Djurgardens forward Patrik Berglund (21) signed with his club after leaving the NHL back in December 2018. (Photo courtesy: Maxim Thore, Bildbryån)
When Ryan O’Reilly was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Blues, we were overjoyed. It was the first time in a long while that other fanbases and analysts took St. Louis as a serious cup contender, despite their past few years of success. With some albeit hefty bumps in the road, they actually did it – they won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
That Cup did not come without its casualties, however, and at some point in January, I began to ask, “where on earth did Patrik Berglund go?” It wasn’t until much later that I would realize his full story – and how he made his admirable return to the game of hockey.
A Team in Stockholm
When I was 20 years old (which is, hilariously, not that long ago), I went to my first ever non-North American hockey game. I was studying abroad in Stockholm, Sweden, and it turned out that a little thing called the Swedish Hockey League existed (formerly the Swedish Elite League).
What was even better was that Stockholm was the host of the “Montreal Canadiens” of that league – Djurgårdens IF (In English you would pronounce it JER-garden). They have won their respective championship title – the Le Mat trophy – a league-leading 16 times since their foundation in 1891 (yes, over 15 years before the NHL existed).
It took me all of about 5 seconds to be completely engrossed in the culture surrounding the 8,000-capacity arena that chanted and supported their team for the entire 60 minutes (that’s not an exaggeration) as if it were a Barcelona football match. I was so mesmerized, in fact, I even bought a blank jersey shortly after my first game, which hangs amongst my growing collection of eight Blues sweaters.
So, some of you may be wondering, based on the title, “what does Patrik Berglund have to do with this?” Well, amidst the celebrations of the Blues finally winning their first Stanley Cup, one small headline in early July particularly caught my attention: “Former Blue/Sabre Patrik Berglund signs 1-year contract with Djurgardens in Sweden”. That’s when I had a small moment of sadness for the franchise St. Louis Blues skater (8th all-time in games played), and a moment of happiness for the newest addition to Djurgardens’ roster.
I had that moment of happiness for obvious reasons. A longtime Blues player, coming back to the game for another team that I also cheer for? Can’t get much better than that. I also felt sadness, however, because as a different “21” celebrated winning hockey’s ultimate prize, one of the best players to wear that “21” for St. Louis wasn’t a part of it, after being part of the core of the organization for an entire decade.
For all intents and purposes, I started watching hockey in the early 2010s when he, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Steen, Brian Elliott, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were all leading the charge in St. Louis, striving for that first taste of championship victory.
Obviously, some of those aforementioned players have come and gone, and I wasn’t around to revel in Brett Hull’s 86-goal wizardry, or the fearsome mask (and saves) of “CuJo”, or the scoring machine that was 1970s Garry Unger, or even the greatest defenseman in St. Louis history in Al MacInnis.
However, with all the all-time greats in St. Louis history, Patrik Berglund is the one player (in recent memory) I wish was there to revel in Lord Stanley’s glory this past June, especially after hearing his side of the story.
It’s a headline that made all eyes of the NHL world turn to St. Louis – “Ryan O’Reilly Traded to Blues in Blockbuster Deal”. It was the biggest trade Doug Armstrong made since getting (what some would call) fleeced in the T.J. Oshie deal for Troy Brouwer and Phoenix Copley (which, two-thirds of that went right back to Washington anyway). O’Reilly came to St. Louis in exchange for 2006 1st round pick Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, prospect Tage Thompson and draft picks. Most importantly, it made lots of NHL fans and analysts believe that St. Louis was still the real deal.
Those fans and analysts all know what happened – the Blues stunk, they got a new coach and goaltender, and all of a sudden, O’Reilly is a Conn Smythe winner, Selke winner, and of course, Stanley Cup Champion. Doug Armstrong almost won the Jack Adams as well, as everyone praised his patience after making the best trade in Blues’ history.
Well, everyone that wasn’t directly involved.
In a short segment done by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the aftermath of Berglund being traded finally came to a new light. After a decade of NHL time with the Blues, Berglund was traded to Buffalo, where he played as a 4th liner for only 23 games. Scoring only two goals and two assists, the 31-year-old Swede was even listed as a healthy scratch on a young, rebuilding Sabres’ roster. “It wasn’t supposed to happen, even be possible,” Berglund tells Johnston. “Woke up one morning, and I had a hundred text messages, a hundred phone calls, it was just a s— show”.
According to Berglund, his NHLPA agent Peter Wallen failed to send his 20-team No-Trade Clause to the Blues organization in time, leaving Berglund dead in the water. As you could guess, one of those 20 teams were the Buffalo Sabres. “Of course, we were very angry with his agent,” Patrik’s father Anders Berglund said. “He was traded against his will; he couldn’t do anything about it.”
Berglund’s Future with Hockey
The toll was greater than his lowly stat sheet numbers in Buffalo; Berglund’s mental well-being saw an evident decline from July 1st onward into the 2019 season. “The more we talked, the more I saw him… He didn’t love the game anymore,” fellow Swede and former teammate Oskar Sundqvist said. “He didn’t enjoy coming to the rink anymore, he didn’t enjoy stepping on the ice.”
“I called him, and he said, ‘I don’t want to play hockey anymore’, and then I realized there was something much deeper,” Berglund’s father commented. After months of isolation from teammates and from the game, Berglund walked away from the Sabres’ organization on December 18th, also walking away from a guaranteed multi-million-dollar contract.
“I know exactly how much money I left,” Patrik told Johnston. “10, 11 million dollars. I don’t know how much money you need for being happy, but I’m good… I know [not a lot of players have done that], but, it’s more to life than just hockey. It was actually a simple decision in the end, and since I went through with it, I haven’t regretted it for one minute.”
“Everybody was talking to me about all the money [he was leaving behind], but Patrik has never been raised to have money as a factor of life,” Anders continued.
In addition to family, fellow teammates and players expressed their support for Berglund’s decision to step away from the game and focus on his mental health. “I think it’s brave,” Golden Knights forward William Karlsson said. “He said he wasn’t feeling very well, so he just left all that money to go home and recover.”
“I respect that decision,” Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist said to Johnston. “It’s tough to do, but at the same time, if you don’t feel good, money’s not everything.”
Playing with Djurgardens
Berglund returned to his home in Vasteras, Sweden, where he stayed away from the game of hockey to rest and recover for over half a year. However, as he sat at home, his former team did the unthinkable, and won the Stanley Cup without him.
“There’s mixed feelings, for sure. It was my dream, since I was drafted, to win the cup with the Blues, and we had some really good teams,” Berglund told Johnston. “But for those players that had been there as long as I have, and for the organization, the fanbase, the city – I’m truly happy, because they really deserve it.” With a bit of a lighthearted smirk, he added, “The only thing I wish was I was there, to be a part of it.”
Watching his former team win the Stanley Cup, Berglund decided he wasn’t finished with hockey. After stepping away from the game for seven months, and exactly one year after he was traded, Berglund signed a one-year contract with Djurgardens in Stockholm. Since then, he was named team captain, and is the leading point scorer with Djurgardens with eight goals and 16 points in 23 games.
After a long year of emotional strife and mental resurrection, Berglund is happy to once again lace up skates, regardless of the league or dollar amount he does it for. “Yeah, definitely, definitely,” Berglund said. “I’m really excited to be a part of this team and this league now, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Johnston also asked if the 31-year-old Berglund would ever consider a return to the NHL in his future. “No idea,” Berglund said with a smile. “I’m getting older and older now, and I ain’t getting any faster, so I don’t know. I don’t think so, but you never know.”
Berglund was always a fan favorite in St. Louis, not just to me. It’s hard not to become one with an infectious positivity like Berglund has, and after playing with the same club you were drafted with for a decade, almost your entire career. Patrik Berglund became almost a household name for Blues fans, right up to the unfortunate time when he was traded.
With the details surfacing of his contract frustrations coming to light, it’s almost hard not to feel bad for the guy (though his former agent Peter Wallen has stated Berglund never submitted his No-Trade list after several attempts to contact him).
However, I’m overjoyed that Berglund found his love for the game again after all was said and done. Somedays, we get caught up in the numbers game of the NHL, whether it’s crunching the salary cap or throwing comical bags of money at the superstar talent the league has today. In the end, Berglund was on the tragic side of a trade, where his name, along with Vladimir Sobotka’s and Tage Thompson’s, will almost fade into obscurity.
Me personally though, if there were any player I could bring back to celebrate the moment of winning the Stanley Cup (especially the first one), I’d like to bring back the very player we sent away to get it. Berglund suffered the effects of a trade in the worst way possible – to a team he didn’t want to play for at a time he didn’t feel close to finished.
To make the conscious decision to walk away from the lucrative contract he was offered takes a heart and mind that’s looking way beyond the game of hockey, and it’s a refreshing sight to see in today’s league, which seems so far behind in paying attention to player’s mental health and safety. For Bergie to hit not just a low point in his career but in his life, and to re-emerge on a more modest platform back into the game says an awful lot about his character as both person and player.
For both good and bad, Patrik Berglund should (and will) always be remembered as a legendary character with a decade of legacy stamped into the St. Louis organization. It wasn’t the end that he, myself, or any of his personal fanbase wanted, but the true takeaway is his everyday life mentally, and love for the game emotionally, have been truly rejuvenated for the better, regardless of the caliber of either.
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