Patrice Bergeron is an irreplaceable player for the Boston Bruins.
He’s a franchise icon who spent 19 years with the franchise, just captained Boston to the best regular season in NHL history and won a Stanley Cup and six Selke Trophies with the club, including last year’s award.
Guys like Bergeron, who capture the imagination of multiple generations of fans and help drive immense team success, are extremely hard to come by. During his tenure with the Bruins, they tallied 69 more points than any other team.
Plenty of franchises have never had a player of his caliber, and some may never find one. For the Bruins and their fanbase, the center’s retirement is a blow — even if hanging up the skates at the age of 38 after accomplishing everything an NHL player could hope for is more than reasonable.
When a player is finishing out nearly two decades of service to a single franchise, it’s often a time for sentimentality, but the on-ice effect can be relatively modest. Most players Bergeron’s age are shadows of their former selves and while no one wants to see them go, replacing their on-ice production isn’t too much of an ordeal.
In Bergeron’s case, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The two-way star is walking away from the game as an elite top-line center. Last season, he was one of the best building blocks in the NHL.
Not only was he an incredible play driver, defender and faceoff man, his offensive production was also close to his career norms, as his 0.74 points per game fell just short of his 0.80 career average.
A Selke winner who provides that kind of scoring punch is a hell of an asset, but Bergeron took his value to the Bruins to the next level by playing for them on a contract with a meager $2.5 million cap hit.
In a league where there are 30 centers who cost at least three times that number against that cap — and 55 who double it — Bergeron was a value unicorn. Even stars on entry-level contracts like Tim Stützle, who provided more offense at a lesser salary, could not claim to have Bergeron’s overall impact.
Having a member of their core on such a team-friendly deal was a key factor enabling the Bruins to build their record-building team.
While it’s impossible to know what Bergeron might have signed for if he’d returned for 2023-24, it seems fair to assume that once again, Boston would’ve had one of the NHL’s best centers at an unbelievable discount.
Now that the Bruins won’t be able to enjoy that team-building advantage, their prognosis for next season has worsened significantly.
Replicating 2022-23 was never particularly realistic, but without Bergeron the Bruins have a massive hole down the middle. The team has lost the pivot who was simultaneously their best offensive producer and defensive eraser — and a return to action from David Krejci doesn’t sound imminent. Even Tomas Nosek, who ranked third on the Bruins in faceoffs taken last season, joined the New Jersey Devils in free agency.
That leaves the team with Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle at center with Morgan Geekie as a third option, and a couple of versatile guys — Jesper Boqvist and Jayson Megna — as possible fourth-line pivots.
For a team that was just a prohibitive Stanley Cup favorite, that’s not a promising situation. The Bruins also have just $5.416 million in cap space to explore a picked-over free-agent market, with goaltender Jeremy Swayman still needing a contract.
The club also lacks a selection in the top three rounds of the 2024 draft and possesses a prospect pool weakened by years of low draft picks and win-now trades. If the Bruins want to address their center issues via trade, they don’t have much ammunition, barring an extreme move to split up the Swayman–Linus Ullmark tandem in net.
Boston still has plenty of ingredients to put a quality team on the ice, but even with Bergeron recapturing last season’s magic was improbable. Without him, or an obvious route to another true top-line center, it looks like a significant drop-off is imminent.