Garden and gave a news conference? In doing that, he became one of the first pro athletes to publicly reveal his struggles with concussions. Whether the so-called Lords of the Boards were moved by the video evidence or the scientific research — both piled up like that recent December snowstorm, now melted — the NHL has since legislated hits to the head out of the sport. No one wanted to see another 22-year-old, world-class player with an uncertain future. Bergeron showed others how to be candid, get help, and move forward.
In every major sports town, stars come and go over money, roles, assorted dramatics. The record will show that Bergeron, in negotiating his Bruin-for-life contract in July 2013, left perhaps $16 million on the table to extend this franchise’s championship window by a half-dozen years. Longtime agent Kent Hughes later recounted to Sports Illustrated how Bergeron — about to turn 28, shutdown center extraordinaire, 76 playoff games, and a ring over the previous five seasons — could have maximized his earning power by asking for $9 million a season. Comparable talents Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry signed for $8 million-plus months before. Bergeron took less ($6.875 million per, over eight years) to surround himself with better players.
That deal runs out in the summer of 2022. Under previous management, the Bruins traded captains Ray Bourque (so he could chase the Cup), Jason Allison (who was being lowballed and held out), and Joe Thornton (to change the direction of the team). Sweeney and Chara did not agree on his role. Bergeron remains a premier player, essential to the Bruins’ hopes.
He returns to center one of hockey’s best lines, though his wingers may not be at full strength when the puck drops Jan. 14 in New Jersey. Even without the big man occupying the corner stall, the den with the Spoked-B on the ceiling will look much the same. Bergeron, unfailingly polite and professional with visitors — albeit cagey with competitive info — will keep being a picture of understated perseverance and a pleasant personality.
Last season, he returned from Christmas break sporting 10 hot-pink toenails. Why? His 2-year-old daughter, Victoria, wanted to paint them. The cool dad went out and scored twice against Buffalo.
If not his hockey odometer, Bergeron’s cellphone plan surely features unlimited minutes. He runs point guard for the Bruins as they try to lure free agents, and makes sure all Bruins prospects have his number, in case he can assist as they try to prepare for NHL careers.
“They can reach me at any time,” he said during training camp last season.
The easiest call the Bruins will make this year: stitching a “C” onto a No. 37 jersey.
RIVAL FOR ATTENTION
Corey Perry a good fit for Canadiens
Put me down as bummed we won’t get to see Corey Perry mucking it up in a Canadiens sweater, on a snowy Saturday night at TD Garden.
Plenty of snarling Bruin sticks would be directed at the longtime former Duck, whose sneering game always seems to bring out the competitiveness in others. Does he have a lot of miles on the odometer, at 35? Yes. Should a team such as Montreal, needing a boost on the wings, have jumped at signing a former Hart Trophy winner who just had a decent playoff for $750,000? Oh, yeah.
“There’s no doubt in my mind I have lots of hockey left to play,” said a motivated Perry, who chipped in 9 points during the Stars’ run to Game 6 of the Cup Final.
His surliness is never far from the surface.
“I heard I couldn’t skate when I came in the league, and I’d never play,” he said, noting, David Backes-like, that he’s focused on power skating the last two offseasons. “I use those things as fire. The one year I got cut from the [Canadian] World Junior team and went back and made it the next year.”
Marc Bergevin gave coach Claude Julien more toughness with Perry and Josh Anderson, who has shown flashes of being a really effective player. Tyler Toffoli will help a so-so power play. They can give Carey Price (still very good) a rest by spotting Jake Allen in there.
The Habs, to this eye, are in the pack of Canadian clubs chasing Toronto. They lack high-end talent at center. Phillip Danault is a good two-way player, but he isn’t a top-15 pivot. Nick Suzuki makes a lot of plays. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft, has seemingly dealt with that kind of pressure, in that market, just fine.
One player to watch on a fairly league-average defense: 20-year-old prospect Alex Romanov. He’s a bit like Connor Clifton: likes to skate and throw the body.
Ovechkin losing more time in race to top
These are the players to score 50 goals since Corey Perry’s MVP season of 2010-11: Alex Ovechkin (four times), Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, and Leon Draisaitl.
Will anyone get there this shortened, 56-game season? Hard to imagine, even though play should be sloppy at the outset. The games we have missed will become more fodder for discussion if and when Ovechkin (706 career goals) falls short of Wayne Gretzky (894).
Zdeno Chara’s new buddy, who starts this year in eighth place, will tie Brett Hull for fourth overall if his output matches his age (35). This is a player who lost his age-19, would-be rookie season to a lockout (2004-05), the start of 2012-13 to another lockout, and the end of 2019-20 to a pandemic. That’s 129 possible games lost. Considering Ovechkin scored 52 in his post-lockout rookie year, and led the league in goals in his other two interrupted campaigns, a conservative estimate says Ovechkin could have added another 60 goals to his ledger. That could have put him in sniffing distance of 800 by the end of this year. In that case, a three-year contract extension would give him time to overtake Gretzky, and return home to Moscow for a few victory laps in the KHL.
I like Auston Matthews for the Rocket Richard, given Ovechkin’s age and David Pastrnak’s injury (he might miss the first month). But Ovechkin remains the greatest goal scorer of all time, adjusting for era (goalies today are better, and the game more tightly controlled via systems, video, and officiating, than ever).
The Capitals have played 1,319 games since Ovechkin’s rookie year. He has missed a total of 31, all in the regular season. He has suited up for all 136 playoff games. An average of two DNPs per season for 15 years is astounding. With that output, you can’t blame him for taking a regular vacation during All-Star Weekend.
The Bruins did not have a captain for the remainder of the 2005-06 season after trading Joe Thornton that Nov. 30. A stunner, still. “Oh, [expletive] yeah,” then-alternate captain Glen Murray recalled recently. “He called me and told me he just got traded. What do you mean? It was shocking. To trade a player like that in his prime . . . shocking.” Murray and Brian Leetch rushed to Thornton’s downtown condo to commiserate . . . The Bruins also went sans capitaine for most of 2001-02, after Mike O’Connell dealt Jason Allison, holding out after a 95-point season, to the Kings with Mikko Eloranta for Murray and Jozef Stumpel. Allison, a restricted free agent, was reportedly looking for $6 million a year, not the $4.2 million the Bruins were offering. “They have a great team there,” Allison said at the time, “but that’s the way ownership does business.” . . . Don Sweeney, who wore an “A” when Ray Bourque, his longtime blue-line partner, was traded in 2000, acknowledged that Zdeno Chara’s No. 33 is likely heading to the TD Garden rafters … Twitter poll of the week: shout-out @scwhorevat, whose tweet simply naming four NHL stars and their unfamiliar new teams made me tweet a poll asking which one looked the strangest. Chara as a Capital: 77 percent (fans of both hockey and numerology would see Bourque connections there). Thornton as a Maple Leaf: 19 percent, appropriately. Braden Holtby as a Canuck: 3 percent. Corey Perry as a Canadien: 1 percent. The Bruins will see Chara eight times this regular season, and the others zero . . . This reimagined “East” division includes a bulked-up Rasmus Dahlin, who had nine-plus months in the gym while his DNQ Sabres were licking their wounds. Results: 207 pounds, up from 193 last season. The 6-foot-3-inch Swede will be more of a problem this year . . . The division’s biggest breakout candidate — and most annoying player, with all respect to Perry — might be Ottawa power winger Brady Tkachuk, ex-of Boston University. Dahlin-sized, relentlessly competitive, and smart, he’s future captain material for the Senators. Next up for the expiring RFA: a long-term extension . . . Perry was on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby for quite possibly the best World Junior team ever, the 2005 Canadians. Also on the squad: Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, and Brent Seabrook. They won six games by a combined 41-7 score, including a 6-1 drubbing of Ovechkin and the Russians in the gold-medal game. The World Juniors has its share of blowouts, mostly in the early rounds . . . One stat Hall of Fame voters will cite if they make Bergeron a first-ballot inductee: To date, he has represented his country seven times, and won gold or top prize six times . . . NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told multiple networks this past week he expects the players will make a “dramatic return to the international stage” in Beijing 2022. If Bergeron (plus David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, for that matter) are in contention for Olympic roster spots, the Bruins will be doing back flips. Brad Marchand (Canada) and David Pastrnak (Czech Republic) look like locks for their countries, and it’s going to be hard to keep Charlie McAvoy off the American squad . . . Given the way this World Juniors has gone for ex-BU dynamo Trevor Zegras (tourney-best 6-7—13 through four games), he might have a shot at Beijing 2022. And for Calder 2021.