Iginla has been better than advertised for Bruins

Iginla has been better than advertised for Bruins
March 29, 2014, 9:15 pm
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Jarome Iginla celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals.

(AP Photo)

WASHINGTON, DC – Patrice Bergeron is the longest tenured member of the Boston Bruins, and knows what it means to be a “True Bruin.”

It takes a player willing to consistently empty the tank every single night, a player that’s unafraid to get in the middle of things when the physical danger level escalates on the ice and somebody that pays attention to detail on a team where the little things matter. Bergeron knows when a player that joins the Bruins truly belongs in Boston, and let’s just say that Jarome Iginla has certainly reached that status in his first season in Black and Gold.

“He’s been exactly what we needed,” said Patrice Bergeron. “The style that we preach, he does. He’s been a great addition for us. He’s been doing that his whole career, and that consistency is hard to do. He’s been doing it all along. He works hard, he’s a terrific teammate and an even better player.”

Iginla added to his season list of accomplishments and white hot March with another two-goal game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center, and hit the 30 goal plateau for the 12th time in his career. Iginla opened the scoring in the second period with a key goal that gave Boston the upper hand after they’d dominated to that point in the game, and scored on his own rebound to make it 3-0 for the Bruins in a flashy six minute display of explosive offense.

The goals also pulled Iginla into a tie with Montreal legend Guy Lafleur for 24th all-time on the NHL goal scoring list with 560 career goals, and counting. The only time Iginla hasn’t reached 30 goals in the last 13 years was last season during the lockout-shortened campaign, but otherwise he’s been one of the most consistent scorers over the last 15 years.

“I feel fortunate. I’ve been able to play with some great passers and players during my career, and it’s been like that this year with Krejci and Lucic,” said Iginla. “I’ve been getting some good bounces lately, but it’s been a fun year. To win games, to be at the top of the league and to be on some streaks with this group has been very fun.”

In fact, here are the NHL players with the most goals over the last four seasons: Steve Stamkos 155, Alex Ovechkin 150, Corey Perry 139, Phil Kessel 125 and Jarome Iginla 119. There were whispers out of Calgary last season that Iginla’s skating had slowed down, and his hands weren’t quite what they used to be as he crossed over a 35 years old age where hockey players begin to decline.

Those whispers were still there when Iginla disappeared for the Pittsburgh Penguins playing his “off” wing on the third line against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. But Iginla seems to have magically rediscovered his goal-scoring prowess and elite talent skating with a North/South Bruins team that employs his style of hockey blending punishing physicality with God-given skill.

“When you look at the start he had, nobody would have predicted [30 goals], but he’s a pretty streaky goal scorer, and in the second half he’s usually pretty good,” said Claude Julien. “He’s been providing that goal-scoring for us for a while now.

“Even when he didn’t score at the beginning of the year, he didn’t panic and he came to the rink with a smile on his face every day. He was just happy to be a part of the group. There was no stress, and he just kept working. Even when he wasn’t scoring, you’d see hi throwing his weight around or dropping the gloves. He was always doing something to help the team out. Now that his goal-scoring has picked up, it’s been our best.”

It helps that Iginla is playing with talented linemates like David Krejci and Milan Lucic, but Iginla has also taken it to a different level over the last month. The 36-year-old has scored 13 goals in 15 games during the month of March, and has four 2-goal games in his last eight games played. He’s beating goalies with a top shelf sniper shots like his first goal on Saturday afternoon to the high blocker side of Braden Holtby, and he’s cleaning up with rebound goals in the dirty areas like his second goal of the game.

They’re all adding up to the kind of offense that the Bruins don’t get all that often. Iginla is only the second 30 goal scorer for the Bruins since Phil Kessel bolted from Boston following the 2008-09 NHL season, and he’s the first free agent signing to ever cross the 30-goal plateau for the Black and Gold.

Clearly Iginla has been the perfect replacement for Nathan Horton on the top line right wing, and just reinforces the efforts Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made to try and secure his rights at the trade deadline last season. Watching him perform at an elite level with the Bruins this season makes one wonder if Boston would be the defending Stanley Cup champions had it been Iginla instead of Jaromir Jagr on last year’s club.

But that is neither here, nor there.

What matters now is Iginla’s ability to maintain his high level of performance for the Bruins during their upcoming playoff run, and the chances of him returning for next season and beyond in Boston. His own teammates and coaches point to him as a “perfect fit” for the Bruins, and the numbers don’t lie.

So how much has Iginla thought about his future with the Black and Gold after his one-year contract runs out in Boston?

“I love it here. Honestly the season is going so fast, and we’re just trying to keep going as a group and keep getting better,” said Iginla. “I’ve said it a lot, but it’s been a lot of fun this year. I’ve been getting great opportunities, I’ve had fun winning, and it’s a great group of guys.

“I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m just hoping that winning on the ice, and winning as a group, takes care of all that stuff. The focus isn’t really there [on what will happen this summer], but I’ve been really fortunate to get a second opportunity here. It’s gone as good as I could have hoped for, and even better from everything I’ve experienced in the city all the way to my kids’ minor hockey. It’s been fun. The more success you have as a team gives you more chances to stay together as a team.”

One thing is pretty certain: the Bruins would love to have him back, but it’s going to have to be under terms that make sense for the organization. Given their salary cap situation moving forward and the younger players also in line for new deals, Iginla probably wouldn’t be getting much beyond his current deal with the Bruins despite his sterling season.

Iginla reached a key number in his bonus money by scoring his 30th goal on Saturday, so now he’s in line to reach bonuses of $250,000 each if the Bruins first win the conference finals, and then hoist the Cup in June. Those two team goals would maximize Iginla’s bonus-laden contract and pay him the full $6 million he originally signed for last July. It would also push the $4.2 million portion of his bonus awards onto Boston’s 2014-15 salary cap allotment: the arrangement that allowed the Bruins to afford him this season in the first place.

That would leave both sides extremely happy with the arrangement, and also paves the path for the way Iginla’s next contract as well. Given their cap situation, the Bruins would need the future Hall of Famer to agree to the same type of incentive-based contract on a one-year deal paying him roughly $6 million if all the bonuses come in.

Another NHL team could easily come in and guarantee Iginla, who will turn 37 years old over the summer, a two of three year deal at $5-6 million per season that would guarantee him more than the Bruins ever could. Essentially the ball will be in Iginla’s court: he can take less guaranteed money to be in the perfect team situation in Boston where he would compete for a Cup every year, or he could land that one last big contract as a brilliant career moves into its final act.

Perhaps some of the choice will depend on how things turn out for the prolific right winger and the Bruins during this spring’s Stanley Cup run, with the prospects looking extremely bright to this point for the Black and Gold. But perfect fits don’t seem to come along all that often in the NHL world.

Both Iginla and the Bruins have that in Boston, and it only makes too much sense to keep it going.