Bergeron/By S. Bradley

Your responses to my request for mailbag questions, again, overwhelmed me. As I started to write the answer to the first question in my mailbox, I realized I exceeded 700 words and wasn’t done. So without writing a Bill Simmons-like manifesto, here’s the answer to that first question:

Scott Comeau wrote:

What do you expect Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron will each get in terms of money and length of contract? I realize this is a tough question, however please give me an educated guess.

MK: Well, of course, they’re both going to get 20-year deals that average $3 million per cap hit and the Bruins are going to take any NHL challenges to the deals all the way to the Supreme Court … of hockey. I believe Barry Melrose is the Chief Justice.

But seriously, these are two players that are in different situations as far as their careers are concerned, and two players the Bruins cannot afford to lose for nothing on the open market.

When you look at Chara, 33, you look at an unprecedented physical specimen in the hockey world, who believes he could be a great player until his early 40s. His agent has always made that point a couple times. So even if the NHL office would look the other way, there isn’t going to be a “retirement deal” here. As one of the top five defensemen in the league, the captain of the Bruins and the player the team would struggle the most to replace on a short- or long-term basis, Chara really holds all the leverage here. Based on that alone, I don’t see him taking a cut from his $7.5 million annual salary.

Obviously, Chara’s been very vocal about his desire to win in Boston. That, along with maybe some willingness on Boston’s part to lock him up just about as long as he has left to play, might bring his cap number down into the $6 to $6.5 million range. That would be fair, I think, for both sides. Were he to hit the open market, however, Chara might be willing to do something shorter term for the money he’s making now and really go for it. What if Nicklas Lidstrom hangs them up after this season. There’d be a gaping hole on the Detroit blue line for Chara to fill, along with the right amount of money available. The bidding war would get pretty fierce next summer, with teams that have the cap room and teams that would be willing to make room for the type of player that hits the open market once every five years (and with the new landscape might not hit free agency for eight years or more going forward).

So if Boston isn’t willing to go beyond say four years, we’d probably be looking at a cap hit right around where Chara’s number sits at this minute.

When it comes to Bergeron, who’s finishing up a deal that has paid him an average of $4.75 million, things get a little sticky. If you’re willing to say that Bergeron is going to be the same player four, five years down the road that he is now – a shutdown center with power-play skills and great accuracy in the faceoff circle –- you could project him out at about $3.5 to $4 million. But Bergeron is still just 25 and lost about a season and a half of his development to injury. Last season, for all intents and purposes was just his fourth full season at full strength.

While his offensive numbers have dipped, his all-around play has soared – enough to earn a Canadian Olympic berth. There’s no telling how high his offensive totals could rise with a change of role on the Bruins or another team. If Bergeron keeps up his solid defensive zone play, and on a deeper Boston team suddenly pops in 75 to 80 points (including playing on a better power play), he would have to be looking at a raise into the $5, $6 million per season range. Tons of teams would be willing to give it to him (especially a certain Quebec-based franchise).

Boston cannot boast about its great depth at center and sing Bergeron’s praises for the good of the Olympic selections and then expect him to take a pay cut. This is a player that’s still on the cusp of his prime, has shown he’s physically back to where he needs to be and also provides a dose of quiet leadership that any team would love to have.

In Bergeron’s case, I also think it’s important to get this extension done before the season or, at the latest, by the All-Star break. Boston has to know that Bergeron’s play is only going to raise his stock. Showing him they love him as much as he’s repeatedly said he loves Boston would be in the Bruins’ best interest. So ultimately, I think Bergeron gets around $5.5 million on a four- or five-year deal.

Of course, these ballpark estimates are done without looking at who else will be on the open market or how they would fit into Boston’s payroll/salary cap next season or beyond. There’s no doubt that even after general manager Peter Chiarelli makes the move he needs to make to clear cap space just for this season, if he completes extensions with Chara and Bergeron, he won’t be out of the woods as far as next season in terms of cap space, his logjam at center and other factors.