July 7, 2013

Kirk's Call: Bruins will embrace Iginla's talent, leadership

By Kirk Luedeke

After losing to Boston in the conference finals, Jarome Iginla is joining the Bruins. (Getty Images)

Jarome Iginla is a Boston Bruin.

That sentence was written more than three months ago, when the team thought it came to an agreement with the Calgary Flames for the soon-to-be-free agent future Hall of Fame right winger’s rights, only to see him opt for the Pittsburgh Penguins instead. But on Friday, the 36-year-old power forward agreed to terms with the team he initially said “no thanks” to on a one-year contract with a base (cap hit) of $1.8 million with bonuses that could push the value of the deal to a cool $6 million.

“My family and I are very excited to be joining the Bruins organization,” Iginla said Saturday.  “I’ve only heard great things from friends and stuff who’ve played there.”

B’s president Cam Neely and GM Peter Chiarelli took the high road by bringing Iginla into the fold when some (present company certainly included) believed that because of the very public and embarrassing fiasco surrounding the aborted trade attempt in early April, the B’s would not even entertain bringing the career 530-goal scorer to Boston. However, the organization, which has become a model for other NHL clubs to emulate, clearly recognizes that Iginla has something left in the tank, and when Iginla’s agent reached out to them just after the Tyler Seguin trade was completed, Chiarelli seized on the opportunity to rebuild Boston’s decimated right wing depth chart (Seguin and Nathan Horton combined for 29 goals a year ago).

“(It has been) well documented about us reconstructing our right side on our top two lines especially,” Chiarelli said during Iginla’s introductory press conference. “That’s what I’ve looked at specifically. Again, we’re fortunate that a player of this caliber is available and comes to us on a cap friendly basis. His style of play is so conducive to the way we play. Again, we’re very fortunate.”

For his part, Iginla seemed contrite and highly complimentary of the city and its hockey club, who not only ousted his Penguins in a four-game rout in the Eastern Conference Final, but came within two wins of a second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

“We talked to a number of other teams over the few days. But the best opportunity we thought - and it was important for my family and I - we want to be on a contender,” he said. “And we’re also very intrigued by Boston and, like I said, I’ve only heard wonderful things. I didn't know if the opportunity would still be there, but when I saw the moves and stuff, I thought why not try and just see if it's a possibility.”

So, as the old adage goes, Iginla’s arrival is better late than never. He brings instant credibility and leadership to a team that already enjoys a high level of league-wide success and respect. If losing Horton to Columbus and trading Seguin to Dallas created angst amongst fans fretting about a dearth of scoring from the right side, the duo of Iginla and Eriksson has put a lot of those fears to rest for the time being.

However, with Iginla’s best days likely behind him, it remains to be seen how he will fare with the new-look Bruins and whether the team can return to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and close the deal.

Boston Bruins free agent signings analysis

Jarome Iginla, RW — One of the NHL’s superstars for well over a decade, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder plays a prototypical Boston Bruins style of game. The future first ballot Hall of Fame power forward is a two-time 50-goal scorer no longer, but does bring a wicked shot and enough experience to return to a Bruin to the 30-goal plateau for the first time since Milan Lucic did it in 2011.

Iginla played well for the Penguins, notching five goals and 11 points in 13 regular season games. He then followed up with four goals and 12 points in his first 11 postseason contests before he and his entire Pittsburgh squad ran into Tuukka Rask and the Boston buzzsaw. If Iginla was held off the scoresheet in four games, he can hardly be faulted, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang all suffered the same treatment.

Going forward, the biggest question surrounding Iginla is whether he can return to his goal-scoring ways after dropping to just 14 markers (albeit in the lockout-shortened year) in his final campaign with Calgary. With better talent on Boston’s top-two lines, watch for him to get back to 30 goals in 2014, with a chance for more. A durable player throughout his career, Iginla will have to take good care of his body and come to grips with the fact that the tread on his tires are wearing down.

The Bruins will embrace Iginla for his talent and leadership. His 1,232 career games of regular season experience provide one more sage veteran on a wily, playoff-tested team. However, Iginla is five years younger than Jaromir Jagr and Mark Recchi when they joined the Bruins, so compared to them, the Edmonton native is a shot of youthful exuberance to the roster.

It would be easy to judge Iginla harshly for his part in refusing to waive his no-trade clause to join the Bruins at the deadline, and some just won’t get over it.  His opting for the Pens set off an embarrassing sequence of events that saw the B’s scratch Matt Bartkowski and Alexander Khokhlachev, telling both they had been traded, only to have to go back and sheepishly tell them they were still Boston property after all. However, as Neely and Chiarelli proved on the first day of free agency, the pursuit of Lord Stanley’s holy grail trumps hurt feelings and getting a player of Iginla’s caliber is well worth the risk in their eyes. The forward has said all the right things since signing on. He learned an important lesson in humility at the hands of his newest team. It’s now July, and it appears that if Iginla could not be a part of a formula that could beat the Bruins, he’s joined them instead.

The latest Hall of Fame hockey player to put on the Black and Gold in the twilight years of a magnificent career could be precisely what the doctor ordered for a team that has all of the requisite pieces to finish what they started this spring.

In addition to Iginla, the Bruins signed four players to add depth to the organization:

Chad Johnson, G — With Anton Khudobin in Carolina, the B’s brought this 27-year-old Calgary native and former University of Alaska- Fairbanks Nanooks star into the fold. Having backed up Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Smith since 2010, Johnson has just 10 games of NHL experience, but he’s played well in very limited big league action. A year ago, he saw four NHL games with the Coyotes, winning two and posting a shutout to go with his 1.21 GAA and .954 save percentage. With a cap hit of just $600k, the 6-foot-3, former fifth-round draft choice of the Penguins in 2006 provides a cheap option for what is sure to be a big ticket cap hit for Tuukka Rask effective next season pending a soon-to-be-inked extension.

Johnson is a big, butterfly-style goaltender with quick reflexes and the mental toughness to hold the fort when seeing a lot of shots. His biggest competition will come from Niklas Svedberg, who won the AHL’s top goaltending honors in the regular season a year ago after a sensational 37-win rookie debut. Svedberg struggled to maintain his high level of play in the AHL playoffs, however, and his $1 million cap hit means that he might be better off starting the year in Providence where he’ll likely share the load with Malcolm Subban until the B’s can see what they have with Johnson.

Johnson is s step down from Khudobin in paper, though not by much. The real concern is that the B’s are pretty thin in net in terms of NHL experience if anything happens to Rask, or he is unable to provide his projected workhorse 65-70-game load.

Nick Johnson, RW — Another Johnson from Calgary who was a Penguins draft pick (67th overall in 2004) and also comes to the B’s from Phoenix, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has 104 NHL games under his belt with the Penguins, Wild and Coyotes.

A grinding, responsible two-way winger, Johnson is an honest player though not all that physical or abrasive. He’s an opportunistic scorer who spent four seasons at Dartmouth College (57 goals, 115 points in 143 career games with the Big Green), he provides solid experience, leadership and depth for the B’s. He’s also the kind of player who can immediately plug into the fourth and even third (in a pinch) lines for Boston.

Johnson spent the entire 2011-12 season with the Wild, scoring eight goals and 26 points, so he brings enough of a NHL pedigree to have a chance at cracking the opening night roster out of training camp, even if he appears to be more of an AHL option in Providence.

Bobby Robins, F — The Providence fan favorite for his willingness to drop the gloves anytime, anywhere and off-ice character finally gets a NHL contract from the Bruins. A throwback hard-nosed enforcer type who reminds long-time Baby Bruins supporters of Aaron Downey from the late 90s, Robins, 31, is a Wisconsin native who spent four years with the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks and even played in Ireland and Austria before working his way up from the ECHL in 2010. One tough customer (six goals, 466 penalty minutes in just 107 games with Providence), Robins isn’t likely to see action in Boston, but stranger things have happened. If anything were to happen to Merlot Line chairman Shawn Thornton, or the team needs additional toughness on a matchup basis, Robins is now an option for the big club after spending 2012-13 on an AHL deal.

Mike Moore, D — This undrafted free agent out of Princeton University broke into pro hockey with the San Jose Sharks in 2007. With just six NHL games (1 goal) on his resume, this career minor leaguer and shutdown, stay-at-home rearguard is sure to bolster Providence’s blue line, but has almost no shot at seeing time in Boston. Another Calgary native, Moore played in the BCHL with the Surrey Eagles before heading east to the Ivy League and then spending all but one year of his pro career in the Sharks’ system.

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com