Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

How Bruins' Bergeron feels facing Tavares after center picked Leafs

Matt Kalman
November 09, 2018 - 5:16 pm

While John Tavares was weighing his options as an unrestricted free agent in June, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron spent some time on the phone with the biggest name to hit unrestricted free agency in more than a decade.

“But it was just a phone call, going over mostly family stuff and like the living situation off the ice and stuff like that,” Bergeron recalled in a chat with Friday on the eve of the Bruins’ first game against Toronto since it signed Tavares. “So he just had more questions than like me doing a sales pitch. It was him wanting to know more about it. ...

“It was just a phone call. Basically it wasn’t that much. I guess it wasn’t enough.”

Tavares narrowed his field to four teams (the Bruins, Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks). Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney flew to California to make their pitch at Tavares’ agent’s office. Then Tavares opened free agency by picking his hometown Maple Leafs for seven years at $11 million per season, despite the Maple Leafs already having an abundance of high-end forwards, including several that are going to need large, new contracts this year and next. Currently they’re missing William Nylander because the restricted free agent has yet to come to terms on a new contract.

Heading into Saturday’s first Maple Leafs-Bruins battle since the two teams met in the Eastern Conference first round of the playoffs last spring, in addition to the first match since Tavares’ signing, Bergeron said there’s no personal animosity toward the player he’s sure to see a lot of at TD Garden. Auston Matthews’ injury absence means Tavares’ line will probably be the main matchup for Bergeron’s line.

“You know it’s one of those things ... I think he’s earned that right to be able to do that before free agency and talk to different teams. And I mean you can’t really blame him for doing so,” Bergeron said. “I’m hoping that he [talked to me before] because he was actually considering it. That’s all I’m thinking and that’s all I’m hoping, I guess. Otherwise, that being said he was entitled to make that decision.”

Although the Maple Leafs aren’t whole with Matthews and Nylander on the sidelines, they’re still every bit the dangerous team they were in the 2018 postseason with the addition of Tavares plus the return of Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri. And once they’re fully healthy and everyone is signed, they kind of resemble a NBA super team, at least up front, with all the high-end stars they have.

Bergeron knows the Maple Leafs may not have needed to add Tavares, but they made sure that there wouldn’t be any drop-off after their rebuild finally landed them in the playoffs two seasons in a row. And the Atlantic Division got a whole lot tougher after Tavares’ big decision.

“I kind of had a feeling [Tavares would pick Toronto] because he’s from there and he seemed to be going back there every summer,” Bergeron said. “Obviously he’s a great player going to a good team, in the same division, so I saw it as a good challenge for us.”

The Bruins’ first Toronto test comes Saturday.