One of the faces of the Tampa Bay Lightning's improbable playoff run last season now faces the prospect of facing the Lightning six times during each of the next four seasons.
Sean Bergenheim parlayed a strong postseason – nine goals in 16 games after scoring 14 during the regular season – into a lucrative, long-term contract with cross-state rival Florida to the tune of four years, $11 million.
Bergenheim, 27, played for the Lightning last season on a one-year, $700,000 contract.
He proved a perfect fit for head coach Guy Boucher's aggressive, fore-checking style of play. His success pushed his salary request to a level that proved to be too much for the Lightning's budget, allowing the former 2002 first-round pick to become an unrestricted free agent.
"It was very, very hard," said Bergenheim, who joined many of his former teammates for pre-camp workouts this week at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. "I have so many good memories from here last year. It was a great year for the organization and me personally. So, to leave is in one way sad, but it's how this business works.
"I had a good playoffs, obviously, and a good year but we just couldn't come to an agreement with Tampa and that just led to me being a free agent, and it's a result that I'm very, very happy with.
"I have only good memories from here. I get along well with Steve (Yzerman) and Guy, even after the signing. There are no hard feelings either way. That's how it has to be. That's just how it works''
Bergenheim proved to be the breakout star of the playoffs for Tampa Bay, nearly matching his regular-season goal total. But a hip injury forced him out of the final two games of the Eastern Conference final as the Lightning fell to eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston in seven games.
That postseason prowess garnered Bergenheim plenty of national media attention and caught the eye of other general managers around the league. So, when he became a free agent on July 1, the interest was significant and the offers to sift through were aplenty.
He decided to join the Panthers, a team that hasn't reached the postseason since 2000 but underwent an extreme makeover during the summer. He hopes to take what he learned from the Lightning last season and apply it to his new surroundings.
"It's very positive there and they are really looking to change the whole atmosphere in the organization, sort of like the situation we were in here last year,'' Bergenheim said. "So, I'm excited to be a part of that and bring what I brought from last year and bring to that team, and hopefully it will be a winning team from the get-go.''
As many memories as Bergenheim will carry with him to his new destination, Lightning fans no doubt will remember his great playoff run, as well. As he departed the ice on Wednesday, he stopped to sign autographs and pose for several pictures with fans who wished him plenty of success for the 76 games in which he does not face his former team.
"I think it's going to be a good year for hockey here after last year and people should be excited, too,'' Bergenheim said. "It's always nice to see people here. Everybody here has been so nice since the first day that I got here, and even now, going away, they are very positive and it's nice to see.''