Neely was asked about the pending unrestricted free agent during his end-of-season press conference on Thursday.
Although Neely acknowledged Bergeron needs time to contemplate his future, the team also has decisions of its own to make.
“Obviously, the year that he had, I hope that he feels good about his game still because he had a pretty damn good year,” Neely told reporters. “So hopefully, he’s mentally prepared to have another one. You’ve got to give him some time to digest all that and talk with his family about it, but we have decisions to make coming up as well.
“I think it would be challenging to have the year that we had without a Bergeron,” he added. “It’s tough to find a Bergeron. Hopefully, he does come back but if he doesn’t, we’ve got to go to work.”
The Bruins finished the regular season with a 51-26-5 record and 107 points to earn the top wild-card seed before being eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Bergeron was third in team scoring, with 65 points (25 goals and 40 assists), and was also a point-per-game player in the playoffs, with seven points in seven games against Carolina. He also received his 11th nomination for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defensive forward, which he has won a record-tying four times.
The 36-year-old Bergeron is third in most games played in franchise history (1,216) and fourth in goals (400), assists (582) and points (982). Bergeron captured the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011.
Should Bergeron decide to move on or even retire, Neely hasn’t ruled out a rebuild as a possibility. However, he believed they have the pieces to work around.
“As your core players and your better players start to age out, you do have to look at that. There’s no question,” Neely said. “But we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully continue to grow and hopefully we can add to that. But it is something you think about.
“In 2019, we lose in seven in the finals. In 2020, we’re leading the league and then the world falls apart. We’ve got to be better. We needed to be better last playoffs. I thought, this year, I honestly felt really good that we were going to get by Carolina in Game 7. I really did. I knew it was going to be tough 5-on-5. … We didn’t draw any penalties to give us a chance for our better players to produce on the power play. Those are things we’ve got to look at to improve upon.”
Regardless of the direction the Bruins head next season, Neely is aiming to have general manager Don Sweeney remain at the helm and is looking to lock up his architect to a new deal soon.
“I started talking with (CEO) Charlie (Jacobs) and (chairman) Mr. (Jeremy) Jacobs after the deadline about extending Don, so that’s my plan is to do that,” Neely said, adding: “I’m going to sit down with Don in the next day or two and hopefully hammer something out.”
Sweeney, who spent 15 seasons on the blue-line for Boston, has served as GM since 2015 and won the NHL General Manager of Year Award during the 2018-19 season as the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final finishing runners-up to the St. Louis Blues.
Neely said he wanted to see how this season unfolded before offering Sweeney an extension.
“We had a lot of changes in the last off-season, so I just really wanted to see how that played out,” Neely said. “Obviously, you get January, February, March — really good months for us. The team really came together, I thought we had a lot of depth and I was happy with what he did at the deadline.”