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Bergeron, Bruins forge five-year deal

On Monday, Patrice Bergeron's agent and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli expressed optimism that the team's No. 1 center would be in the fold by the end of the week.

The sides improved on that estimate yesterday, as the Bruins announced that the 21-year-old Bergeron had signed a multiyear deal, ending any threat that he would miss the start of training camp.

``Patrice is an outstanding young player with a tremendous future," Chiarelli said in a statement. ``He is an offensive threat every time he is on the ice, has great defensive instincts, and he plays a physical game without taking a lot of penalties. With all that he has already accomplished, he will continue to grow as a player and we are very pleased that he will do so in a Bruins uniform."

Bergeron agreed to a five-year contract worth $23.75 million, with an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Bergeron will make $3 million in 2006-07, $5 million in years two through four, and $5.75 million in 2010-11. Bergeron earned $646,000 in 2005-06.

Had another club presented Bergeron with an offer sheet at similar numbers to nab the restricted free agent, the Bruins would have gained two first-round picks, one second-round pick, and one third-round pick in compensation if they decided not to match.

``He's happy," said Bergeron's agent, Kent Hughes. ``He's content to have this behind him and focus on the season."

In terms of average annual salary, Bergeron's deal trumps the one signed July 1 by 21-year-old Carolina center Eric Staal, who helped the Hurricanes capture the Stanley Cup. Staal, who had 45 goals and 55 assists in 82 games last season, signed a three-year contract worth $4.5 million per year.

Staal, however, still will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of his contract. In contrast, Bergeron's agreement buys into one season of unrestricted free agency, a year that undoubtedly padded his deal. Bergeron's contract was also framed by the team's offseason signing of Marc Savard (four years, $20 million), who is projected to be the club's No. 2 centerman.

Bergeron, nearly nine months younger than Staal, hasn't yet hit the 100-point mark already reached by Carolina's No. 1 pivot last season. But based on the deal, the Bruins are projecting Bergeron (the team's leading scorer last season with 31 goals and 42 assists) as a franchise center whose production, especially toward the tail end of the contract, will be well worth the coin.

In average annual salary, Bergeron's deal also outpaces the contract signed by 22-year-old Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky, who signed July 25 for six years at $4.1 million per season. Hemsky had 19 goals and 58 assists in 81 games last year, 4 more points than Bergeron.

Bergeron, the No. 45 overall pick of the 2003 draft, had 16 goals and 23 assists as a rookie. During the lockout year of 2004-05, Bergeron played AHL hockey alongside current teammate Brad Boyes and also competed in the World Junior Championship as a linemate of Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby.

Bergeron, Boyes, and Marco Sturm clicked together last year following the trade of Joe Thornton and rounded into Boston's No. 1 line, a trio that should be intact at the beginning of this season.

``Had to get him done," said local agent Neil Abbott. ``He's a guy that, the day after Thornton was traded, you had to start working on."

Bergeron, who has shown a willingness to bang as well as flaunt his skill (his end-to-end scoring rush in a win over the Montreal Canadiens last year dropped jaws all around the rink), will enter the 2006-07 season as the go-to man on offense. He first earned that distinction last season after Thornton was swapped for Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart, placing the scoring expectations on his shoulders.

``They showed good faith in him," Hughes said earlier this week, referencing ex-GM Mike O'Connell's trade of Thornton, ``even though [O'Connell] got raked over the coals for it."

Bergeron led the team last season with 12 power-play goals and was tied with Sturm with six game-winning strikes. He fired a team-leading 310 shots and averaged 20:35 of ice time, the top mark among Bruins forwards. Bergeron, who has also played right wing, won 54.7 percent of his faceoffs in 2005-06.

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