BOSTON -- There will eventually come a time when Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are no longer the Bruins' 1-2 punch at center. The B's need to figure out who will carry the torch and the lead team in the middle of the ice long term.
Pavel Zacha figures to be part of that mix.
The Bruins announced shortly after Saturday night's 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden that they've signed Zacha to a four-year, $19 million contract extension that includes a $4.75 million salary cap hit through the 2026-27 season. Zacha was acquired via trade from the New Jersey Devils in July and signed a one-year deal with the team in August.
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"I think we were pretty obvious when we first acquired him; the versatility Pavel brings in playing all three positions and in moving forward, an eye towards center ice that we’re going to have to find a way to continue to add to our group," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said at the Garden on Saturday night. "I think that his versatility has shown through. He plays in all situations in a hockey game and has been a big part of our group. Fit in very well, comfortable with several of his countrymen. But overall, a very well-liked young man who we’re happy to have going forward, and it addresses a positional need in the future.”
For Zacha, the transition to the Bruins has helped him take his talents to a higher level.
"Coming in, one of my strengths is that I can play wing and center. Coming here and playing on such a good team that every line here has been really good and helping me out," Zacha explained. "Seeing (Patrice) Bergeron, seeing Charlie Coyle, David Krejci -- it helps my game, too. These guys I can talk to on a daily basis and just help me grow as a player and a teammate. I think being part of this team has helped me, and I'm just lucky to be here for a longer time."
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Zacha has scored five goals with 20 assists in 42 games for the Bruins. He is on a 48-point pace, which would surpass his career high of 36 points set last season. His goal scoring is down, but he's also on pace to set career highs in assists (1.95) and points (2.18) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
Versatility is a word often used when describing Zacha's skill set, and his plug-and-play ability is very valuable to Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. What else has Zacha given the B's?
"I think he's brought smarts. He's always well-positioned on both sides of the ice and away from the puck," Bergeron said of Zacha. "A lot of people pay attention to goals and points and whatnot, but I think he's all about details. That's what he is -- he's a very smart player who deserves every recognition that he's getting. He should be getting more, actually, for what he brings to this team.
"Great to see him staying for another four years. I think he took the one-year deal and wanted to make a name for himself in this locker room, and he's definitely done that. It's well-deserved and we're happy to have him."
Zacha was already pretty familiar with the Bruins before being traded to the Original Six club. He had trained in Boston during the summers and knew some of the players.
"He's just such a great player. I've always loved him and liked the way he plays," Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. "I've worked out with him over the years in the summertime, so I've gotten to know him. It seemed like whenever we played against him, he always torched us, he's always on the score sheet -- so it's nice to have him here. Just the way he works and the skill he has -- he's just a good hockey player. Those are the types of guys we want here. He's a great person off the ice, too. Those are the guys you want to succeed with and work with."
A $4.75 million cap hit for a middle-six winger like Zacha, who can give you between 35 to 50 points and play pretty much anywhere in the lineup, is good business by the Bruins.
Plenty of work remains for Sweeney, though.
Even after Zacha's extension, Boston has nine more players from Saturday's game who are eligible to become unrestricted or restricted free agents after this season. The Bruins will be tight against the salary cap, which will make retaining all of those players really difficult. David Pastrnak is obviously the most important player in that group. Sweeney did not have a new update Saturday night on Pastrnak extension talks.