BOSTON – Patrice Bergeron was just 22 years old when a serious concussion jeopardized his career.
Now, less than two weeks before his 28th birthday, one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards is under contract for the next nine seasons and hopes to retire with the only team he’s played for, the Boston Bruins.
Bergeron signed an eight-year, $52 million extension Friday that starts once his current three-year, $15 million deal expires after next season.
“We don’t want to go anywhere else and so it was an easy decision for me and my family,” the Bruins alternate captain said in a conference call.
Bergeron’s extension came two days after the Bruins re-signed goalie Tuukka Rask, a restricted free agent, to another eight-year contract. It’s worth $56 million even though he just completed his first full season as the team’s No. 1 goalie.
General manager Peter Chiarelli was eager to keep two core players who were instrumental in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup finals.
“We want to try and get these guys locked up,” he said, “the pillars of the team.”
Chiarelli acknowledged the danger in such long-term contracts, knowing that performance can diminish and injuries can increase.
“You accept a lot of the risks,” he said, “but with a person of Patrice’s character … who we’ve closely monitored his recovery over the years—and it’s not without risk. But Patrice is a terrific character guy and he’s shown his resiliency. So we’re comfortable with the risks.”
Bergeron learned early how a promising career can be put in peril.
He was off to a strong start in 2007-08 with three goals and four assists in 10 games. But he didn’t play again that season after sustaining a grade-three concussion and a broken nose when he was checked into the end-boards by Philadelphia defenceman Randy Jones.
Bergeron said he didn’t think much then about how the concussion might affect his future.
“It never really crossed my mind at that time,” he said. “I was really just trying to stay in the moment and try to get back on my feet and get good again. I wasn’t really thinking about the future and long term.”
Now he has one Stanley Cup championship, in 2011, and one bid that fell just two wins short when the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the title in six games on June 24.
The prospect of contending for another Cup was “a huge factor” in his decision to stay in Boston.
“You want to keep doing it, keep reliving the moment, the way that we felt in 2011 after winning the Cup. Those are the memories that you never forget,” Bergeron said.
He was outstanding throughout his 22 playoff games, tying for the team lead with nine goals, including two winners in overtime.
The second-line centre played the last game of the finals with a broken rib on the left side and a separated right shoulder. After that 3-2 loss, when Chicago came from behind with two goals in the last 1:16, he was hospitalized with a punctured lung. He was released two days later.
Doctors have told him he could resume working out on July 22, four weeks after the injury. He needs that time to heal from the procedure in which a hole was put in his ribcage to allow air out and let the lung re-inflate.
“It’s really more of my lungs than anything else,” Bergeron said. “My shoulder and my ribs are feeling better.”
A talented playmaker and checker, he won the Selke Trophy in 2011-12 as the top defensive forward in the NHL.
He led the league in 2012-13 in faceoff percentage, winning 62.1 per cent of them. In his nine seasons, he has 153 goals and 280 assists. He had 10 goals and 22 assists last season.
In 83 playoff games, Bergeron has 20 goals—none bigger than the two he scored in Game 7 of the opening round this season against Toronto.
The Bruins won three of the first four games before the Maple Leafs won the next two and led 4-1 with less than 11 minutes left in the third period. Nathan Horton cut the lead to 4-2, Milan Lucic scored an empty-net goal with 1:22 left and Bergeron tied it with another empty-netter with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.
Then he won the game—and the series—with a goal at 6:05 of overtime.
Chiarelli said Bergeron signed even though he could have gotten more money on the open market after next season.
“He embodies a lot of what the Bruins stand for,” Chiarelli said. “He’s a responsible player. He’s a hard player. He’s a leader. He’s a clutch player. He’s just (had) a classic way of carrying himself that I like to be part of and the Bruins like to be part of.”