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The Bruins do not have a Patrice Bergeron replacement waiting in the wings.
Now, on the surface, that’s not shocking. He’s Patrice Bergeron. He’s an all-world, two-way center who still produces at an elite, elite level. If the Bruins had another one of him, they’d still be playing hockey. But even the Bruins themselves know they’re not close to having someone who can do what he does for the team, even at 36 years old.
“It might be years in the making in terms of you draft a player like that, develop a player like that, and you count your blessings every day,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said when asked about replacing Bergeron should he retire this offseason. “That’s ultimately what it comes down to, to be perfectly honest. That’s how it generally happens for most organizations. When you have an iconic player that’s going to go into the Hall of Fame, that’s generally how it transpires. It will be no different for the Bruins to find the next type [and] I don’t know whether or not there will be another one.”
You hear that? “Years in the making.” Again, this isn’t surprising, but it really does highlight just how badly the Bruins need Bergeron to return to the Black and Gold for a 19th season. As for Bergeron, ‘time’ is the word when it comes to his decision.
“I’m gonna need some time to just think about a lot of things,” Bergeron said last week when asked about his future. “Obviously, it’s a family decision. It’s a decision and it’s time that I need in order to make the right [decision].”
That’s OK with the Bruins, too.
“We are going to give Patrice as much time as he necessarily needs,” Sweeney confirmed.
As if they even have a choice.
In house, the Bruins’ current options down the middle include Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, and Tomas Nosek. Trent Frederic can also play center, and Jack Studnicka is still kicking around. The Bruins are also expected to integrate 2019 first-round pick and natural center Johnny Beecher, who finished the year on a tryout in Providence, into the mix next season. There’s not a single top-line option within that group, and there’s little reason to believe that Coyle, who couldn’t make the jump from third-line center to second-line center this past season, would jump two lines up the depth chart just fine.
The Bruins could look at their options on the trade market, and the free agent market could be worth watching, with names such as Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, and Vinny Trocheck currently slated to hit the open market. But the B’s iffy trade capital pool and their slightly concerning cap space situation could make any major addition a difficult task. It’s just another reason why the Bruins are almost hoping that an overseas recruiting pitch to David Krejci presents itself at the Worlds.
“You could look at plans B and C and such, but let’s be honest, you don’t replace that type of player and what [Bergeron] means to our organization,” Sweeney, who still needs a new contract himself, admitted. “We do have to give him all the latitude in the world to make the best decision for he and his family. We’ll do that.
“He’s given us indications that he’s not going to hold us up in that sense in terms of what we may have to do to make a decision. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there’s a timetable on it.”
In other words, the request made to No. 37 is going to be a please, please, please come back for another run. Because any replacement plan is going to take more than one summer for Sweeney and the Bruins, and they haven’t even started it yet.