Are The Boston Bruins And Jarome Iginla Still A Good Fit For Each Other?

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Are The Boston Bruins And Jarome Iginla Still A Good Fit For Each Other?
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The Boston Bruins have more than the salary cap to consider as they contemplate re-signing Jarome Iginla for 2014-15.

Mike Cole of NESN.com was apt to reiterate that aspect this past Wednesday. As he noted, Iginla consumed $1.8 million worth of cap space in 2013-14. But, Cole writes, “Iginla’s impressive season means he hit many of those performance-related bonuses, which count against the 2014-15 cap.”

Per CapGeek.com, the carry-over bonuses could reach a maximum of $4.2 million. As of Monday, Boston’s payroll has just over $9.1 million of spare space with five or six NHL roster spots left to fill.

The financial implications speak for themselves, but they have company among questions surrounding a continued Bruins-Iginla partnership. There are matters stemming from the final on-ice impression from 2013-14 and the potential structure of next season’s depth chart.

If the employee and employer want to stay together, their best bet is to sacrifice ice time and familiar faces, respectively.

Iginla turns 37 on July 1—the day his current contract with Boston will expire. As he ages in athletic years, his ability to rerun this past season’s bright spots in the same role accrue doubt.

In his online scouting report, The Hockey News continues to acclaim Iginla for carrying “deceptive speed, great strength and a lethal shot.” However, the same report cautions that he “Has been known to start off slowly out of the gate in recent seasons.”

New England puckheads witnessed the latter this past autumn.

Iginla mustered one point in his first six games and no goals in his first eight as a Bruin. After breaking the latter trend with a three-game goal streak, he brooked another bout of frostbite with one strike and three helpers from Oct. 31 to Nov. 25.

Neither that nor other slumps hurt any parties concerned much by the end of the regular season.

The two-week Olympic break in February was surely a boon, although that will not exist on the 2014-15 itinerary.

Iginla co-led Boston with 30 regular-season goals. His center, David Krejci, topped the team leaderboard with 50 assists and 69 points. Fellow first-line winger Milan Lucic was fourth among the Bruins with a 24-35-59 scoring log.

All irreproachable numbers, but ones that went out with the Zamboni snow when the schedule turned to the playoffs.

The postseason was the principal purpose of Iginla linking up with the Bruins, yet he and his colleagues stood out in the team’s failure to fulfill that purpose.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In turn, assuming finances permit a new pact, the clean sheet on 2014-15 has no shortage of room for various potentialities.

If it happens, would Iginla’s second year in Boston mirror the first?

Would it entail more signs of his aging during the regular season?

Would he and his colleagues subsist on extra urgency to improve the outcome of the playoffs?

Naturally, they want the third option, but they may need to explore preseason changes to ensure postseason improvements. That is where the complications jut the highest.

During his season-ending address, club president Cam Neely told reporters of Iginla, “He ended up scoring 30 goals, which is not easy in this league anymore, and we would like to try and see if we can figure something out moving forward with him.”

No cynicism is required to underline the mildly inflated proportion in the first clause of Neely’s statement. As for the concluding clause, the president could have been speaking of the depth chart as easily as the salary cap chart.

Four of Iginla’s 30 regular-season goals were empty netters, as was one of his five playoff strikes. Three others—the Game 4 overtime winner against Detroit, his contribution to a vain Game 3 rally against Montreal and Boston’s lone tally in Game 7—were tip-ins.

While every goal equals the same value, the Bruins need more than deflections and empty netters—especially from the top line.

A shortage of accuracy on purer tests of Carey Price was one of the reasons why they lost to the Canadiens.

In that series, Boston needed more from Lucic than three points—all within the first three games.

It needed more from Krejci than a Game 2 assist on Lucic’s empty netter and a Game 7 helper on Iginla’s power-play conversion.

The President’s Trophy winners’ most reliable regular-season troika hit a ditch for the second round of the postseason. The three could not collaborate on any productive plays when skating five-on-five together.

The “deceptive speed” THN alludes to may not be enough for Iginla to retain an upper-echelon caliber for a full campaign. Over the weekend, CSNNE.com beat reporter Joe Haggerty went so far as to propose an outright external replacement by name.

In a TV appearance archived on the station’s website Sunday morning, Haggerty said, “I would love to see a little more speed on that line…I think a guy like Marian Gaborik would be an intriguing possibility.”

There you go.

The playoff drop-off yields questions as to whether the first line is still Iginla’s place. If not, trying to assimilate him elsewhere on the strike force means navigating a maze with several dead ends.

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Incumbent second-line right wing Reilly Smith is coming off a breakout campaign. Though the 23-year-old’s production tapered off at times, his final output of 51 points in his first 82-game NHL season is something to build upon.

There is no guarantee Smith will continue to elevate his dependability, but no alternative arrangement on that line has any more concrete promise.

Granted, center Patrice Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand once collaborated with a 43-year-old on timely scoring plays. But the fact that Mark Recchi managed to help them form a difference-making troika en route to a title in 2011 guarantees nothing of the sort for Iginla in 2015.

The defining stages of the 2013-14 season saw two-thirds of Boston’s third line percolate an effective formula between two Swedish countrymen. With Carl Soderberg on the pivot, right wing Loui Eriksson started to kick ice chips over the memories of his concussion-laden autumn.

Like Smith, his fellow import from Dallas, Eriksson has a foundation to build on when he starts his second season as a Bruin. Barring a drastic downturn, there is no need to risk fixing what is not broken.

Although, as it happens, Eriksson is a left-hand shot playing his off-wing, and whoever patrols Soderberg’s left wing next season is anyone’s guess right now.

Unless he is traded or bought out, it could be Chris Kelly, who carries a $3 million cap hit. It could be a homegrown specimen such as Matt Fraser or Justin Florek, both of whom came up from Providence during the playoffs. It could be a proven left-shooting import from another team.

Or it could be Eriksson, assuming a switch to his ostensibly natural lane is as easily executed as proposed.

Regardless, joining that line would entail a multitude of changes for Iginla.

Even if he remains on the right side, he would have to start from scratch on the chemistry front. There is also the matter of getting accustomed to less ice time, though that naturally ought to preserve his energy and stamina over time.

If financial flexibility suffices, there is no cause to assume that the Bruins and Iginla cannot work for one another in 2014-15. But ample adjustment would be crucial to making the arrangement work.

For the player, that would likely mean accepting a lesser role for less pay than he might garner elsewhere.

For the team, it would likely mean parting with Kelly, delaying or shuffling up-and-coming prospects and shuffling Eriksson to the other side of Soderberg to make room on the salary chart and depth chart.

 

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

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