In the weeks leading up to free agency on July 1, Sean Bergenheim knew he wasn’t staying with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The contract talks that began in June, not long after Sean’s superior presence in the playoffs, didn’t go so well. Both sides were too far apart and Bergenheim decided to test the free agency market. On day one of free agency, Sean Bergenheim signed a four year deal with the Florida Panthers. As a Lightning fan, it was hard news to take, even though I knew it was coming. It was harder still because he left Tampa to go a few hours drive south to Sunrise, Florida where the Panthers’ were signing a slew of unrestricted free agents. Now that some time has passed and the new season is approaching, I think I can look at it more objectively.
Sean Bergenheim signed with the Lightning as an unrestricted free agent on August 17, 2010. He came from the New York Islanders off of a 23 point season, averaging 11 goals over the previous three seasons in New York. There weren’t high expectations for him in Tampa. He would be a third or fourth line winger, bring a little speed to the ice, maybe be strong on the puck, but not really make a big splash. That is pretty much how it went down in the regular season. He played a career high 80 games with the Lightning and had a career high 29 points with 14 goals and 15 assists. Those 14 goals placed him at 174th in the league. Then came the playoffs.
Bergenheim exploded in the playoffs, his first ever NHL playoff experience, and he rallied thousands of fans behind him. The excitement of watching him score 9 goals in 16 playoff games was amazing, even more so because he seemed to come out of nowhere. His 9 goals led the Lightning in playoff goals, only behind Martin St. Louis‘ 10 goals, who played 2 more games than Bergenheim. Bergenheim missed the last 2 games of the playoffs due to an undisclosed injury. It’s hard not to wonder if his presence in those last two games could have made the difference in getting another goal past Tim Thomas to win the Eastern Conference Final.
Amazing as he was in the playoffs, Bergenheim had the help of his line mates, Steve Downie and Dominic Moore. This line clicked perfectly. Downie and Moore would set Bergenheim up for those awesome goals and Bergenheim had the calm focus to put them in the net. It was a thrill to witness and sad to see it end. Bergenheim’s performance in the playoffs put him in a position to obtain a longer term contract for a lot more money than the $700,000 he signed for in 2010. Before the playoffs were over, both Bergenheim and the Lightning were optimistic about making a deal for the new season, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.
Bergenheim will begin the 2011-2012 season as a Panther. It will be interesting to see how he fits into a new team that has so many new players. I suspect it will take a while for him to make that perfect connection like he had with Downie and Moore, but I’d like to see him build off the momentum he had in the playoffs. The hardest thing about ending a season is knowing that you’ll never have that exact same group of guys together again, nor that chance to win together again. I look forward to seeing Bergenheim play for the Florida Panthers in the new season. The Lightning’s only home pre-season game is against the Panthers next month and our opening night home game of the regular season is against them as well. I will be there, watching and waiting to see how it unfolds.
You can follow Jenna on Twitter @jennacbarley