Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci spent some of the summer on the southwest Italian coast, celebrating with old Bruins teammates at a wedding.
They’ll see each other again soon — next month, when they report for training camp.
The Bruins announced Monday one-year sweetheart deals for both, bringing in their projected top two centers for a combined salary-cap hit that could be as low as $3.5 million in 2022-23.
“It’s an organization that means the world to me,” Bergeron said. “Boston is my home.”
Bergeron, 37, returns for his 19th season, his third as Black-and-Gold captain, for $2.5 million in salary and $2.5 million in performance bonuses. Krejci, 36, who played last year in his native Czechia, will earn $1 million in salary and has $2 million available in bonuses.
That’s $8 million in combined cost for two players who were highly productive last year, Bergeron as the Selke Trophy winner and Krejci starring in the Czech Extraliga. Because both players are over 35, the Bruins can offer easily attainable performance bonuses and roll them over to the following season.
The Bruins weren’t done, either. They signed restricted free agent Pavel Zacha, acquired from New Jersey in a June swap for Erik Haula, to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. Zacha was due to have an arbitration hearing Thursday.
Assuming Bergeron and Krejci hit their as-yet-undisclosed bonuses (one of the likely benchmarks is 10 games played), general manager Don Sweeney can kick those to the following season. By then, he will have a combined $13.5 million freed up with the expiring contracts of Zacha, Nick Foligno, Craig Smith, Tomas Nosek, and Chris Wagner.
Bergeron and Krejci’s bonuses (potentially $4.5 million in total) could go on a 2023-24 ledger that will likely include a big-money extension for David Pastrnak and a healthy chunk of change for Jeremy Swayman.
Pastrnak, who has vastly outperformed his current $6.667 million cap hit, could earn north of $10 million yearly on a long-term pact. Swayman, the promising 23-year-old netminder, is on an expiring rookie deal. Trent Frederic (a pending restricted free agent, like Swayman) and Connor Clifton (unrestricted free agent) also will be looking for raises. Zacha, if he fits here, could be extended.
So Bergeron taking a sweetheart deal at $5 million average annual value greatly helps the team. Six teammates — Charlie McAvoy ($9.5 million), Pastrnak, Hampus Lindholm ($6.5 million), Brad Marchand ($6.125 million), Taylor Hall ($6 million), and Charlie Coyle ($5.25 million) — earn more, and Linus Ullmark earns the same.
Winning, Bergeron noted, “makes the difference between a good career and a great career. I think leaving a few [dollars] on the table to make sure you’re a competitive team and you’re a good team and that it carries on for years, I think that makes a big difference.”
Bergeron, who won his record fifth Selke and posted 65 points in 73 games last season, will be a key component to the game plan for new coach Jim Montgomery, who replaced the fired Bruce Cassidy in June.
“We’ve had some great conversations, just going over what we thought of the state of the team,” Bergeron said of his new coach. “It went from one subject to the next, just a great conversation, also getting to know him and each other so there wouldn’t be an unfamiliar face.”
After the Bruins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes, No. 37 was not ready to commit to playing next season. He said that if he did continue, it would only be in Boston.
“The way it ended, Game 7, it was hard for me to really think and say that this could have been my last game,” he said. “I had a hard time believing that . . . ending it that way.”
The first week of June, Bergeron had surgery to repair a tendon in his left elbow. The procedure, with an expected recovery time of 10-12 weeks, briefly delayed his decision. After his wife, Stephanie, gave her blessing, Bergeron had to make sure he still had the will to play.
“I was getting excited to work out again and to really want to skate,” he said. “That to me is the indicator that you need to keep playing.”
Bergeron said he briefly considered life without hockey, and while he isn’t thinking beyond this upcoming season, he’s not ready to go quietly: “I think the fire, the desire, and the passion was too strong for me to take that path right now.”
Speaking from his home gym in Newton, Bergeron said he has been skating for a few weeks, will begin shooting this week, and expects to be ready for training camp.
A familiar playmaker will slot behind him on the depth chart.
Krejci, who after the 2020-21 season cited a desire to play in front of Czech-based family and friends after 15 years in Boston, produced a 20-26—46 line in 51 games with hometown HC Olomouc, plus 3-2—5 in five playoff games. He also went 1-3—4 in four games at the Beijing Olympics in February, and 3-9—12 in 10 games in the Czechs’ bronze-medal effort at the World Championships in May, the latter with Pastrnak as his running mate.
Krejci ranks seventh in franchise history in assists (515) and ninth in points (730). He is 38 NHL games shy of 1,000. There is an outside chance he’ll be the last Bruin to wear No. 46. Bergeron will surely be the last to don No. 37.
There’s another set of numbers that might concern the Bruins.
No team in recent memory has had a pair of top-two centers as old as Krejci, who turned 36 April 28, and Bergeron, who turned 37 July 24.
Aside from Bergeron (25-40—65) and Dallas’s Joe Pavelski (27-54—81 at age 37), no NHL forward aged 36 or older ranked in the top 150 scorers last year. Only Bergeron, Pavelski, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter (36), and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (36) played top-six minutes.
Having such high-mileage players in those important roles puts the Bruins in uncharted territory. Given what those two have proven, it’s a bet they’re willing to take.