Sometimes, you just have to get yourself right. Against all odds, the job and everyday struggle has to be set aside for someone to find peace. That’s what happened with former St. Louis Blue, Patrik Berglund, this season.
Traded to Buffalo in the blockbuster deal that brought Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis, Berglund never found his footing with the Sabres. He couldn’t find the back of the net, and was relegated to third and fourth line minutes. In 23 games, Berglund amassed just 4 points, 2 goals, for Buffalo. On Dec. 8, he played his last game before disappearing. He didn’t report for practice, inform the team, or tell a fellow player why he was leaving. He was just gone.
Buffalo released him and the remaining $13 million on his contract. Berglund didn’t release a word for nearly six weeks before speaking with a Swedish newspaper in a report that was published this morning. Interviewed at his home in Vasteras, Berglund talked about losing some of his passion for the game after the trade from St. Louis, where he played since the 2008-09 season. Ten seasons in a place can build a foundation for a player, and once that is taken away, there can be some discord.
There are players like David Backes, who scored against the Blues on Thursday, who can leave after a decade in the city and be fine. That’s just not the case for others, and it doesn’t matter how much money is on the table. Berglund was a part of the original fleet of talent assembled by Doug Armstrong. The group included Backes, Berglund, Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie, and David Perron. While Perron has come and go twice, Berglund was all that remained before this past July sent him up north.
Here was a guy who became the first European hockey player to play in 500 games for the Blues. A guy who put up 21 goals in his first season in the NHL. A big-bodied forward with soft hands and a unique skill set that never fully materialized in the NHL. Berglund couldn’t meet the expectations set out in front of him by his first round draft spot and fan expectations. He fell short, even though he put up 17 goals or more in six of his ten seasons, playing 70 or more games in seven of them.
Known as the quirky Swede who liked to party and laugh between games, Berglund was a man out of place on the ice far too often. Streaky in the worst way, he never used his size on the ice or in the corners. He didn’t attack the net enough or make his presence known. After the latest contract extension that didn’t need to happen, Berglund became a polarizing topic in St. Louis sports. I took my fair share of shots. Let’s face it: if you make the money Berglund did, there are expectations. There were seasons where he barely climbed over the 30 point mark. It wasn’t enough.
As it turns out, playing hockey in the NHL wasn’t enough for Berglund. He loved St. Louis and the Blues, so when that was taken away, he suddenly could make it to the rink anymore. The 30-year-old player didn’t take any parting shots at Buffalo, placing all the blame on his shoulders for not telling the team and making a spectacle of his departure.
What’s next? At the moment, nothing. No matter happens, money won’t sway his movement. “My contract, and all the money I gave up means nothing,” Berglund said in the Swedish newspaper, Hockey Pulse. “I can give up that amount at any time to feel good inside.”
A betting soul would say he could play for the Swedish hockey team, a place where he finds comfort. He stays in shape, plays the game he loves, and remains a possibility to return to the NHL. His Blues and Sabres teammate, Vladimir Sobotka, left the NHL to play in his native homeland for a few seasons before coming back to the States. It’s a needed change of pace.
I’ll say this. Whatever happens, I hope Berglund gets himself right. Forget hockey or what he did or didn’t do in St. Louis. Mental health and peace of mind is the required medication here. Sometimes, you just have to stop doing the usual and escape to the unusual. I think we will see Berglund in the NHL again. He’s only 30 years old has has time. I’ll root for him to make it back. He’s a good dude who never brought controversy to the sport or beat up a woman, choked a coach, or made an ass of himself while playing for the organization. In this day and age, that’s a respectable feat to stay a good person.
Whatever comes for Patrik Berglund, it will now come on his terms.