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Sunday, July 3, 2022

One more kick at the can for Patrice Bergeron?

The Bruins have not faced this much uncertainty since the organization dumped GM Mike O’Connell at the end of 2005-06, just a few months after he traded perceived cornerstone player Joe Thornton.

As we await the puffs of white smoke to appear over Causeway Street announcing the B’s new coach – whether it be Jay Leach, David Quinn, Jim Montgomery or some other unforeseen candidate — a new bench boss is just one of a few mammoth issues facing this organization. There’s the fact that the B’s will be without two of their best players — Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy — until possibly Thanksgiving. There’s the uncertain future of David Pastrnak, set to become a UFA after this upcoming season.

And then there’s the issue that could most immediately affect how the club approaches its presumed reset/retool/rebuild, whatever you want to call it. That’s the looming decision for Patrice Bergeron on whether he wants to continue playing or not.

Which way is he going to go? Well, we’re still in the clue-sifting stage. But it’s worth noting that over this past week, a couple of well-placed league sources believe that Bergeron does indeed want to return for one more season.

Mind you, separating speculation from inside knowledge can be as difficult as splitting smoke from fire during these rumor-infested offseason months. But the belief that he wants to return does align with a hint that he gave, inadvertent though it may have been, a couple of weeks ago.

The thought here? We saw the same things everyone else did during the season, and we thought for sure that he was hanging up his skates. There was the reticence to sign a new deal, of course, but there were other signs. There was the joyous team celebration when Bergeron scored his 400th career goal in the regular season home finale, as well as the emotion that his longtime linemate Marchand showed when the season ended in Carolina. All of which strongly suggested that he was ready to call it a career. But that was then.

To these eyes, the belief shifted greatly when it was learned a couple weeks ago, when he accepted his record fifth Selke Award, he underwent surgery to repair a tendon in his left elbow fairly soon after the season had ended. A maintenance surgery is what GM Don Sweeney called it. Now, if you were in Bergeron’s shoes, and if you were leaning heavily toward retirement after 18 grueling seasons, would the first order of business be to undergo a surgery that you’d already been putting off for a couple of years? Wouldn’t you at least want to enjoy the summer? Having the surgery when he did kept the option of playing again on the table, at the very least.

A desire on Bergeron’s part to return, however, would only be part of the equation to get him back in Black and Gold. According to capfriendly.com, the B’s have just a little more than $2 million under the salary cap for next season. Bergeron has never been about getting every last penny. His yearly cap hit of $6.875 million for the last eight seasons has been about as team-friendly as it gets. But $2 million for the reigning Selke winner is probably not going to cut it. The B’s could do a bonus-laden deal with very attainable incentives, but they will still have to move some money, especially if they want to add any more pieces to a team that got bounced in the first round.

But if they can’t find a way to come up with the dough? Well then maybe management would simply be looking to just get on with the reset/retool/rebuild instead of kicking that can down the road again.

They are not in the best position for a classic rebuild, however. McAvoy’s big eight-year, $9.5 million-per-season deal kicks in this upcoming season, as does No. 2 defenseman Hampus Lindholm’s eight-year, $6.5 million-per-season deal. Not exactly deals you see on teams ready to detonate the whole thing. The B’s are at a strange crossroads, to be sure.

While the Pastrnak issue will have longer-term ramifications on this organization, a possible Bergeron return would be important for the B’s future, too, even if it’s only for one year. The new coach — especially if it’s a first-timer like Leach, but even if it’s a more experienced man like Quinn or Montgomery (A Worcester Telegram & Gazette report last week also had B’s assistant Joe Sacco and Maple Leaf assistant Spencer Carbery on the interview list) — would find Bergeron’s leadership and influence in the dressing room invaluable. After being fired, former coach Bruce Cassidy said “I wish I could take him with me.” He seemed to be only half-kidding. It’s a good bet that if the new coach is lucky enough to have Bergeron for a year, he’ll feel the same way.

Maybe, just maybe, the new man will get that opportunity.

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