Haggerty: B's fans rest easier with Jagr over Iginla

Haggerty: B's fans rest easier with Jagr over Iginla
April 20, 2013, 12:00 am
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Though it won’t be as intensified as it might have been before a harrowing and horrifying week took its toll on Boston, there will be a strong reaction at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon when the Pittsburgh Penguins take the ice.

Of course the Penguins roll into Boston winners of five straight with the top spot in the Eastern Conference all but clinched, but the biggest amount of vitriol will be saved for newly acquired winger Jarome Iginla. The former Calgary Flames legend famously chose the Penguins over the Bruins at the NHL trade deadline just a few weeks ago, and left B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli at the altar after Boston had been told that they’d won the Iginla sweepstakes.

The circumstances behind those 12 hours where the Bruins went from “getting Iginla” to “getting the shaft from Iginla” have always been a little guarded – and more than a little shady. But it’s safe to assume the draw of Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh played a large role in the decision that was ultimately made by Iginla in his quest for a Stanley Cup title to add to his hockey resume.

So even if the Bruins players themselves don’t harbor any ill will toward Iginla for simply utilizing the no movement clause to control the trade process, those same players are expecting the TD Garden faithful to give him a rough ride. Added to the emotional powder keg already in place while returning to TD Garden after Friday’s successful manhunt for the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, it should be all kinds of fun theatre to watch.

“It was a little bit of a shocker. I didn’t really know what the reason was, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Marchand, when asked about Iginla choosing the Penguins over the Bruins when Boston thought they’d landed the player. “Nothing is done until it’s signed and he’s over here. I’m sure there will be some fans that will be unhappy about the way it went down. I’m sure he won’t be welcomed in the building. But it’s also part of what makes these games even more fun.”

As much as the Bruins fan base will give Iginla the traditional returning villain’s welcome, it isn’t expected to be anything more than the run-of-the-mill booing Phil Kessel receives every time he touches the puck. Some of that is because the Bruins didn’t simply sit on their hands once they’d lost out on Michael Ryder, Brendan Morrow and Iginla in succession rolling into the deadline.

The Bruins instead gave up a lesser package (Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne and a second round pick) for iconic future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, and it’s been a match made in heaven. The 41-year-old Jagr has slipped into a quick, comfortable role with the B’s as a power play specialist capable of bringing confidence, pose and creativity to the man advantage, and as a big-framed forward fully capable of making scoring plays from anywhere in the offensive zone.

“That’s how hockey goes. The [Bruins management] did a great job of bouncing back and getting a great player [in Jagr],” said Marchand. “He’s one of the best players to ever play the game and he’s really helped our team so far since he’s been here.”

In fact Jagr might be a better fit than Iginla would have been had the trade been consummated between Boston and Calgary. Iginla has a modest six points (2 goals, 4 assists) and a plus-2 in eight games since getting traded to the Penguins while Jagr has been a point-per-game player with seven points (1 goal, 7 assists) along with a plus-3 rating in seven games.

Jagr has excelled at slowing things down and taking some risks in the offense zone to make plays that other Bruins players simply wouldn’t attempt, and his on-ice vision is something that not many B’s players can actually claim that they possess. The mighty mulleted one brings a truly unique set of skills given his strength on the puck and elite abilities, and a knack of helping finish offensive plays for a Boston team that can use that help any chance they get.

He certainly thinks so, anyway.

“I don’t know what really happened about Iginla going to Boston. I didn’t even think that I was going to be traded,” said Jagr. “So when that happened it was out of my control. That stuff is more for you guys and the fans.

“There is no way you can play easy before the playoffs and think you’re going to start [snaps his fingers] and play like that in the playoffs. It’s a huge advantage for the teams in the No. 7 and No. 8 spot because they’ve had to have that battling going into the playoffs.

Jagr is that rare European sports car that can still hit top racing speed despite advanced age and plenty of tread already taken off the tire. Iginla is a great player coming off a 30-goal season last year, but the 36-year-old is also more of a plodding pickup truck that’s slowing down with speed.

The Black and Gold have plenty of pickup trucks: Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton already fit in that category and Bruins Zdeno Chara is certainly in that class of hockey player as well. The Bruins have their big, strong skaters that will frustrate – and eventually dominate – you with their size and strength combination.

Iginla would have fit right in with the Bruins, of course, and he might have even scored a couple of goals for the Bruins over the next couple of weeks leading into the playoffs. But there isn’t a single player in the Bruins dressing room that would say they’d take Iginla over Jagr in Boston.

Jagr might not be as fast as he once was, and he certainly talks more about being tired these days than he ever did as a wunderkind performer in the glory days of year’s past.

But Jagr knows his play is about being engaged and taking risks, and that’s important even if he's already enjoyed some energetic performances for the Black and Gold.