Still, it took until almost the eve of the season opener for the Bruins to lock up their young leader, as they signed Bergeron to a three-year, $15-million extension late on Thursday in Prague. The deal was officially announced on Friday, less than 24 hours before the Bruins will take on Phoenix to begin the 2010-11 season.
That season could have been Bergeron's last in Boston, as he was set to enter the final year of the five-year, $23.75-million deal he signed back in 2006. But Bergeron never expected that scenario to play out.
"I knew it was going to get done because at the end of the day, I knew I was going to say 'yes' no matter what," said Bergeron in a news conference in Prague on Friday. "I wanted to stay in Boston and I think Peter and the Bruins have been great all along, all summer and especially then in the last couple of weeks to get it done.
"The priority for me was to get it done," continued Bergeron, whose cap hit in 2011-12 through 2013-14 will rise slightly to $5 million from his current hit of $4.75 million this year. "I didn't want to wait until the season to do it. I would have preferred for the Bruins to do it before [the season]. We waited until the last day, but I'm pretty happy it's behind me and I can look forward to the season now."
Bergeron just turned 25 in July, so he'll still be in the prime of his career when this latest extension expires.He'll have another chance to explore free agency in 2014, but both sides stated they were happy with the three-year term they settled on.
"When you do a deal like this, you talk about different terms," said Chiarelli in a conference call on Friday. "We talked about some shorter terms. We looked maybe a little bit at some longer terms, and this is a good, solid platform for Patrice to regain and redevelop his offensive game. I know he can do it, and he's one of the best two-way centers in the league, so it was good for both parties."
Bergeron was on track to becoming a top offensive performer after making the leap directly to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2003. He put up 39 points as a rookie, then set career highs with 31 goals and 73 points in 2005-06 and added another 70-point campaign in 2006-07. His career was threatened in 2007 by a severe concussion, which ended his season after just 10 games.
He managed just 39 points while being limited to 64 games after suffering another concussion the following year, but finally starting flashing his old form last season when he led the Bruins with 52 points. He looks poised to top that this year after a strong preseason capped by a five-point effort in the final exhibition game against Czech club Liberec on Tuesday.
Still, Chiarelli admitted that the concussion history did weigh on his mind as he negotiated the new deal.
"You certainly think about it, as does Patrice," said Chiarelli. "But he's a very strong young man. He's recovered very well from his concussion. He plays a robust game and he continues to play it. I guess there's risk in all these things for both parties, but we were satisfied with where he was physically and mentally and that's how we came upon this deal."
Bergeron was appreciative of the patience and support the Bruins showed throughout his recovery, which helped make it an easy decision to re-sign with the club.
"The adversity I've faced with the concussions and all that is something that made me stronger," said Bergeron. "It made me realize that hockey is my passion and I appreciate every day more now.
"The Bruins organization has been awesome since day one," added Bergeron. "They drafted me. They took care of me. That's why I wanted to be in Boston. Especially after my injury they did everything to make sure I was back to 100 percent. They thought about the human being first before the hockey player, and that's something that was pretty special to me."
Bergeron's contributions go far beyond his point totals. He excels in all three zones and is often matched up in a shutdown role against the opposition's top forwards. Despite his youth, he's also emerged as one of the primary leaders on the team, all of which made his teammates very happy to hear about his extension.
"Everybody knows that Patrice is a great player," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who was on the conference call with Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien. "He's still very young and he's only going to get better. But in those years that I've been here, I've seen Patrice grow up into really one of the best two-way centermen in the league and obviously he's stepped up as a leader as well. He's more vocal and he leads by great example on and off the ice."
Chiarelli heaped on similar praise for his newly re-signed center.
"He's the consummate professional and he's a terrific player and he's a terrific young man," said Chiarelli, who noted he had been negotiating with Bergeron's representatives since June. "So it wasn't a very hard decision to do this and we're ecstatic to get it done before the start of the year."