Bartkowski, B's happy Iginla trade fell through

Bartkowski, B's happy Iginla trade fell through
May 21, 2013, 1:15 am
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(USA Today Sports)

BOSTON – Just a few days ago, Matt Bartkowski couldn’t help but think to himself how overjoyed he was that the Jarome Iginla trade between the Calgary Flames and Bruins completely flamed out on that fateful April day.

That’s because the 24-year-old defenseman has jumped into the Stanley Cup playoff spotlight with his fellow Baby Bear blueliners, and lit up in the second round against the Rangers. Meanwhile, the Flames players are polishing their golf clubs in courses all across North America while muttering something along the lines of “wait until next year.”

The trade-that-wasn’t would have sent Bartkowski, Russian prospect Alex Khokhlachev and a first round pick to the Flames in exchange for Iginla. But instead the former Flames captain famously nixed the deal to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Bruins instead landed future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.

When Bartkowski first thought the trade was going to happen, the young blueliner truthfully considered that it might be a better opportunity for him in Calgary. What better place for a young defenseman looking for a chance to establish himself than on a young, rebuilding hockey club?

Calgary assistant GM John Weisbrod was working in the Bruins front office when Boston requested Bartkowski from Florida as part of the Dennis Seidenberg deal three years ago, and had scouted the blueliner during his time at Ohio State. So Weisbrod and the Flames were actively pushing to have the young blueliner included as a key part of the Calgary prospect package.

“Being in that situation and seeing where the Calgary system was and all of the great ‘D’ they have here in Boston, and then [the Flames] traded [Jay] Bouwmeester away at the deadline…I was kind of thinking that might have been a good fit,” said Bartkowski, of his mindset when he first thought he was a goner headed to the Flames. “But you want to be on a winning team, so I was glad that I stayed here. Now all of this has happened.

“You want to play playoff hockey. This is the most fun that you could possibly have. Every shift is just awesome, so I’m really happy that [the Iginla trade] fell through, I guess.”

It wasn’t an easy road for Bartkowski, as he’d looked overmatched in his first couple of very limited stints with the Bruins over the last few seasons.

But he finally established himself during the tail end of the NHL season in Boston and has looked completely comfortable playing 19:46 of ice time in four playoff games for the Bruins.

He’s looked so good, in fact, that it’s very likely Bartkowski has played the last AHL game of his career. He looks, skates, shoots, passes, defends and hits like a left-shot NHL caliber defenseman that can play in all zones, and in all situations. Those guys are worth their weight in hockey gold.

Bartkowski has also given the Bruins everything they could have possibly asked for since entering the playoff lineup, and has earned the most amount of responsibility among the young defensemen from a discerning coach in Claude Julien.

Julien wouldn’t go there when asked Monday morning what will happen to the three young defensemen once Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg are healthy again. But judging by ice time and responsibilities doled out to each of the three young D-men, Bartkowski is the surest bet to stick even if the Bruins coaching staff has observed that he’s a bit of a slow starter each season.

That’s a matter for next year’s training camp because Bartkowski has shown he’s fully ready for prime-time duty during the postseason.  

“Right now, there’s no doubt that his starts have really hurt him as far as being maybe considered for our team, because we don’t see what we need to see,” said Julien. “But once we do [see it], as you can see he’s got the full confidence of our coaching staff right now.”

His ability to skate the puck out of trouble in the defensive zone and kick start the transition game has noticeably improved the complexion of Boston’s offensive attack, and he’s more than held his own in the physicality department. Bartkowski knows his future is undeniably bright with the Bruins, so it’s no wonder his mind wandered toward the twist of fate that kept him in Boston.

“I was thinking about all of that the other day, and I was like ‘Wow, that kind of worked out.’ You can’t even put it into words because I never thought it would fall into place like this . . . where I’d be playing in the playoffs,” said Bartkowski, who had a pair of assists in 11 games during the regular season before dropping back to the AHL to stay sharp during the playoffs. “Being able to play this much, you’re really what I consider a part of the team. Before you’re up and down so much, but this is awesome.

“The playoffs are unbelievable: it’s physical, it’s hard and there’s something new every single shift. This is what you go through camp for and work so hard all year for, just to be a part of this.”

So now Bartkowski looks back on that surreal 24 hours with equal parts amusement and relief, given the real world thoughts that were going through his head when he thought he was Calgary-bound.  

“I first heard about it, and then about a half hour later I kind of accepted it and started thinking to myself about what I was going to do,” said Bartkowski. “I was thinking about [getting] a Canadian phone plan, and all of this other crap. Then I saw online [the trade fell through] and I thought to myself ‘OK, now I’m here to stay.’

Thankfully for Bartkowski and the Bruins, the young defenseman has traded in the talk of Canadian phone plans and Calgary defensemen depth charts for a prominent top-four role among the Bruins defensemen corps. It was pretty simple for Bartkowski to do the math: being in Boston is a heck of a lot better than being in Calgary right now.

Apparently he’s got some guy named Iginla to thank for it.