There’s always another side to the story.
It’s been a month since Buffalo Sabres forward Patrik Berglund went AWOL on the team, forcing general manager Jason Botterill to immediately move to terminate his contract.
Berglund told his side of what happened in candid fashion in an exclusive interview with Hockeypuls SE in Sweden. With no regrets, the Swede has swiftly moved on from his decision to leave the team and has no resentment toward the Sabres organization or any of his former teammates.
“I feel better today. My goal was to come home,” said Berglund. “This is my start to find my way back to my self again–through friends and family. I have gotten help in other ways as well. When I am home I feel more secure, I can breathe and I am more peaceful.”
The veteran forward praised the NHL and the players union for offering support, and clearly owned up to his decision to leave the team and the league. “I needed to make my own decision and find out what to do to find happiness again. I don’t regret the decision that I made.”
Why Did Berglund Leave?
Berglund, acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly deal with the St. Louis Blues last summer, accepted full responsibility for being suspended. He was feeling overwhelmed with what sounded like depression-like symptoms. According to Berglund, he was suffering and needed to get away. He was clearly in some sort of psychological crisis, adding, “I didn’t know how to act in another way. I needed to get home, I needed a break from hockey and I needed help.”
He continually expressed apologies to the greater Sabres family. “The players were wonderful and I wish every player and the organization all the best for the future. They haven’t done anything wrong to me.”
Being Traded by the Blues
After being traded by the Blues, Berglund admitted he never felt quite comfortable with the Sabres. Coincidentally, one of his statements sounded eerily similar to that of Ryan O’Reilly’s at locker cleanout day at the end of last season. He said he terminated his contract because he “had lost the happiness and energy.” He then went on to say he “needed to go home to find his true self, to find harmony and his mental balance.”
O’Reilly’s famous exit interview words were, “I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times.”
Berglund may have felt betrayed when traded by the Blues, the team that drafted him with their first pick (25th overall) in 2006 Entry Draft. He spent 10 seasons in St. Louis, appeared in 694 games and put up 322 points. He played for Vasteras IK in Sweden from 2005-2008 before joining the Blues full time. It was all he knew.
The fact that Blues GM Doug Armstrong didn’t reach out at the time of the trade for a list of teams Berglund would accept a trade to may have been the first domino to fall for this entire ordeal. The onus was on Berglund’s agent to submit the list. It’s possible the manner in which the trade took place contributed to his psyche more than the actual trade itself.
Berglund’s answers were candid. And he laid them all out, with courage, bravery and honesty. Though he walked away from a contract that ran through 2022 at $3.85 million annually, he has no second thoughts about his decision to forfeit his future earnings. “I’ve felt like crap. Money doesn’t make anyone happy,” said the 30-year-old.
Despite having millions of guaranteed reasons to stay with the Sabres and continue playing for the team, he felt the walls closing in on him and made a bold choice to take his health seriously. It’s tough to fault him for that. He desperately yearned to return to his homeland and was just being true to himself. Once he came to grips with the decision to leave, for him, it was a done deal.
That said, the difficult situation could have likely been handled in a better manner. Berglund clearly gave up on his team, leaving them in a lurch in the middle of the season. At the time, the Sabres were among the top teams in the league. Though he can’t be blamed for their descent in the standings, the Sabres have since fallen outside the cut for a wild card spot.
Lehner and Comebacks
As Sabres Nation has learned with Robin Lehner’s open and vulnerable admission of his addiction, depression and suicidal tendencies, athletes are real people, too. The former Sabres goaltender took an immediate leave from the Sabres last season to seek rehab treatment. He’s now thriving for the New York Islanders. The fiery backstopper has praised Botterill and the NHLPA for their professionalism, but more so for their support and caring ways.
Though playing a game and being paid handsomely for it, professional athletes still have a personal life filled with ups and downs. They face tremendous pressure to succeed in a results-driven business.
For now, Berglund is taking some time away from hockey while being in his home of Vasteras, Sweden. He’s not sure if the game will be in his future. Now, after a month of silence of his whereabouts, simply knowing that Berglund has owned his decision and has taken steps to regain his health should ultimately be considered a win for everyone involved.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”