NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger has been covering the NHL regularly since 1999. Each Sunday he will use his extensive networks of hockey contacts to write his weekly notes column, “Zizing ‘Em Up.”
Zizing 'Em Up: Bergeron enjoying retirement, Bruins' early success
Former captain ‘not surprised’ Boston on record pace without him, Krejci
STOCKHOLM -- The logic seemed sound on the surface.
If your captain, a five-time Selke Award winner as the top defensive forward in the NHL and the fourth player in franchise history to record 1,000 career points, decides to retire, you would think there would be a noticeable dip in a team’s performance.
Who didn’t figure that would happen to the Boston Bruins when center Patrice Bergeron decided to hang up his skates this offseason?
But it doesn’t end there.
Center David Krejci also decided to retire, leaving the Bruins without their top two centers from last season. If you add the trading of forward Taylor Hall to the Chicago Blackhawks into the equation, the Bruins entered this season minus three players who had combined for 2,519 career points.
With the Bruins getting an NHL single-season record of 135 points last season, some regression was expected, given the amount of talent that had been culled from the roster.
Through 16 games, the Bruins (13-1-2) have the most points in the Eastern Conference (28). The one regulation loss is the fewest in the NHL. They are on pace for 144 points for an 82-game schedule.
It’s a sizzling start that, due the circumstances, has almost everyone in the hockey world shocked to some extent.
“I’m not surprised,” Bergeron told NHL.com in a recent phone interview. “I know the character in that locker room. I know the guys. I know they're people that rise to the occasion.
“There are guys in there that are always in need of a new challenge when they’re told ‘No,’ like they’ve been this season. That’s kind of how they’re built.”
Bergeron heaped praise on coach Jim Montgomery. The two were only together for one season, but it was long enough for him to be convinced that the coach could be a difference maker.
“They’re well coached,” he said. “I really respect the way ‘Monty’ does things and takes care of business.
“I’m extremely happy for them. I think it’s awesome to see, especially how so many players are contributing. The way they’re coming out of their own end, the way they’re growing, I think that’s what you want to see from a team.”
Less than two months into the season, Bergeron was asked if he’s having second thoughts about stepping away from the game.
“As far as missing it, it’s kind of weird,” the 38-year-old said. “I mean, I felt I was ready. And I think the past month or so confirmed that.
“I went to opening night and the centennial celebrations. I’d been part of many opening nights as a player and I always had butterflies. I did this time, too. I didn’t know what my reaction would be.”
It didn’t take long for him to find out.
“I think I missed it for 5-10 minutes and then thought to myself, ‘I couldn’t go through a schedule like that again. I don’t think I could go through that physical grind. My body is somewhere else.’
“Mentally, I think I was somewhere else, too. I played about 20 years and that’s a lot of mileage.”
Even with that, being upset by the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup First Round last season had him asking if he should return because of “unfinished business.” He certainly doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“When it’s still fresh and it’s still raw, I’ll admit you wonder about it,” he said. “You ask yourself: ‘Do I really want it to end like that? It can’t end like that. Not with that heartbreak. Not with that disappointment.’
“But now? No way. You take a step back and look at your career in the big picture. You can’t make a decision based on one event. That will get you in trouble. And in the end, I made the right one.”
For now, he’s spending his days catching up on all things that go into being a dad to his four kids: Zach, 8, Victoria, 6, Noah, 4, and Felix, 4 months.
He understands that Felix will grow up never having seen his father play an NHL game. The next best thing would be if his son one day could be on hand to see his dad get into the Hockey Hall of Fame, right?
“To be honest, I’ve never thought about the Hall,” Bergeron said. “I mean, I feel like I’ve lived a childhood dream and in the process grew up as a player and a person. As for accolades and the individual stuff, I’ve never really liked the attention.
“To me, the Hall of Fame has always been far-fetched. It’s a place for legends and I’ve never considered myself to be part of that category. So, no, it’s never really something I’ve thought about.”
Given his impressive credentials, he may have to in the not-so-distant future.
BLISS FOR KRIS
Alex DeBrincat had 332 points (167 goals, 165 assists) in 191 games with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League from 2014-17.
It was the coming-out party for the 5-foot-8, 180-pound forward from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who had always been told he was too small to have a legitimate shot to make the NHL.
The 25-year-old said it was his coach in Erie who spurred him on, who showed belief in him, who pushed him to prove all the doubters wrong.
That coach was none other than Kris Knoblauch, who was named coach of the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 12.
In DeBrincat’s opinion, it was about time.
DeBrincat was selected in the second round (No. 39) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 NHL Draft. Knoblauch left Erie at the same time, spending the next two seasons as a Philadelphia Flyers assistant and four more as the coach of Hartford, the New York Rangers’ affiliate in the American Hockey League.
All the while, DeBrincat wondered if his junior coach would ever land a lucrative coaching gig.
Last week, he did. And the Detroit Red Wings forward couldn’t be more pleased.
“It's great,” DeBrincat said in Stockholm during the 2023 NHL Global Series Sweden presented by Fastenal. “The past couple years of years I've been thinking he's going to get a job one of these summers and it's nice to finally see he's received the opportunity.
“Obviously there was success playing for him. He was a fun coach to play for and was huge for my career. I think he developed me a lot and really taught me how to play the game.”
In what way?
“He’s a player's coach,” DeBrincat said. “I think he connects with players. He worries about the D zone and how to keep pucks out of your net, sure, but he kind of lets you do your own thing in the o-zone.
“For me, his message was to play good in the D zone and you can use your creativity in the offensive zone. Obviously in Edmonton, I think that's going to fit in just perfect. They obviously have a lot of offensive guys and I think they’re going to have a lot of fun under him.”
“For sure,” DeBrincat said. “Obviously they’re different players now and he’s a different coach. Time apart does that. But I also think they’re going to be better players under him this time around too.
“The NHL is a different game and they’re different players. But they know how he communicates, they’ve heard his voice before, they know his message and they understand what he’s trying to do.
“That means something.”
It certainly did for DeBrincat at a time when so many people said he wouldn’t make it.
There are still critics who feel the NHL Global Series of games are counterproductive, claiming that holding games overseas in the middle of the season disrupts the continuity and flow of teams, their respective schedules and can have negative impacts on their postseason hopes moving forward.
Only the players and coaches of the participating teams are in legitimate positions to speak to that.
What can’t be debated is the special moments that are created at these events. It’s not an opinion. It’s fact.
In the past two seasons, I’ve been privileged to attend the 2022 event in Tampere, Finland, and the 2023 version here in Stockholm. Each has produced the type of dramatic theater that draws us to the sport.
You don’t forget a moment like last year, when Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, normally the definition of stoic, was welling up as the Finnish fans sang out his name repeatedly after his hat trick helped Colorado to a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
You don’t forget a moment like the remarkable winning goal by Tim “I hate watching baseball” Stutzle for the Ottawa Senators against the Detroit Red Wings with two seconds left in overtime on Thursday, a goal where he swatted the puck out of the air like Mookie Betts does with a baseball.
And you don't forget a moment like Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander having a goal and two assists in a come-from-behind 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.
Are you not entertained?
Those of us in the building were, much like the fans watching at home.
Along with promoting the game internationally, isn’t that the point?
“As I do with my kids and as my dad did with me, you don’t let them win. You keep it close so they have fun. But in the end, when they do beat you, you know they know it’s for real and they can really rub it in.”
-- Senators Hall of Famer Daniel Alfredsson, a wide grin on his face, on his philosophy of beating Ottawa players in a recent paddle tennis tournament
THE SUNDAY LIST
This week, here’s a look at some of the coolest behind-the-scenes moments from a week of NHL hockey in Stockholm.
1. What’s in the box?: A conversation with an Avicci Arena security guard outside one of the dressing room hallways was interrupted when Phil Pritchard -- aka “The Keeper of the Cup” -- came walking up with a large blue trunk. “Bet you don’t know what’s in there,” I said. When I told the security guard, he didn’t believe me. “See for yourself,” Pritchard said, undoing the latches to reveal the Stanley Cup in all its glistening glory. The guard’s face lit up like that of a little kid seeing the presents under the tree at Christmas. Priceless.
2. Getting Wild with the fans: Upon completing practice at Hovet Arena on Wednesday, Minnesota Wild players headed out to sign various items for fans. Upon returning to the arena bowl, Marc-Andre Fleury and his teammates, decked out in suits, sat down with their supporters, who were understandably smiling from ear to ear. The icing on the cake: they broke out into chants of “Let’s Go Wild” when the Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice below for practice. Surely the Maple Leafs were wondering what was going on.
3. Salming-mania: From jerseys in the stands to posters all over the city to a giant No. 21 Maple Leafs sweater that dangles from the ceiling of the downtown train station, the King might be gone but he’s certainly not forgotten. Always knew he was a big deal here. Never knew just how big. RIP Borje.