Why Patrik Berglund’s decision to walk away from NHL was no decision at all

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Buffalo Sabres center Patrik Berglund (10) defends against Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Terry Renna/AP)

For those of us who never took a stride in Patrik Berglund’s skate boots, there would have been more than 13 million reasons to stay.

The Swede didn’t just walk away from his NHL dream when he made the surprising decision to step away from the Buffalo Sabres last December. He also walked away from a guaranteed contract that had $13.03-million remaining on it.

“I know exactly how much money I left,” Berglund said when we sat down in Stockholm for an interview in late August.

That conversation has been turned into a feature called “ExPat: The Patrik Berglund Story,” which will air during Saturday’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast and is available on Sportsnet’s YouTube channel.

What struck me most about Berglund is how much conviction he still has about that life-changing decision. He actually said that, in the end, it was no decision at all. This was the only path he saw back to a good place following a trade to the Sabres that never should have happened at all.

The 31-year-old is the son of a former Swedish Hockey League player and a former first-round NHL draft pick. He spent 12 years with the St. Louis Blues organization and signed a $19.25-million, five-year extension with them on Feb. 24, 2017 that included a 20-team no-trade list for Years 2 and 3 of the deal.

However, that clause was voided when Berglund failed to provide the list of teams before the set deadline. He was traded to Buffalo on July 1, 2018 and told me it was an uphill battle from July 2 onwards.

Berglund briefly started as the Sabres second-line centre before getting scratched a couple of weeks into the season. He played just 6:07 against Ottawa on Nov. 1 — the lowest time on ice he saw in any of his 717 career NHL games.

He was unhappy and anxious in his new environment. His father, Anders, believes he never got over the initial shock of the trade. He decided to leave after a practice in mid-December.

“I supported him all the way and I told him to listen to his heart,” Anders Berglund told Sportsnet. “Everybody was talking to me about all the money, but Patrik has never been raised to have money as a factor for life.”

The Sabres initially suspended Berglund for failing to report for a team flight and eventually terminated the remaining three-plus years on his contract.

Berglund made more than $30.5-million during his NHL career, according to capfriendly.com, and didn’t try to fight for what he was still owed. He’d lost the love of the sport and returned home to Vasteras, Sweden.

Today he is the captain of Djurgardens in the SHL and playing for less than a tenth of what he would have been earning in Buffalo. But he’s in a much better place overall.

“I don’t know how much money you need to be happy, but I’m good,” said Berglund.

The rest of his story is still to be written, but that in itself is a happy ending.

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