The Canucks will be at TD Garden on Sunday night, what will be Patrice Bergeron’s 1,161st regular-season game for the Bruins, which is a way of reminding everyone that there’s no knowing how much longer we have to witness the sublime talents he brings to that No. 37 Black-and-Gold uniform.
What we know for sure is that Bergeron, 36, is in the final days of the eight-year contract extension he signed in July 2013. The deal, for a total $55 million, was arguably the best move Peter Chiarelli made during his tenure (2006-15) as general manager.
Chiarelli too often overpaid for some lower and middling talent, but his pricey, aggressive, long-term deals for the superb Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and Bergeron proved to be the building blocks that helped galvanize the franchise — one that keeps filling the house on Causeway Street more than six years after his departure.
If Bergeron wants to keep playing — and he won’t say one way or the other — he’ll obviously have a place in Boston. He said again in recent days that he prefers not to think beyond this season, adding that, if he does continue, he has little desire to play anywhere else.
“I think there’s been like a loyalty on both sides over the course of my career,” he said. “They’ve trusted me, but I also think I’ve trusted them . . . I’ve been loyal to them and they’ve been loyal to me with the contract situation. So I would love for it to remain the same.”
Impossible though it may be for many to accept, the end approaches for Bergeron, as it does for everyone. For Ray Bourque and Jean Ratelle, the club’s other two French–Canadian greats now in the Hall of Fame, it came at age 40, Bourque because of a hip and Ratelle his back.
Bergeron, though his play hindered at times in recent years by nagging core/groin injuries, appears not to be weighing health concerns in his decision about the future. He complains about nothing. He’s trim, fit, and looks perfectly capable of playing another two or three seasons, perhaps reaching the golden 40.
“As I’ve said previously, I want to play the year and really concentrate on that,” he noted, “making sure we’re doing something special as a team and creating something here and I want to be in the present, in the moment.”
Bergeron’s game, body, and mind are intact, the latter of those three no small blessing, considering the devastating concussion he was dealt in October 2007 by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones. The hit along the rear wall knocked Bergeron cold, ended that season in his 10th game, and dulled his performance the following season. It also factored some in how he structured the contract that is now on the verge of expiring.
Of the $55 million, 64 percent ($35 million) was paid over the first four years. Had health issues diminished Bergeron’s game or desire to play after, say, his fourth or fifth season, he already had banked upward of $9 million a year over the front half of that deal. The contract, in fact, was as smart and calculated as his game. By deal’s end, the sum of his contracts in Boston will stand at $91.141 million, a payout but a fraction less than the $93.5 million Chara earned here (per figures reported by capfriendly.com) as the highest-compensated player in team history.
“I would love him to be a Bruin going forward,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Bergeron. “I’d like him to be a Bruin for life . . . longer than life, I guess.”
The gentlemanly, soft-spoken Ratelle retired directly into coaching here in the fall of 1981 as an assistant, alongside Gary Doak, on Gerry Cheevers’s staff. Harry Sinden coached the final 24 games of 1984-85 upon turfing Cheevers, with Doak and Ratelle remaining on board.
Bourque retired just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup in June 2001 with Colorado, where he played his final season-plus, and never returned in any official coaching or front office capacity in Boston or with any other NHL club.
Discussing his post-playing aspirations the other day as assistant coach Joe Sacco walked by him in the hallway outside the dressing room in Brighton, Bergeron smiled when the topic turned to coaching.
“Saccs and I talked about that yesterday, actually,” Bergeron said. “I respect what they do so much, but I just don’t know if it’s for me right now — like I say, right now I’m concentrating on this [season], and I haven’t really thought further, so I’m not sure, to be honest. I know that’s a bad answer, but I just don’t know, I really don’t.”
Hard as reckoning with his departure as a player may be, it is equally simple to envision Bergeron segueing to any role, be it coaching or player development or management. Now in his second year as captain, having succeeded Chara, Bergeron is universally revered by the fan base, his teammates, and throughout the industry. Yes, the seconds are ticking, but he owns the clock and has the unique luxury of dictating time and timeline.
As for Cassidy, whose clock is framed in three 20-minute segments, he’d prefer that Bergeron doesn’t budge from his present job. He also understands what options will be there for him when he decides the time has come.
“He exudes Boston Bruins character,” noted Cassidy. “So whatever he decides to do in the future — as for next year, we all hope it’s to play. If it’s not then, speaking for everybody, you’d like him to be with the team in some capacity, whatever knowledge he can bring to that particular position. That’s just who he is.”
Only Bourque (1,518) and John Bucyk (1,436) played more games in a Bruins sweater than Bergeron. With a career line of 383-550—933, 400 goals and 1,000 points would seem career milestones worth inducing him to stay on the job.
Only Bourque (1,506), Bucyk (1,339), and Phil Esposito (1,012) ever piled up 1,000 points in a Bruins uniform. Only Bucyk (545), Esposito (459), and Rick Middleton (402) reached 400 goals.
But keep in mind, the pursuit of numbers never has been a Bergeron thing. They have been but the odometer clicks on a fine ride, a career well played and better lived. However much longer remains to watch him, they are moments to be savored, a luxury that we’ve too often neglected, or been denied, with some of our city’s greatest performers.
THEIR NIGHT TO SHINE
Ex-Bruins forward Peter McNab, diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago, and Boston College coach Jerry York will be formally inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame at a gala dinner Dec. 9 in Denver.
McNab, an original member of the Avalanche broadcast team in his post-playing days, was named to the 2021 class along with ex-Flyer Paul Holmgren and media maven Stan Fischler.
York, who returned to The Heights in 1994-95, was named to the Hall’s 2020 class, its celebration delayed because of COVID-19. He’ll be joined by fellow 2020 class members Dean Blais, Tony Granato, and Jenny Potter.
McNab, who will be 70 in May, has kept up his broadcast duties during his cancer treatments and was on the microphone Monday night for the Avalanche’s 7-5 win at home over the Senators.
The rock-jawed Holmgren, about to turn 66, played eight seasons with Philadelphia when the Bruins and Flyers still considered a good night to be 5-6 fights and an equal number of buckets of blood. He was dealt to the North Stars in 1983-84, bringing him closer to his roots in St. Paul.
Like a lot of Minnesota and Massachusetts kids, particularly those who took up the sport in the 1960s, Holmgren learned the game on natural ice, often playing on a small outside patch in East St. Paul that his dad flooded and maintained.
The Minnesota winters were cold, the snow deep. What could be better?
“My memories of those days,” recalled Holmgren, who piled up 1,684 penalty minutes in 527 NHL games, “I can still think back, you entered the ice by sliding down the snowbank because the snow was piled so high, you just slid on to the ice for a line change.”
Younger, smaller players, successful in the sliding down, often found themselves in a dilemma when it came time to leave at the end of their shifts.
“To get off the ice, they literally had to be lifted back on to the snowbank,” noted Holmgren. “So it just blows my mind with how far we’ve come along with so many indoor rinks. That’s USA Hockey at work.”
These Red Wings
off to fast start
With the Red Wings on Causeway Street on Tuesday night for a second time this season, Bruins fans will have another chance to watch two of the league’s top rookies, Lucas Raymond (forward) and Moritz Seider (defenseman), who were 1-2 in freshman scoring across the league as of Thanksgiving morning.
Raymond, a Swede, arrived at the holiday with a 7-12—19 line, ranking him No. 1 in all three categories and No. 1 in Winged Wheel scoring. Steve Yzerman (39-48—87), now the Red Wings’ GM, was the last rookie to lead Detroit in end-of-year scoring, in 1983-84. Kirill Kaprizov (27-24—51) did it last season for the Wild.
Denis Potvin (54 points with the 1973-74 Islanders) is the lone defenseman in the modern era to top his team’s scoring charts. The only other back liner to do it was Dave Ritchie, who cobbled together a meager 5-2—7 line across his four games with the Montreal Wanderers in 1917-18.
Center Don McKenney (22-20—42 in 1954-55) is the lone rookie to lead the Bruins in scoring in the post-World War II era. Two others, Harry Oliver and Jimmy Herbert, did it in the 1920s.
Temmu Selanne remains the game’s all-time rookie scorer with 132 points for the 1992-93 Winnipeg Jets. The Finnish Flash, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2017 with fellow ex-Duck Paul Kariya, fired home a record 76 goals in his freshman season. Buffalo’s Alex Mogilny also that season scored 76, a mark that has not been reached since.
Only 63 rookies, dating back to the league’s beginnings in 1917-18, have led their club in scoring.
Oh, and because you are no doubt wondering, Bobby Orr’s rookie line of 13-28—41 in 1966-67 ranked him third in Bruins scoring behind John Bucyk (48) and Pit Martin (42).
The great No. 4 went on to lead the Bruins in scoring in two seasons, 1969-70 and in 1974-75.
It seems like only yesterday
It was 50 years ago this month that Howard Baldwin and pals landed Boston’s WHA New England Whalers, who spent their early seasons splitting their home games between Boston Garden and Boston (now Matthews) Arena.
“Isn’t it amazing?” said Baldwin, noting how quickly a half-century has passed.
Baldwin, 79, was not even 30 when he secured the franchise in the upstart rival league, along with fellow investors W. Godfrey Wood, John Coburn, and Bill Barnes. The franchise migrated to Connecticut and was adopted into the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979, with a 51-year-old Gordie Howe as the roster headliner.
Baldwin, who for years now has owned a movie and TV production company, says he is developing a TV series about the Whalers’ early WHA days.
“It was such a David-and-Goliath story,” said Baldwin, who now lives outside Los Angeles, “coming into Boston and taking on the Bruins when they were at their peak. It’s a fun story.”
Steve Babineau, for decades now the Bruins’ official team photographer, soon will be releasing a 50-year anniversary book on the WHA, with the foreword written by Baldwin.
Charlie McAvoy ponied up on his promise to buy his dog, Otto, a “handful of bones” after the Bruins back liner last month signed his long-term $9.5-million-a-year contract extension. “I mean, yeah, tons of bones!” said McAvoy, a former Terrier himself. “He’s living like a prince right now.” McAvoy, like many of the Bruins younger players, lives in the Seaport District, and often strolls over to Polkadog Bakery with Otto for a treat of the day. “That’s our go-to,” said McAvoy. “I’ll go, ‘Hey, Otto, wanna go to Polkadog?’ and he knows right away, pulls me the whole way because he’s got it on his GPS.” . . . Zdeno Chara’s résumé remained frozen at 1,623 games (No. 11 all time) over the holiday after Big Z tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. The Islanders had lost six straight (0-6-0), in part because of a lengthening COVID protocol list that included Andy Green, Adam Pelech, Ross Johnston, Kieffer Bellows, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey. Abysmal season for the Islanders. Especially hard on the eyes has been the play of ex-Devil Kyle Palmieri, who came aboard at the trade deadline and over the summer signed a four-year extension worth $20 million. Through 15 games, he was barely above a flatline 1-6—7 . . . David Krejci, now back home in the Czech Republic, playing for Olomouc, last week ranked No. 2 to left winger Jan Kana in Rooster team scoring. Kana, 29, was never drafted by an NHL club, and has blossomed on offense (11-15—26 through 22 games) because of Krejci’s sweet sauce passing. Per Prague-based sportswriter Pavel Rysavy: “Krejci has lifted him up a lot, got him to the level where he should have been five years ago.” . . . Peter Nosek’s hometown of Pardubice, Czech Republic, about an hour east of Prague, is best known for two things: 1. It’s the hometown for Dominik Hasek, the Hall of Fame netminder who rose to prominence as the “Dominator” in the Buffalo net; and 2. Gingerbread. Pardubice even boasts a Gingerbread Museum, housed in a 19th-century hunting lodge, that boasts more than 1,000 gingerbreads. “People kid,” said Nosek, ”that we’re made from gingerbread.” Hasek, now 56 and living in Prague, retired from the NHL 10 years ago. Nosek, then in his late teens, had the chance to shoot against him in some informal practices in Pardubice. “He was so competitive even then,” Nosek said. “If you scored against him, he was really [ticked].” . . . Mike Milbury, two weeks into his daily podcast, “Mike Milbury’s Fight Club,” will be feted at TD Garden on Dec. 8 as one the Sports Museum’s “Tradition” honorees, along with Kevin McHale, David Ortiz, Angela Ruggiero, and Taylor Twellman. Oft-overlooked on his curriculum vitae is the fact that Milbury was an excellent coach in Boston, steering the Bruins to the Cup Final in 1990 and then the semis in ‘91. Had he chosen coaching, rather than managing, as the focus of his life after playing, the read here is that Milbury might have carved a path to the Hall of Fame. That’ll give him something to talk about the night of Dec. 8, I guess, because he is often at a loss for words. For “Tradition” tickets, visit www.sportsmuseum.org or e-mail Maria Kangas: email@example.com.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.