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BOSTON -- Oh, the storylines.
What would an Eastern Conference final between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins be without a bunch of juicy storylines for the media to serve up and for the fans to digest while we wait for the puck to drop on the series?
No doubt it would still be good hockey, but there are just so many off-the-ice tidbits to make this series even more interesting.
Before we tackle the most-recent connection between the teams -- you know, the one about star-studded trade chip Jarome Iginla deciding he wanted to play for the Penguins instead of the Bruins at the trade deadline -- there are a few more we can dissect.
Let's start at the top of the management chain. After the 2005-06 season, the Bruins were looking to hire a new general manager to replace Mike O'Connell, who had been fired by the organization. The leading candidate was Nashville Predators assistant GM Ray Shero, but talks between the Bruins and Shero broke down in the 11th hour of negotiations, and the Penguins quickly signed Shero as their GM.
So the Bruins turned their attention to then-Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Peter Chiarelli, who eventually was hired to succeed O'Connell in Boston.
Under Shero, the Penguins have reached the postseason in seven consecutive seasons and won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Under Chiarelli, the Bruins have earned a playoff berth in six of his seven seasons as GM, which include a Stanley Cup title in 2011.
Shero inherited a potent lineup led by budding superstar forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Chiarelli and the Bruins were at the ground level of building a championship roster. Defenseman Zdeno Chara signed as a free agent and was immediately named team captain the same season Chiarelli was hired. Patrice Bergeron, who was only 21 at the time, had already played three seasons in the NHL and proven himself to be a true leader on and off the ice. David Krejci was just beginning his career, and goaltender Tim Thomas was thought of as only a backup.
Along the way, both GMs turned their teams into perennial winners, and it's amazing that this season is the first time since 1992 the Bruins and Penguins will face off in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It's also fitting that this series will decide which team will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.
Which brings us back to Iginla.
|Matt Bartkowski, who was part of the deal that would have brought Jarome Iginla to Boston, has been a big factor on the Bruins' blue line.|
The future Hall of Famer had spent his entire career with the Calgary Flames, but the 35-year-old forward has yet to win the Cup. The Flames reached the finals in 2004, but lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was inevitable Iginla would be traded this season to a contender, and he even waived his no-movement clause and gave the Flames a list of teams he would accept a trade to, including Boston, Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Around noon on March 28, Flames GM Jay Feaster informed Chiarelli that the Bruins had won the sweepstakes for Iginla. In the deal, the Bruins would send defenseman Matt Bartkowski, prospect Alexander Khokhlachev and a first-round draft pick to Calgary in exchange for Iginla.
Before the deal could be finalized, Feaster needed to get the OK from Iginla. Nearly 12 hours later, the Bruins were informed there would be no deal because Iginla chose the Penguins and Crosby over the Bruins and Bergeron.
The next day at Bruins practice, the players showed no animosity toward Iginla for his decision, but coach Claude Julien had an interesting comment.
"That was his entitlement," Julien said. "He's got a no-trade clause, and when you look at what Pittsburgh's done, you've got to respect the guy's decision. It was his decision to make, and he made that.
"It'll be at the end of the year he'll see whether he made the right decision or not. Certainly, there's no animosity here. We're a good team. If he came here, he would have made us better. He's not here because he went somewhere else. We turn the page because it's about us right now; it's not about him."
Chiarelli turned his attention to Jaromir Jagr and acquired him from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne, along with a conditional pick in the 2013 draft. Now that the Bruins have reached the conference finals, that pick becomes a first-round selection.
So Jagr and Iginla, two future Hall of Famers, will square off in the conference finals.
"I always thought you had to go through them to get to where we want to go at some point," Chiarelli said of the Penguins. "It's been well chronicled, the Iginla stuff and the Jagr stuff, so we're happy with who we got."
In 11 regular-season games for the Bruins, Jagr scored two goals and added seven assists for nine points. Iginla provided five goals and six assists for 11 points in 13 regular-season games for the Penguins. In the playoffs, Iginla has four goals and eight assists for 12 points in 11 games, while Jagr has only four assists in 12 games.
"I think Jags makes that switch that Claude made, Jags is really compatible with Bergy's line on the strong cycle and the wearing down of the opposition," Chiarelli said Sunday. "I know he's been snakebitten a little bit, but he's had a lot of chances; he's created a lot of chances. But, more importantly, in addition to the looks he gives the power play, he wears down the defense, and there's always two guys on him.
"I think we would've been fine with either, but we're very happy with Jags; and the price to pay, a first-round pick, you've got to pay to get a quality player. We've shown that we've been able to replace those types of players -- Torey [Krug] wasn't even drafted -- through trade, through draft, through free agents. There's different ways to skin the cat."
Another angle to this storyline is Bartkowski. If the Iginla deal to Boston had been completed, Bartkowski would already be on summer vacation. Instead, he's been a key contributor on the Boston blue line in the playoffs, and now the Pittsburgh native will have an opportunity to play against his hometown Penguins. He actually had posters of Jagr and Mario Lemieux on his wall when he was a kid.
"It's going to be awesome; it's going to be a blast," Bartkowski said. "Growing up there, it was a lot of fun watching them. Now, being able to play against them will probably be even more fun. So I'm pretty excited."
In retrospect, Chiarelli says he's happy with the way the things have worked out with Bartkowski and Jagr.
"If you're asking me am I happy because I kept him instead of getting Iginla, yes. Now, yes. He's helped us. You've seen him emerge. But it also shows you that we're willing to give up good players to try and help the team win now," Chiarelli said.
"We've got a lot of good players now. We didn't want to give up Bart, but that was the case at the time. The depth that you talk about that's helping us now, we had it further on down the line in the organization. That helps us deal for players now, but I'm glad to have him right now."
Storylines aside, it's going to be an intense series on the ice.
Both teams have the ability to roll out four good lines, and the matchups will be interesting. The depth, veteran presence, impact players and experience both teams possess make this a close matchup.
"It will be a battle of deep teams," Chiarelli said.