Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Iginla, Bruins clicking as Penguins loom
By Scott Burnside
Even Jarome Iginla, widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in the business, didn't know how this was all going to work out given the muddy water that had flowed under this particular bridge.
After all, Iginla had at the last minute spurned an opportunity to join the Boston Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline, instead accepting a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There'd been some hurt feelings and lots of boos when Iginla and the Penguins came to town later in the season. And then there was the matter of the Eastern Conference finals, during which the Bruins shockingly smothered the game's most potent offense -- Iginla included -- limiting the Penguins to two goals during a four-game sweep.
So when Iginla entered free agency last summer and suggested to his long-time agent Don Meehan that he make a call to the Bruins to see if they might yet be interested in his services, the veteran winger wasn't sure what kind of reaction he'd get.
"I was totally prepared to get a 'No way' or 'Are you crazy?' or to be laughed out of the room or whatever," Iginla told ESPN.com this week.
Instead, what Iginla and his representatives got was a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.8 million, but with bonuses built in that could push him past $6 million this season.
Jarome Iginla and his new teammates have certainly taken a liking to each other.
You see, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli was never really mad at Iginla. He was more ticked off that the deal he thought he had with Calgary for the winger didn't pan out, and that the Iginla-is-a-Bruin-oops-he's-a-Penguin saga became a bit of a spectacle. But Chiarelli believed at the time Iginla was a world-class person and top-end player, and those beliefs didn't change regardless of how things played out last season. Still, Chiarelli acknowledged he was a bit surprised when he got the call from the Iginla camp last summer.
"It was refreshing," Chiarelli told ESPN.com.
While it was a bit more complicated than expected getting Iginla into a Bruins jersey, no one can deny that there is a certain hand-in-glove dynamic in place.
The Bruins were looking for a rugged right winger to fill the gap created on their top line created when Nathan Horton decided to test the free-agent waters and signed with Columbus. And Iginla is almost the prototypical Claude Julien player, the Bruins' coach being a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who likes players who go from A to B and don't mind running over whatever might be in between.
That center David Krejci is a consummate playmaker just added to what has proved to be a dynamic equation.
"I think it's a perfect fit," former NHLer and longtime national analyst Keith Jones said.
"He's a very smart player and he's very good with the give-and-go, which is sort of the game that Krejci and [Milan] Lucic like to play," Jones said of Iginla.
Certainly no disrespect meant to guys such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the fit with Iginla in Pittsburgh just wasn't there the way many thought it would be. Both of those centers love to shoot the puck as well as distribute it, Jones said.
Krejci is much more focused on getting the puck to his big wingers, and the production of Lucic and Iginla reflects that.
"Having a distributor like Krejci to play with is a huge benefit," Jones pointed out.
Iginla, in a phone interview from Pittsburgh, where the team is in preparation for Wednesday's clash with the Penguins, acknowledged that "it feels like I was just here."
For a guy who spent his entire career from 1996 through March 2013 in Calgary, the last few months have been something of a blur. When he ended up in Pittsburgh, his family (including children ages 9, 7 and 5) would come and visit. This summer, though, the family was able to move together to Boston and settle into a routine there with schools and the like.
He also got a chance to work out with many of his teammates before the start of the season, as opposed to parachuting into what was a red-hot Penguins team at the deadline. Even before he physically got to Boston, there were welcoming texts and conversations with many of the veteran Bruins helping ease the transition.
Needless to say, as Wednesday's game has approached, there have been a few jokes at Iginla's expense.
"It’s been fun. It's been a good transition," he said.
Iginla, Krejci and Lucic have created scoring chances right away, although it did take some time for Iginla to see those chances turn into actual points. After collecting just one assist in his first six games, Iginla has seven points in his last four games. The trio has combined for 31 points and rank 1-2-3 in scoring on the team, while Iginla leads the Bruins in shots and scoring chances.
"You knew it was going to come around," Chiarelli said. "He's got a real zest to shoot it, and that can be infectious."
In spite of the chances and the time in the offensive zone, Iginla acknowledged that he was a bit frustrated early on because he was hoping to make an early impression on his new teammates and prove he could keep things rolling with the top unit.
He is less worried now.
"Things are starting to feel pretty good," he said.
Wednesday's game will mark the first meeting of the two teams since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston. It is a series that will hang over the talented Penguins until the playoffs begin next spring. When we talked to Crosby and Malkin before the start of the season, both said their disappointment in that series was among the most painful of their careers.
Anticipation is strong that a rematch could be in the cards, with both teams off to a strong start to the season, the Penguins leading the Metropolitan Division with an 8-4-0 record and Boston sitting at 7-3-0 in the Atlantic Division.
Jones believes it's almost inevitable. The two teams are the class of the Eastern Conference, he said, and it would be no surprise at all to see them emerge from their respective divisions for another conference final showdown.
"I can't see it happening any other way," Jones said.
Wednesday night, then, will be a good early whetting of the playoff appetite.