Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski was very close to being sent to the Calgary Flames in a package deal for Flames captain Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, but Iginla changed his mind at the last minute, vetoing the trade to Boston and choosing to go to Pittsburgh instead.
But when given another chance to come to Boston via free agency, Iginla did just that on July 5. Now Bartkowski will be teammates with the player he was almost dealt for.
"It was really funny because I saw a couple of tweets saying, 'Make sure Bartkowski doesn't pack his bags,' but yeah I thought it was pretty funny [Iginla] ended up signing here," Bartkowski said with a laugh Wednesday. "It's a good thing, though. He's a great player, so that will be pretty cool."
Bartkowski reiterated that he holds no hard feelings and that the failed trade didn't affect his mindset as an up-and-coming defenseman.
"I'm old enough and mature enough now to understand that's part of the business," the 25-year-old rearguard said. "And to be able to be considered in a trade for a first-ballot Hall of Famer is pretty cool. That's a big honor to potentially be part of such a deal. But I was really happy once it all blew over because I really wanted to stay in Boston and love it there.
"[The Bruins] have a winning pedigree. It's a great city to play in and I'm glad it worked out the way it did."
Bartkowski seemed to turn the potentially awkward moment of the failed trade into a motivating force. His confidence wasn't diminished, and he played better and received more ice time down the stretch run of the season and into the playoffs.
"Once playoffs rolled around and I was able to log more minutes I thought I got better," Bartkowski said. "I got in the flow of the game, pushed the pace using my legs better and just played a lot better."
While Bartkowski obviously would have liked part of his summer to have been spent bringing the Stanley Cup home to family and friends, he values the experience he gained playing in the playoffs. With the Bruins' blue line beset with injuries, particularly in the first and second rounds, Bartkowski and fellow youngsters Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton found themselves thrown into the fire. The trio didn't disappoint in helping the Bruins advance. Bartkowski saw action in the first round against the Maple Leafs and the second round against the Rangers, but did not play in the conference finals versus the Penguins or the Stanley Cup finals against the Blackhawks.
"It was huge," Bartkowski said of being part of the run to the conference finals. "Being able to play playoff hockey anywhere is great. I got that at Providence and that was good experience because guys were playing to win, and then at the NHL level it's even better and just so much more faster. As we saw a lot [of] winning and losing, a game can change in 30 seconds or so and it's such a thin margin. It's a great learning experience and while I didn't necessarily want to learn how to lose a game in 17 seconds, it will be a valuable lesson in the future that you can't let up at all in the playoffs. You have to play the full 60 minutes. But it was a great experience."
With the offseason departure of Andrew Ference and the playoff performance of Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton, the Bruins appear to be set to get younger on defense. Bartkowski could see even more playing time in the 2013-14 season.
"It's shaping up that way and looking that way," Bartkowski said of the youth movement on the blue line. "I think Kruger, Dougie and me have gained a lot of experience the past year. Especially during the playoffs, Kruger and me gained so much experience, and you saw what he did. And then Dougie played a lot in the regular season. I think we gained their trust in the playoffs and they're able to play us in more situations now. Their confidence in us rose, and because of that our confidence skyrocketed. So hopefully this season shakes out where we can play a whole season."