Haggerty: It comes down to a simple choice for Iginla

Haggerty: It comes down to a simple choice for Iginla
June 30, 2014, 11:45 am
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The people around Jarome Iginla have been clear that the soon-to-be 37-year-old wants to return to a Bruins team that was such a comfortable, positive fit for him last season. The player himself said nothing but great things in the days following Boston’s shocking second round loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He even raved about the quality of the youth hockey programs in Boston for his children, something that came as a pleasant surprise after bringing his family here.

A source close to Iginla told my CSNNE.com partner-in-crime Mike Giardi on Monday that his “1st, 2nd and 3rd” priority is still to re-sign with the Bruins.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has begun making alternative scenario plans in case Iginla doesn’t re-sign with the Bruins, but he’s also been crystal clear that he also feels that the 30-goal scorer wants to return to Boston.

“I’m not saying Jarome doesn’t want to come back [to Boston],” said Chiarelli. “He’s been very clear he wants to stay here, and he’s working with us. We’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to be patient with this because I really feel at one point there’s going to be a player that will fit, and wants to come here.

“This is not about what Iggy [Jarome Iginla] wants and what he should do, and what morally he should do. It’s nothing about that. This is about, ‘Can we find room to fit him in?’ That’s what it’s about.”

So if everybody wants it happen then there’s one logical question: what’s the holdup?

It’s pretty obvious at this point that Boston’s salary cap situation, which gives them roughly $5.7 million worth of cap space to sign at least six players including Iginla, is a major hindrance to the entire process. This will be a season-long variation on a theme for the Black and Gold after bonus money paid out to Iginla, Krug and Dougie Hamilton cost them almost $5 million in penalties on this season’s cap.

Chiarelli and the Bruins rolled the dice that their gamble with Iginla’s bonus-filled contract would pay Stanley Cup dividends last season, and that well-constructed plan came up a couple of rounds short.

Even if the Bruins want to sign Iginla to a one-year bonus-filled contract like the deal signed last season that paid him nearly $6 million, Chiarelli will have to move some salary to make it happen along with new contracts for Torey Krug, Reilly Smith and Matt Bartkowski among others.  

And let’s be honest about Iginla as we get into it.

He was streaky good during the regular season, very slow at the beginning and then scalding hot at the end to reach the team-leading 30 goals scored plateau along with Patrice Bergeron. He also led the Bruins with five goals scored during the two rounds of the playoffs, but was very inconsistent while hitting more pipes and crossbars than twine against the Montreal Canadiens.

It was one season, however, and Iginla showed enough in forging chemistry with David Krejci and Milan Lucic that he deserved another crack next season.

The Bruins have other alternatives if he signs with the Red Wings, or the Wild, or some other team that’s willing to show him the money. They could bump Loui Eriksson up to the top line and bank on the 30-goal offensive magic he showed skating with Jamie Benn and Brad Richards in Dallas, or sign an older winger like 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson to a cap-friendly one-year deal with bonuses just like Iginla’s deal last year.

There’s little doubt now that Iginla is getting to the free agent market on July 1, and a handful of teams will dangle two years and $10 million guaranteed, or three years and $15 million without any qualifiers to go along with it. The 30-goal season playing with a world class center like Krejci assured that would happen, and things can happen fast when NHL GM’s start speaking with their purse strings.

But that kind of contract simply won’t happen with the Bruins, and that’s where Iginla has to make a decision.

He suffered through some craptastic seasons with the Calgary Flames while being the good soldier captain, and he’s clearly earned the right to sign with whomever he wants. Nobody will begrudge him his CBA rights as a free agent, and making whatever priority judgments he wants to make about his next NHL employer.

It’s perfectly understandable that he wants a team to commit multiple years in term so his family can plant roots in a city, and he wants guarantees in case he suffers any serious injury as he enters his 15th NHL season. He’s scored 500-plus goals in the NHL and he’s been a national hero in Canada, and he deserves the treatment reserved for one of the best players of his generation.

But he won’t get either of those contracts in Boston unless something drastically changes.

What Iginla has to decide is what’s more important to him at this point in his borderline Hall of Fame career: a Stanley Cup as one of the final checked boxes in his impressive NHL body of work, or the money and security that could go along with a better contract. At a certain point in an aging player’s career it’s impossible to get both anymore, and those players have to choose between taking less to join a serious Cup contender, or cashing in on that final big deal.

Iginla likely won’t be in a better leverage standpoint to command a big, multi-year contract again in his NHL career. There’s no guarantee he’ll score 30 goals again next season, or continue to stave off Father Time as so many power forwards haven’t been able to do in their late thirties.

But Iginla insisting on two years and $10 million from the Bruins (or something in that ballpark) would be weakening the very team he’d be hoping to help push toward that elusive Stanley Cup. They’d be forced to deal a player or two off the roster to clear cap space, and there’s a fair chance it could be a player like Johnny Boychuk given the difficulty GMs are facing in unloading contracts.

That kind of roster subtraction isn’t going to make the Bruins a better team in the short run, and would certainly be a blow to their Cup chances next year.

They can thank the greedy player faction within the NHLPA for that with the $69 million cap ceiling that could have been higher if the majority of players had voted for the escalator they’ve always voted for in the past.

But that’s neither here nor there.

This is about Iginla. It’s a pretty simple choice at the end. Does he want his best chance to win a Cup and sign the one-year, bonus-laden deal with a Bruins team he helped turn into the President’s Cup winner, or is he looking for the bigger, better deal from somebody else on July 1?

Stay tuned because we should know the answer pretty quickly once NHL free agency opens on Tuesday afternoon, and here’s hoping it’s different from the choice that most professional athletes make in these situations.