Bruins

Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?

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Is Bergeron hearing the footsteps of Father Time?

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, it looks like the Bruins might be without a healthy Patrice Bergeron at the start of the season.

The then-31-year-old center re-injured an ankle on the final practice before the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and it ended up costing him the first three games. He played hurt throughout the year and saw his offensive numbers drop as the ankle, and a sports hernia that followed, sapped the high-end speed and explosiveness that’s such a key component of his all-around game.

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The season ended well, with Bergeron taking home his fourth Selke Trophy to match the career defensive accomplishments of Montreal Hall of Famer Bob Gainey. But the reduced skating speed and lack of dynamic burst were startling to see.

Unfortunately for Bergeron and the Bruins, it looks like another lower body injury is nagging at him as this season begins.

The Bruins exercised caution in bringing Bergeron along slowly during the preseason, but the now-32-year-old is again having physical issues crop up. He missed two days of practice, then had to leave the ice early on Tuesday, and once again skipped practice on Wednesday.

Bergeron is a question mark for tonight's opener at TD Garden against the Nashville Predators, and it’s beginning to feel like this might be his new normal. Perhaps the wear and tear of NHL middle age -- this is his 14th year with the Bruins, whom he joined when he was just 18 years old, and he's logged exactly 1,000 total games in the regular season and playoffs -- is beginning to take its toll.

Certainly Bergeron has years of good hockey left, and he'll go through stretches where he'll be the productive, conscientious player who's been a stalwart for the last decade-plus. But it feels like the nagging injuries are going to arrive with a little more frequency at this point, and some of these lower-body issues may begin to slow him on the ice like no opponent ever could.

His hockey smarts, his toughness and his skill level will help him offset any physical limitations, but it also might be wise for the noted work-ethic warrior to start dialing back the intensity in practice. It’s something Zdeno Chara had to do when he hit his mid-30s, and now Bergeron might be at the point where adjustments need to be made because of Father Time.

“We just had a conversation with Patrice that we have so many young guys here, and we’re trying to build good habits into practice,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[As] you get older, you monitor yourself a little more and you bridge that with the competitive nature of an individual that wants to get better every daySo it’s hard for me to tell a veteran player that’s had so much success in this league how, or how not, to practice.

“He gives it his all and that’s some of the residual effect of a competitive person that can push himself in practice. You get the odd twinge here or there. You just hope it’s not serious and go from there. I think each individual is different and [Chara] is the same way going all-out in practice. It’s hard to discourage that because it sure is nice for the young guys to see that every day and grow in that culture.”

Undoubtedly the “practice-how-you-play” mantra is part of what makes Bergeron a great player and such a good role model for youngsters like David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and all the other young prospects. And now is not the time to pull Bergeron off his massive special teams’ duties when he does get healthy, or begin dialing back his in-game ice time as the Bruins count on him to be a No. 1 center on a line with Bjork and Brad Marchand.

But the sad fact is that all these little nagging issues set in motion a hockey clock when all these things may become a fact of life, and that he simply can’t be a frontline center in his prime forever.

Bergeron has been the perfect hockey player in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was undoubtedly at his very best from 2013-2016 while averaging 28 goals and 62 points a season along with his robust defense and intense leadership. But we might be seeing the beginning signs of some degradation in Bergeron’s due to inevitable factors like age and heavy usage over the years, and that reality will be important for the Bruins to face if he’s forced to battle through another injury-plagued season.

Clearly Bergeron isn’t going anywhere and is instead the future captain of this Bruins team as leader and longest-tenured member of the organization. But the days of Bergeron posting big offensive numbers, playing boatloads of ice time and doing it all for 80-plus games per season might be coming to an end, and the Bruins will need to plan accordingly.

There are centers prospects like Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in the organizational pipeline, and they may need to stock up on a few more high-end prospects in the middle as Bergeron begins to show the first signs of hockey mortality.

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Haggerty: Could Bruins-Klefbom talks be heating up?

Haggerty: Could Bruins-Klefbom talks be heating up?

DALLAS - It’s more smoke than fire, hours ahead of the first round of the NHL draft at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Friday night, but the rumblings involving Oscar Klefbom and the Bruins are out there in hockey circles.

Klefbom, 24, the Edmonton Oilers defenseman, would certainly be at the top of the list of available players that would fit a need for the Black and Gold. He would definitely fit Boston’s longstanding need for a frontline, top-four, left shot D-man that can play in all situations. Sure, he had a down season with five goals and 21 points in 66 games along with a minus-12 rating for the Oil last year, but he still was an absolute horse with 22:51 of ice time per game at an ideal 6-foot-3, 220-pound size.

Klefbom is also just a year removed from 12 goals and 38 points while playing in all 82 games and clearly he has the pedigree as a former first-round pick. There’s also the fact that he’s signed for four more years at just $4.167 million and would become a major salary-cap bargain if he can bounce back and continue to be a reliable top-4 D-man.

Torey Krug’s name has been speculated on multiple occasions to be involved as a power-play quarterback D-man who would fit a glaring need for Edmonton and there’s also obviously plenty of knowledge of Krug’s game with former Bruins management Peter Chiarelli and Keith Gretzky running things in Oil Country.

No confirmation as of yet with plenty of names being tossed around hours ahead of the draft, but this one should be something for Bruins fans to keep an eye on as teams begin closing trades this weekend.

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Morning Skate: Don't expect B's fireworks at NHL Draft?

Morning Skate: Don't expect B's fireworks at NHL Draft?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while the NHL Draft is ready to begin tonight after the NBA had their big moment on Thursday.

*USA Today has the top-5 teams expected to make moves at NHL Draft weekend, and the Boston Bruins are not one of them. It may be that any big fireworks for the B’s are coming around July 1 rather than the draft, so we’ll have to wait and see.

 

*PK Subban talks about hanging out with the wicked smart kids at Harvard, and being on the cover of an EA Sports game.

*Interesting follow-up with Chrissy Teigen and Ryan Miller after they went head-to-head on social media a few weeks ago. Looks like they managed to squash any social media beef they might have had, and the social media heroes trying to rip Miller for making a joke can go find something else to be outraged about.

*After a long, successful run in Carolina, the Hurricanes and goaltender Cam Ward are going to be parting ways this summer.

 

*It sounds like the Washington Capitals are looking for a first round pick for backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer. I’m not sure if they’re going to get that, but we shall see.

*Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli talks about where the Oil sit as a potentially active team on draft day.

*Good piece by Katie Strang on what any teams interested in Slava Voynov should be thinking long and hard about before signing the Russian defenseman charged with assaulting his wife. If I were a GM, I’d be passing on him and doing it without even a quick pause.  

*For something completely different: Even if he was the absolute LVP (Least Valuable Player) of the Infinity War, you’ve got to appreciate Chris Pratt AKA Star Lord.