Just wanted to write a quick note to put everyone on notice not to buy a Patrice Bergeron jersey, unless you’re happy with only a three-year return on your investment. A couple of days ago, the Carolina Not-Whalers bought the services of Eric Staal for the next seven years with a $57.75 million contract. That’s an annual cap hit of $8.25 million for a center who probably grew up looking like this. (Gross!)
James Mirtle has already pointed out that this contract favorably compares with the Alexander Ovechkin’s, Sidney Crosby’s, and Vinny Lecavalier’s of the league; but little has been said about the ripple effects the Staal contract will have on the Bruins, specifically the contract of Patrice Bergeron. Yeah, that’s right, Staal (aw, sick!) may have fucked the Bruins over completely.
See, hockey agents and teams don’t throw out random numbers when discussing player salaries, they take a look at the market and use players of comparable statistical output to arrive at a figure and negotiate from there. And, unfortunately for the Bruins, Eric Staal is used as a “comp” for Bergeron, as The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dumont has already noted. KPD is a professional journalist and thus, not prone to panicking and speculating wildly in print about teams in other divisions signing their marquee players and how this might affect the Bruins years down the road. I am the exact opposite. Also, I can swear. See you after the jump, you pissfuckshitcunts.
Look, it’s not hard to break down. Eric Staal and Patrice Bergeron are virtually similar in nearly every statisical category excluding Stanley Cups and freckles. (eww!) The only thing that messes up the comparison is that Staal has already had the breakout season we’re all waiting for Bergeron to have. In 2005-06, Staal broke the century mark in points, putting up a 45/55/-8 campaign and helping the Not-Whalers to their first Stanley Cup. That, coupled with 20 minutes a game, and time on the power play (19 power play goals in 05-06) and penalty kill, all adds up to an output worthy of an $8 million per contract. One could argue that he’s a bit overpriced, but nobody would be doing spit-takes at the contract the way they (i.e. me) are doing now.
However, Staal hasn’t really kept it up. Granted, the Not-Whalers have been decimated by injuries the past two years (not literally; slightly more than one in every ten Carolina players were injured, for those keeping track), yet Staal, the team’s offensive centerpiece, put up lines of 30/40/-6 and 38/44/-2 in 06-07 and 07-08 respectively. Not a steep decline, to be sure, nor an irreversible one, but the guys putting up these kind of numbers are earning between $5 and $6.5 million a year. Is the need to keep a marquee face on a dying franchise worth $2+ million? Ask Olli Jokinen and the Panthers. (Incidentally, Jokinen’s numbers look much better than Staal’s, and it will be interesting to see what he’ll do when his $5.25 million annual contract expires in two years, one year before Bergeron.)
All of this brings us to Bergeron, he of the $4.75 million cap hit and the three years left as a Boston Bruin. While Bergeron has put up respectable numbers since making the team out of rookie camp in 03-04, it’s safe to say he hasn’t had that Staal-like breakout year of offensive production that everyone expects him to have at the start of every season. Of course, he has had to deal with an horrific, freak injury and various maladies that have prevented him from playing all 82 games in a season; something Staal has done the last three years. Still, Bergeron got everyone salivating with a rookie line of 16/23/5 in 03-04, matured over the lockout, and followed that up with his best offensive year so far in 05-06 with 31/42/3. His 70 points in 06-07 were tempered with a team worst -28, but that was on a Bruins squad in which 17 players finished with a minus rating in the double digits (17!).
So, ignoring Bergeron’s 07-08, his stats match up pretty favorably with the last two years of Eric Staal (barf!). When (not if) Bergeron returns in full health this year and starts producing, it will be very interesting to see how his numbers compare with Staal. Should they remain similar, Bergeron will be looking for a contract in the range of $9-10 million (adjusted for cap inflation) once the futuristic-sounding, but fast-approaching, year of 2011 rolls around. So is Bergeron worth that kind of money?
And finally, we approach my thesis: No, Patrice Bergeron, with those numbers, at age 26, will not be worth that much money. The leadership of the team will still be safely ensconced in the ape mitts of Zdeno Chara, and possibly Mark Stuart, and Bergeron will hopefully ascend to being the premier player Boston fans have already anointed him as. But still, with the numbers he’s been putting up, allowing for the bump that experience and chemistry can bring, it still doesn’t place Bergeron among the pinnacle of elite players. We will never compare Patrice Bergeron’s contributions to the Ovechkin’s and the Crosby’s of the NHL. He will continue to be a great player, for sure, but not one that would be worth a large fraction (say 1/6 or 1/7) of the salary cap.
Look, I love Patrice Bergeron. I will be cheering him on like crazy whenever he skates onto the ice. But the idea that Bergeron will be a lifelong Bruin and that number 37 will be hanging on the rafters in between the 24 and the 77 is just a flight of fancy. Enjoy Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruin, because it’s not meant to last.
So, thank you Eric Staal (nasty!) for robbing the Bruins of my generation’s version of Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, and Bobby Orr. I look forward to hearing you heartily booed at the Garden this year, and can only hope to gather the faintest whiff of your sweet and tasty tears as you watch the Bruins edge out your Not-Whalers for the playoffs over the next three years.