Should the Boston Bruins Commit to Jarome Iginla Beyond 2013-14?

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Should the Boston Bruins Commit to Jarome Iginla Beyond 2013-14?
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Delete his 2-2 equalizer and his empty netter and it would not matter. Jarome Iginla would still stand out as an influential factor in the Boston Bruins’ 12th consecutive victory this past Saturday.

One night after blanking the Avalanche in Colorado, the Bruins trailed Phoenix by a goal at the 40-minute mark. Rather than recoil and concede to a combination of fatigue and an inflating cushion, they flip-flopped the deficit to a 4-2 triumph. 

To underscore the perpetual lack of satisfaction that fueled the comeback, this happened one night after Boston’s 11th straight win secured its Stanley Cup playoff berth.

Iginla’s six-game production streak from March 9 through March 18 pushed his club to the cusp of postseason qualification. After a negligible cold spell of 100-plus minutes in Denver and Phoenix, his rekindling ensured a team-wide statement against slowing down in the afterglow of accomplishment.

Afterwards, game-winning goal scorer and depth forward Shawn Thornton told csnne.com reporter Joe Haggerty, “We talked between the second and the third about not getting too discouraged because we felt things were going in the right direction.”

Hard to believe that Thornton’s fellow 36-year-old forward, Iginla, had a negligible role in that turnaround talk at intermission. Presence and productivity have made the one-time celestial striker worth Boston’s while amidst their one-year partnership in 2013-14. 

Saturday was the quintessence of Iginla’s fastidious appetite working to the reigning Eastern Conference champion’s benefit. A lesser team would not have concocted that closing frame, in part because lesser teams tend to lack that exemplary veteran presence.

Even if the Cup-less Iginla garners his long-awaited ring this spring, which is far from certain, this is why the Bruins should lean toward renewing this partnership for 2014-15. His direct impact on the first line, opposite David Krejci and Milan Lucic, has trickled down to the rest of the roster.

In turn, the team has frankly overachieved up to this point, which ought not to draw any complaints from the Bruins brass or buffs. Their team keeps kicking ice chips over the fact that they harbor many holdovers from last year’s grueling run and are laboring without leaned-on defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

If there is more of that potion to tap in future seasons, Boston should leave no pucks unturned to accommodate it.

When commentators Michael Felger and Kevin Dupont raised this topic on Comcast Sportsnet New England Sunday night, the debate became a question of “when” rather than “if.” Felger favored waiting until after this season whereas Dupont hinted at preferring to re-sign Iginla during the season, if possible.

Incidentally, Felger made the more agreeable point when he said, “Let’s sort of ride this desperation while we can." 

There are other reasons to wait until the weeks (or months) separating the postseason finale and the start of free agency. One is that premature negotiation, let alone finalization and announcement, of an extension may instill unease among prospective salary-cap sacrifices while a mission is still in progress.

As Matt Kalman of CBS Boston cautioned last week, “With the way he’s produced, Iginla’s price won’t be so cap-friendly this summer.” Kalman’s column issues a reminder that performance-based bonuses can swell the seasoned winger’s cap hit, which stands at $1.8 million right now, to $6 million next year 

As their payroll projection reads on capgeek.com, the Bruins have $9,120,357 in spare cap space for 2014-15. The already filled space comes from 10 forwards, six defensemen and goaltender Tuukka Rask.

If need be, they could broaden that space to $13,147,500 by placing Marc Savard and part or all of his $4,027,143 on injured reserve. That space would need to go to four forwards, a spare defenseman and a backup goalie on the NHL payroll.

One of those forward slots is warming for up-and-coming center Ryan Spooner, who will have his third entry-level campaign next year. His price of $760,000 would leave as much as $12,387,500 to distribute between five re-signees and/or newcomers.

Among pending free agents, whether they are presently in Providence or Boston, there are four logical returnees besides Iginla. Thornton is on the final year of his deal with a hit of $1.1 million, and he most likely will not command more.

Netminder Niklas Svedberg, blueliner Torey Krug and winger Reilly Smith are each at the dusk of six-figure entry-level pacts. They are all due for a raise regardless of whether they stay or go this summer. 

Those three youngsters and the grizzled fourth-liner Thornton would likely combine to leave the Bruins short of Iginla’s ceiling. That does not mean there will not be additional resorts.

Boston still has two compliance buyouts to use no later than this summer. Regardless of how he performs for the balance of 2013-14, Chris Kelly is still a reasonable target.

Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

If they were to shed Kelly’s $3 million cap hit this offseason, the Bruins would need to plug another void on the depth chart. They could do that with Spooner and an additional young striker, such as Craig Cunningham or Alexander Khokhlachev.

Even if Spooner is not ready to outright supplant Kelly as the third-line center, Carl Soderberg is a natural pivot himself. In addition, the passage of time could always lead to the likes of Smith and Loui Eriksson trading slots on the second and third line and/or other shuffles between rows in the depth chart.

The point here is that preserving the incumbent third-line formula should take a back seat to keeping the revolutionary first-line troika’s chemistry intact. In fact, having an elder statesman of Iginla’s caliber at the top of the chart may help to groom the unripe specimens of talent, even though they are not his linemates.

It is all in the infectious motivation, which reiterates the point on Krejci and Lucic. Because they are each a decade younger than Iginla, they are not going to have him as their complement for the balance of their careers.

That notwithstanding, a chance to build on the foundation they have formed for at least one or two years is in order. Krejci, in particular, is all but bound to seal his second-most productive NHL regular season, somewhere between his 62 points from 2010-11 and 2011-12 and 73 from 2008-09.

While they have yet to embark on their postseason follow-up, their regular-season upgrade is not meaningless. The top line’s newfound consistency has factored heavily into the team’s ability to fend off much indication of Stanley Cup Final hangover.

If Iginla returns next autumn with the same degree of unfinished business, 2014-15 should be a similar story. Regardless of this season’s outcome, why force Krejci and Lucic to start fresh with a new associate for the second straight training camp?

New England puckheads may not want to read this, but the Bruins have a less-than-favorable chance of plugging Iginla’s championship void in 2014. The fanbase and front office can and should dream otherwise, but residual wear-and-tear from 2013 and defensive uncertainty will likely catch up to this club.

That is why general manager Peter Chiarelli needs to go all out in preparation to work Iginla back onto the roster. Even if there is a parade in the interim, this would be a case where one need not fix what is not broken.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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