Excessive Contracts Haunting Boston Bruins After Jarome Iginla's Departure

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Excessive Contracts Haunting Boston Bruins After Jarome Iginla's Departure
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
A more modest monetary agreement on the part of Milan Lucic (right) a few years ago could have helped to keep Jarome Iginla (left) in Boston.

The Boston Bruins now know they will pay for Jarome Iginla without the benefit of his presence in 2014-15. As the Colorado Avalanche website confirmed Tuesday afternoon, the 17-season veteran accepted thin air for thick compensation on the first day of the NHL’s free-agency summer spree.

According to CapGeek, Iginla will net $16 million over three seasons. That amounts to a $5,333,333 cap hit, which Boston was in no position to accommodate.

Per ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, general manager Peter Chiarelli eschewed opportunities to make an Iginla renewal more practical. As quoted by McDonald, the GM offered, “I felt that there were moves I could have made that, at the end, I didn’t want to make. I thought it was to the betterment of the organization, to the team, not to do it and that’s kind of where it stood.”

The dilemma is explicable and, to a degree, understandable, but it was also avoidable. The chief reason why Boston decelerated in the footrace for Iginla’s next contract was the residual weight of contracts from past years.

Granted, part of the clog comes from the bonuses on Iginla’s one-year deal that spilled over to the 2014-15 payroll. Because of his 30 goals and 31 assists in 2013-14, Boston is adding $4.2 million to its collective cap hit.

Throw in other bonuses for other players, particularly Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and the total is $4,779,500. As of Wednesday, that leaves a mere $1,640,857 to work with.

But this financial fumble was in the making even before the Bruins fell short on an attempt to trade for Iginla in March of 2013. Several deals among core members of the team are kicking in with a cost.

Third-line forward Chris Kelly is halfway through a four-year deal that consumes $3 million in cap space. The signing of that pact came after a 20-goal, 39-point ride in his first full season with Boston.

Beforehand, Kelly came before the 2011 trade deadline and proceeded to lend Boston indispensable depth en route to a championship. That and his 2011-12 follow-up season justified his $2,125,000 cap hit.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

But while those were impressive career highs in the goal and assist columns, it was rational to assume Kelly had hit his ceiling. When he approached free agency two summers ago, he was 31 years old and had never surpassed the 15-goal plateau at any other time.

Since inking his new deal, Kelly has receded and lost his natural center slot to a more cost-effective Carl Soderberg ($1,008,333). Some of that may be due to injuries, but the timing of the latest ailment exacerbates the problem.

A more reasonable deal for Kelly would not have made much of a difference itself. At the time of his 2012 renewal, an annual cap hit of $2.5 million would have been fair.

Regardless, despite his subpar performance and the influx of suitable replacements on the third line, Kelly’s contract is stuck on Boston’s books indefinitely. The Bruins missed their chance to trade him or buy him out while he was eligible and when re-signing Iginla was still a possibility.

Whether they saved a half-million on Kelly in advance or a full $3 million within the last year, the Bruins would have needed other factors to relieve cap congestion. Again, those would have needed to come before Iginla was a Bruin to begin with.

For those who adhere to the “every little bit helps” adage, fellow center Patrice Bergeron could have been one of those mitigating factors. That is, the franchise could have given one of its faces and exemplary leaders a little less on his latest extension to ensure the future.

Of Boston’s four contracts on or beyond the $6 million plateau, Bergeron’s is the most reasonable. Despite being the second-line center, he has verified his value with three consecutive Selke Trophy nominations, including two victories. He also placed second behind David Krejci for the team lead in point production, accentuating the team’s reliance on balance.

Bergeron’s emergence as a perennial Selke contender and uptick in offense came during a three-year deal with a $5 million cap hit. An extension on that deal starts this autumn with $6.5 million hit through 2021-22.

It is hard to find much fault in anything pertaining to Bergeron. The emphasis there is on “much.” All things considered, a $6 million cap hit would have been more ideal, especially given the situation at hand.

One could make the same case for the other two Bruins who were up for hardware last month. They are likewise untouchable but a few ice shavings overpaid.

Like Bergeron, Tuukka Rask wasted little time justifying his latest renewal, which he signed 12 months ago. Upon tying Pekka Rinne for the heaviest hit among goaltenders, he compiled a 2013-14 season that yielded the Vezina Trophy.

Even so, there is no guarantee he will hold a perennial perch on the same pantheon as, say, Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick.

The latest developments also brighten the retrospective spotlight on what preceded Rask’s current deal. Five months beforehand, in February of 2013, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com speculated that Rask would command $5 million per year.

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The Finnish fortress ended up taking a deal with a $7 million cap hit, the highest of any Bruin.

Zdeno Chara is close behind, taking $6,916,667 in cap room. But unlike his fellow defensive stalwarts, at age 37, he is more likely to trend downward than upward. While he remains a generally dependable top-tier defenseman, his stamina has been an issue by the end of the last two seasons.

Sure, Chara’s current cap hit, which took effect after the 2011 Stanley Cup run, is less than his previous yearly cost of $7.5 million. But in crafting that deal that runs through 2016-17, Chiarelli should have demonstrated better foresight. There would have been nothing wrong with a greater reduction than anything below a full $1 million.

For the cornerstones of all three layers of Boston’s defense, a $6 million cap hit would have been plentiful. It should have been doable—at the time and all the more in hindsight.

There is one other core member of the Bruins in that pay range. His presence there has always been a jutting head-scratcher.

While no single contract precipitated this congestion and its secondary effects, Milan Lucic is a can’t-miss reason why Iginla was his linemate for only one year. He could also complicate the continuation of his alliance with Krejci beyond 2014-15.

Last season, Lucic garnered a raise that elevated his cap hit from $4,083,333 to $6 million. In the coming campaign, that will tie him with seven others for No. 28 among NHL forwards and No. 43 overall.

This despite tying for No. 39 in regular-season point scoring in 2010-11, No. 49 in 2011-12 and No. 109 in 2012-13. This despite placing No. 50 in the league and fourth on the Bruins in 2013-14 and not shouldering quite the same two-way expectations as Bergeron or Krejci.

As it happens, Krejci will cost $5,250,000 in 2014-15 and is due to hit free agency afterward. The odds are against a pay cut for the 28-year-old playmaking connoisseur.

For salary-cap reasons alone, it would not be a stretch to imagine one of Krejci or Lucic ceasing to don the Spoked-B by next summer.

Iginla was the first marquee name to bolt Boston for this unmistakable reason and might not be the last. Barring multiple swaps, particularly one involving Kelly, this dilemma will rerun itself.

 

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

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