Ryan: Bruins’ efforts toward preserving Patrice Bergeron further stresses need for impactful offseason

(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Bruins’ window as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender is dwindling. 

An impactful offseason this fall will be necessary if Boston really truly wants to orchestrate another deep run with this current core still in place.

More changes will be on the way in 2021, with two cornerstones in Tuukka Rask and David Krejci set to enter unrestricted free agency. 

But beyond the looming free-agency decisions on the horizon, the main determinant in just how long this core can continue to pull on the rope and guide this roster back into the playoff might just be Father Time himself — especially when it comes to Boston's top man in the middle.

Despite the amount of mileage he's racked up over the years, the wheels haven't fallen off for Patrice Bergeron yet.

In fact, you could make the case that the 2019-20 season was one of the 35-year-old center's finest seasons, especially in the offensive zone. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pause in March, Bergeron (health permitting) would have easily eclipsed his career high in goals scored (32 in 2015-16), closing out this past regular season with 31 tallies in 61 games. 

During the regular season, Boston's top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continued to shred the competition, with Boston holding a 43-23 edge in 5v5 goals scored during that trio's 635:55 of 5v5 ice time together.

Barring any major injuries, Bergeron, even at his age, is still expected to continue to drive Boston's top line in 2020-21. Given his sound, two-way game and the talent to his left and right — don't expect a sudden drop-off when it comes to the innumerable ways in which Boston's franchise pivot contributes to his club's success, night in and night out.

But even if Bergeron's continued strong play persists into 2020 and for the next few seasons, it's rather evident that the Bruins simply can't continue to let their top forward log taxing minutes and assignments over the long course of an NHL campaign.

That sentiment is due in large part to Bergeron's age and the need to bottle up some of that energy for more meaningful games in the postseason, while another factor lies in the veteran's nagging injuries that — even when given the green light to play — rarely subside, especially when Bergeron's minutes are bumped up.

"Current state of health, the usual," Bergeron said of his postseason injuries when speaking via Zoom last week. "It’s been my groin over the last few years, nothing has changed. So, it’s kind of lingering issues and chronic issues – it’s on and off and comes in and out. I think it’s going to have to – I’m going to have to take some time off for that, just make sure it’s back feeling good. I know it’s obviously the same song and dance that I’ve been telling you guys for a few years. "

In an effort to keep their top center fresh over the last few seasons, Bruce Cassidy and his staff have made a concerted effort at primarily deploying Bergeron and his line in favorable situations, with a majority of their face-offs set in the offensive zone. In previous seasons, a younger Bergeron was often handed more reps down the other end of the ice, with his two-way excellence often prompting Boston's coaches to start him in Boston's own zone to help negate an opposing top-six unit. 

If we were to look at a stretch from 2013-16, Bergeron’s faceoff percentage in the offensive zone was:

2013-14: 46.45%
2014-15: 43.00%
2015-16: 44.91%

But, with both the development of Pastrnak as an offensive force — and the need to preserve Bergeron by giving him easier reps away from the draining minutes spent putting our fires in the B's end of the ice — Boston has made a concerted effort at lightening No. 37's defensive workload over the years — with