A shared philosophy, common values and a strong sense of loyalty led Patrice Bergeron to sign a contract extension Friday that he hopes will allow him to be with the Boston Bruins for the remainder of his NHL career.
The Bruins and Bergeron agreed on an eight-year, $52 million contract, one that starts in the 2014-15 season will keep him with the team through 2021-22.
"I started my career as a Bruin, they're the team that believed in me as an 18-year-old coming in, and now I'm really happy now to say I will hopefully retire a Bruin," Bergeron, 28 this month, said Friday. "That's a goal. That's what I want. … I'm really proud to be a Bruin, hopefully for life. I have a lot of pride every time I step on the ice as a Bruin. I couldn't be happier."
Patrice Bergeron - PLAYOFFS
Center - BOS
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 15
SOG: 71 | +/-: 2
It's the second maximum-length contract handed out by the Bruins in less than a week, following the eight-year, $56 million deal signed by goalie Tuukka Rask
"I try to be proactive on our core guys," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "We want to try to get these guys locked up. I call them [Bergeron and Rask] pillars of the team. … He [Bergeron] is a leader. He stands for what we stand for. He's proud to wear a Bruins logo. He sets a great example, all those things."
Chiarelli cited the $6.5 million average annual value of Bergeron's contract, and the fact he signed an extension almost a full year before his current deal expires and he could become an unrestricted free agent, as another example of the center's dedication to the franchise.
"There wasn't any question that he would be able to get more on the open market, so Patrice really helped us in the team-building aspect," Chiarelli said. "I give a lot of credit to him. He sees what we're trying to do here. The AAV is nice for team-building and something that helps us in future years."
Bergeron trusts the plan Chiarelli and his staff have put in place, making it easy for him to sign long-term.
"The mentality in the organization is team first, and to me it means a lot," he said. "That's the only way you can win. To me it exemplifies exactly the values that I have. … Over the past five years we have a great core of players that are working toward that same goal. It makes it fun to come to the rink every day for practice and games. I want to keep doing that and keep playing hockey in Boston."
Bergeron said he's sure he'll be prepared to do just that after a grueling run through the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bergeron tied for second in the League with nine goals in 22 games, and memorably scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. But in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final he sustained a cracked rib and cartilage damage in his rib cage that required a trip to a Chicago hospital. During the first period of Game 6, he fell into the boards and dislocated his right shoulder.
After the game he was hospitalized again, this time for a punctured lung. He was released after a few days but said doctors prescribed four weeks of rest to allow the lung injury to heal.
"They put a hole through my rib cage to suck the air out and make sure that my lung was going back to its place and staying there," Bergeron said. "The four weeks is really to make sure everything heals and doesn’t collapse again. It's my lung more than anything else. My shoulder and ribs are feeling better. Still not 100 percent obviously, but I can do some rehab on my shoulder, some bands and stuff like that. I can't really increase my heart rate right now because of the injury to my lung."
He said surgery would not be required to fix any of his medical issues, it's just a matter of letting things heal.
"I think the ribs and the cartilage and the muscles around that area are going to be sore and tight for a little bit," Bergeron said. "Every time I do a rotation or an awkward movement I feel it. I'm going to have to take the time to heal it, but I feel confident that I'll be ready for September."
Despite Bergeron's injuries, Chiarelli said he was willing to accept the risk that comes with signing any player to a long-term deal, but more so because of the player involved.
"When you're looking at giving a long-term contract to a player, you look at everything and you accept a lot of the risks," he said. "A person of Patrice's character … Patrice is a terrific character guy. He's shown his resiliency. We're comfortable with the risks. It certainly isn't something we took lightly, but we felt strongly about Patrice as a player and a person and would accept some of these risks."
A second-round pick (No. 45) of the Bruins in 2003, Bergeron played 71 games as an 18-year-old rookie, totaling 39 points. After spending the 2004-05 season in the American Hockey League because of the lockout, Bergeron has been a mainstay in the Boston lineup, scoring at least 20 goals four times, totaling 433 points in 579 games, and winning the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward in 2012. He was a finalist for the award in 2013 after totaling 32 points in 42 games, leading team with a plus-24 rating, and winning a League-best 62.1 percent of his faceoffs.
Bergeron won the 2013 King Clancy Award, presented to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made noteworthy humanitarian contributions in his community.
"We're very happy to get him signed," Chiarelli said. "You never know now, but to finish his career with the Bruins, we obviously really like him as a player. He embodies a lot of what the Bruins stand for. He's a responsible player, he's a hard player, he's a leader, he's a clutch player. He's got a classic way of carrying himself that I like to be part of and the Bruins like to be part of. We've seen his performance over the years; we saw a gutty performance this year in the playoffs. We're really happy that we can get Patrice signed to a long-term extension."