If he returns for a 19th NHL season — still an “if,” at this hour — Patrice Bergeron would pull on his familiar No. 37 sweater in Boston.
He responded with a flat “no” when asked if he could see himself finishing his career in another city.
“Obviously, it’s a special place for me,” said Bergeron, speaking Monday in front of his stall at Warrior Ice Arena.
Not a surprise, given his oft-stated reverence for the Spoked-B, for the Hall of Famers who have worn it before him, for the idea of finishing his career with the same team. He all but laughed off a report that he might defect to Montreal.
“I don’t think anyone needs to worry about that,” he said.
Bergeron will retire sooner than later. If he does so this summer, the Bruins’ immediate future scans as worrisome.
Bergeron remains a top-shelf No. 1 center. He scored 25 goals and 65 points in 73 games, led the NHL in faceoff percentage (61.9 percent) and is the overwhelming favorite to capture his record fifth Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward.
On and off the ice, he is the organizational standard.
“What Bergy does for us is insane,” David Pastrnak said. “Everybody wants to be like him.”
No player with his profile exists on this year’s free agent market, and the Bruins, without making significant alterations, don’t have the salary cap space to add a high-profile UFA center like Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin or Florida’s Claude Giroux. They could patch the roster until 2023 and hope Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon tests the market, but teams with elite pivots typically move heaven and earth to keep them (Aleksander Barkov in Florida, to name one recent example).
There is no heir apparent to Bergeron in the system, nor on the main roster. The Bruins showed they have decent options in the No. 2 (Erik Haula), No. 3 (Charlie Coyle) and No. 4 (Tomas Nosek) spots. They would look far less fit for those roles without Bergeron at the top of the food chain.
There is more uncertainty looming, albeit less immediate, with Pastrnak. General manager Don Sweeney, set to address the media Wednesday, and the star scorer can sign an extension as soon as July 13.
“I haven’t given it a thought yet,” Pastrnak said. “I had a lot of other stuff to be worrying about this whole year.”
Not only did he tear rib cartilage in March, he played the whole year after the devastating loss of his and his girlfriend’s infant son last June. Understandably, Pastrnak had a difficult time discussing his season when he met with reporters Monday.
“Want to turn the page pretty much as quick as I can,” he said.
Assuming Pastrnak wants to be here long-term — likely on a deal worth $9 to $9.5 million annually — the chief contributors of the next two, three, four seasons and beyond would be him, the top defense pair of Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm (both signed through 2030) and wingers Taylor Hall and Brad Marchand (both signed through 2025). The secondary cast would include Coyle (2026), defenseman Brandon Carlo (2027) and possibly Jake DeBrusk (2024), if Sweeney can’t find an acceptable trade return for the winger.
That looks playoff-worthy, but without Bergeron — or some creative retooling — not much beyond that.
“Rebuild” is a word rarely spoken in this town. However, if things go sideways next season, Sweeney has a host of players who are entering the last year of their deals — Haula, Nosek, Craig Smith, Trent Frederic, Connor Clifton — and could be desirable trade deadline chips.
Drinkers of the Black and Gold Kool-Aid envision winger Fabian Lysell making a splash in training camp next season, with defenseman Mason Lohrei following the year after. That would buck a trend. The Bruins have been light on prospect impact in the Sweeney era, one of the reasons a Bergeron-less future does not seem like brighter days.
There is no apparent deadline for Bergeron, who had not conducted his exit meeting with Sweeney when he spoke Monday. Sweeney has said he would hold a spot for Bergeron (expiring $6.875 million cap hit). At his age (37 in July), he would be eligible to sign a deal with performance bonuses.
The primary factor Bergeron will consider: how much time hockey will allow him to devote to his wife, Stephanie, and their three three children. Oldest son Zack will be 7 when the season begins.
He won’t return to chase milestones. Fourth in Bruins history in points (982), goals (400) and assists (582), he could move into third with another decent season. He is third in games played (1,216), plus 167 more in the playoffs. Players with his mileage must dig increasingly deep into their mental and physical reserves to ready themselves.
“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing,” Bergeron said. “To prepare for a season, to prepare in the offseason, the workout regimen and all that, that’s another thing I’ve got to make sure I want to do and go through. Again, time will tell.”
He finished the year healthy, though he was still wearing evidence of a high stick to the side of his right eye from Game 4 of the Carolina series. He also broke his nose in December, and had an elbow infection in March.
“That’s just the usual, the grind of the season,” he said. “Nothing to report, really.”
Like everyone else who spoke Monday, Bergeron expects the team will be competitive.
“I’ve always believed in what this organization has done,” he said. “They’ve always made sure they would put the best team forward and on the ice. I believe they’re going to do that in the future as well. I’m not necessarily worried about that. I think there’s some great players in this locker room, most of which are coming back.”
A few of them are irreplaceable. Change is constant, but the potential loss of a franchise icon leaves the Bruins’ outlook murky at best.