For Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins to rise, the Joe Thornton trade had to happen

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(Bob DeChiara & Sergi Beleski/USA TODAY Sports)

It was a simple question. It resulted in a quick and accurate answer.

Patrice Bergeron was asked: “Who’s in town tomorrow night?”

His reply: “Joe.”

Anytime Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks visit TD Garden, it’s a time for Bruins fans to reminisce about the former first-round pick and captain for the black and gold. Those memories seem less and less poignant every time he’s in town. After all, it’s been 12 years since the Bruins traded him to the Sharks in exchange for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau on Nov. 30, 2005.

Some still argue that it was a terrible trade by then-GM Mike O’Connell and team president Harry Sinden. But it was a trade that needed to happen. With an eye on the future, if the trigger wasn’t pulled on that transaction, the Bruins would not have enjoyed the success, including a Stanley Cup title in 2011, if Thornton wasn’t traded.

The biggest factor in the decision was a 20-year-old Patrice Bergeron.

His emergence and future potential as a leader both on and off the ice was one of the biggest factors behind the trade that sent Thornton to San Jose. His exit clearly opened the door for Bergeron. If Thornton remained in Boston, it would have always been his locker room and his ice time in key moments.

Instead, it became Bergeron’s time. And, he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity and has become one of the all-time great Bruins players. The bigger the moment, the better he becomes. He plays big minutes in big games and never disappoints.

Unlike the rest of the hockey world, Bergeron never thought of himself as the player replacing Thornton in Boston.

“I never thought about it that way,” Bergeron told “I still don’t.