Bruins

How can Bruins manage Patrice Bergeron to keep getting the most out of him?

How can Bruins manage Patrice Bergeron to keep getting the most out of him?

Today’s piece on Patrice Bergeron is the second in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

Patrice Bergeron’s future with the Bruins is already mapped out. Barring anything truly crazy, Bergeron is going to retire a member of the Bruins, have his No. 37 raised up to the rafters soon afterward and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the best two-way centers of all-time.

That much has been assured as Bruins President (and one of the B’s all-time greats) Cam Neely has nothing but good things to say about Bergeron’s ranking within the pantheon of Black and Gold greats at this point in his career.

“He’s up there. He’s as professional as they come, he’s prepared and he works hard,” said Neely in an interview with NBC Sports Boston. “He’s such a good leader by example and then when he does decide to talk. He ranks up there as one of the best Bruins to ever put on the uniform.”

Certainly all of that took on another level when he made a pregame speech to his B’s teammates ahead of Game 6 in St. Louis that assured a win, and brought the series back to Boston. Unfortunately, of course, Bergeron and Co. couldn’t close the deal in Game 7.

He’s still capable of being a No. 1 center at 34 years old entering his 16th NHL season and the 32 goals and 79 points in 65 games is the best offensive output of his NHL career. As with fellow longtime B’s great Zdeno Chara, however, Bergeron is no longer as young and capable of a massive workload as he was earlier in his career.

Bergeron missed 17 games this past season after missing 18 games the season prior, and he was hampered in the last few rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a groin issue that left him with just one goal, four points and a minus-4 rating in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. The injuries have also kept him from winning his NHL-record fifth Selke Trophy in the last couple of seasons. It’s hard to envision Bergeron staying completely healthy through an 82-game regular season at this point in his career based on the hard miles he’s logged over the last 15 seasons, and based on the need for him to play — and play a lot — in all situations.

Without a young No. 1 center replacement on the horizon for the Bruins, it will be up to Bergeron to again carry the load this upcoming season.

But the Bruins will manage his workload, manage his responsibilities and make certain they can get as much out of him as they can when it really matters: in the postseason.

“We started doing that a few years ago with where he starts on face-offs. A lot of times he would start in the D-zone and you have to go 200 feet to score. He was relied upon to take a lot of important face-offs in the D-zone, and we changed that,” said Neely. “We gave that responsibility to other players and that would give Bergeron a chance to start in the offensive zone. Obviously he’s a top penalty killer and he’s on the top power play unit, so he’s going to play a lot.”

What will be interesting is what they do with Bergeron’s line for the bulk of next season. Will David Pastrnak slot back up with Bergeron and Brad Marchand to keep the Perfection Line going after they had a bit of a power outage in the Stanley Cup Final?

Or will next season be the year that Bergeron and Marchand are paired with a younger player like Anders Bjork, or an experiment like Charlie Coyle is tried on their wing to give them the size, strength and power around the net that they most definitely lacked during the Cup Final vs. the big, strong Blues group?

That question will be answered over the course of next season where Bergeron will be expected to again be excellent as he’s been for the last 15 seasons in a brilliant, special career as one of the all-time greats in Bruins history.

Key stat: 1.22 – the points per game that Bergeron averaged this season in the best offensive campaign of his career. It was the first NHL season where No. 37 was a point-per-game player and bodes well for his offense over the next few seasons.

Bergeron in his own words: “It’s a lot of hard work to get to that point and to put yourself in that position and then it’s really tough to come out empty-handed. At this point it’s hard to focus on anything except that we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do.”

The biggest question he faces: Bergeron is at a point in his career when injuries will come, and when heavy usage could compromise some of the greatness that he brings to the ice. So making certain the Bruins can give Bergeron breathers during the long 82-game regular season will be vital, and finding younger players to ease some of his defensive and penalty-killing burden makes sense given his importance at the offensive end of the ice.

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Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins added some healthy bodies to their training camp group on Saturday as both Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic (lower body) were added to the mix in Group A that practiced in the morning at Warrior Ice Arena.

Nordstrom fractured his foot at the end of the Stanley Cup Final and spent the entire summer rehabbing and healing from the injury, and sat out Friday’s on-ice opener before jumping on a day later. The return of Nordstrom and Frederic means that Patrice Bergeron (groin), Kevan Miller (fractured kneecap), John Moore (shoulder surgery) and Cameron Hughes (facial injury) remain off the ice with No. 37 closing in on a return as he skates on his own ahead of the main training camp groups.

The 27-year-old Nordstrom is coming off a strong season for the Black and Gold where he finished with seven goals and 12 points in 70 games, and used his versatility and gritty two-way game to help out in many spots along with a regular role on the penalty kill. He’s looking at another season with plenty of bottom-6 opportunities and Nordstrom is hoping to take advantage just as he did in a very effective first season in Boston.

“I felt good. It was fun to be back out there,” said Nordstrom. “It was step one for me today being back with the group. Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and I’m still feeling good. It was difficult not being able to work out and prepare as you want, but it is what it is. I came back [to Boston] fairly early to do whatever I needed to do to be ready.

“I felt pretty good throughout the season. Toward the end I had better production than earlier on, I played with the same players for a time there and I think confidence plays a role.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from the second day of Bruins training camp:

Group A

Bjork-Coyle-Ritchie

Marchand-Studnicka-Senyshyn

Carey-Shen-Pastrnak

Cehlarik-Steen-Koppanen/Lantosi

D-PAIRINGS

Krug-Kampfer

Zboril-Breen

Vaakanainen-Petrovic/Zech

GOALIES

Rask Keyser Vladar

Group B

DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman

Blidh-Kuraly-Backes

Fitzgerald-Gaunce-Heinen

Lauko-Lindholm-Wagner

Nordstrom-Frederic-Asselin

D-PAIRINGS

Chara-Andersson

Grzelcyk-Didier

Lauzon-Clifton

Sherman

GOALIES

Halak Lagace

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David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – David Backes enters into Bruins training camp this season with the highest level of uncertainty since he signed on with the Black and Gold more than three years ago.

The 35-year-old produced career lows with his seven goals and 20 points in 70 games and then was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his old St. Louis Blues team after some good moments in Boston’s postseason run. There was speculation he could be bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer and certainly, the Bruins would have traded Backes and his contract if they could have made it work.

There were also questions about Backes’ health after the Bruins made mention of a nagging issue this summer that was never fully explained, and led to questions as to whether he’d even be healthy for camp.

Still, Backes was never asked to waive his limited no-trade protection and No. 42 is here at camp and on the ice banging bodies and working his way through drills. It’s exactly what the B’s power forward intends to do while facing some stiff competition at right wing with Brett Ritchie brought in to basically fill the same NHL job description.

“[The offseason workout program] was as intense as it’s ever been. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing hockey this year,” said Backes, who has skated on the right wing with Sean Kuraly and Anton Blidh in the first two days of camp. “I channeled some of [last season’s frustration], I festered some of it away and let it motivate me and I can focus some on what I can do as an athlete having a great summer so I can do what I do best, which is to play the game.

“I don’t worry about other decisions that I don’t get to make and that are out of my control. What’s in my control is each shift, each play and each moment. That’s what I’m going to focus on all year. That moment and that drill will be my focus, and decisions out of my control will be made. It’s balls to the wall starting with the first drill of practice and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got until they tell that I’m done playing. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

So, what might happen to Backes?

He certainly could wind up in the AHL with Providence if he’s caught in a numbers game in Boston and shows that he simply can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL game anymore. There were moments where that seemed to be the case last season, but Backes will get a chance to show he can still play and further fill his role late last season when he dropped the gloves a little more often to protect his teammates.

That’s essentially what Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Backes in camp, and it may be enough to keep him up with Boston given his leadership, toughness and the wide respect he garners in the dressing room.

“We had a conversation over the summer, a little bit [about] how the year ended. I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7. I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision,” said Cassidy. “I thought [Karson Kuhlman] added a little more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong. We revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year and what’s ahead.

“It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. [Par] Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, they’re going to compete. Ritchie happens to play the same position as Backes. We’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman has made. So, the message to David was ‘there’s competition on that side of the ice, but if he gets back to the level we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot.’ How much ice he gets from there? That’s going to depend on the growth of some players and the chemistry involved.”

There’s a great deal of unknown with Backes at this point based on the new faces he’s competing with and based on exactly what he can show at 35 at this stage of his career. It’s certainly not his fault that he’s taking up a $6 million salary-cap hit on a team that’s scraping for space to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

What is up to Backes is his willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to his NHL gig with a 6-foot-3, 215-pound body that’s starting to show signs of age and wear after nearly 1,000 games in an excellent career in St. Louis and Boston.

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