BOSTON -- One of the real unknowns for the Boston Bruins heading into the offseason is what will happen with 36-year-old impending free agent Jarome Iginla.
The right winger signed a one-year, bonus-laden deal with the Bruins and then went out and scored 30 goals during a solid first season skating on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Both players had their most consistent regular seasons with Iginla, a future Hall of Famer who consistently scores 30 goals each and every season. Iginla also scored a team-high five goals in the playoffs for the Bruins, though he was inconsistent in establishing a presence with his linemates despite being in the right place at the right time for a couple of the goals.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien and president Cam Neely have all voiced an interest in bringing Iginla back for a second season in Boston.
“I thought he started out a little slow . . . [but] he came on late and he came on strong," said Neely on Tuesday. "Obviously he’s a leader, he [was] the captain of another team [in Calgary] for a long time, and he came in and added an element to our group, especially the forward group. He ended up scoring 30 goals, which is not easy in this league anymore. We would like to try and see if we can figure something out moving forward with him. We will see where that goes, but I thought he fit in really well with our team.”
The rub with Iginla is that he’ll have to agree to another one-year deal with bonus incentives similar to the one that lured him to Boston in the first place. The bonus incentives allow the Bruins to push off the bonus penalty to the following season, and give them some wiggle room with the rest of their roster under the salary cap.
Iginla didn’t end up hitting his final $500,000 in bonus money because the Bruins fell short of the conference final and Cup final. So his final cap hit for 2013-14 was $5.5 million.
One would expect a similar deal for 2014-15 if Iginla wants to remain in Boston. His salary would have a lower base figure, but could end up in the $5 million range if he scores 30 goals and the Bruins venture deep into the playoffs. The CBA prohibits multiyear deals for over-35 players with bonus-heavy contracts, so Iginla won’t be signing any multiyear pacts with the Bruins.
If another team covets Iginla’s leadership and ability to hit the 30-goal mark, the Bruins couldn’t match an offer for a two- or three-year deal worth $5 million per season. That’s clearly something the winger could command if he wants to hit the open market. But on the day he cleaned out his locker at TD Garden, Iginla sounded like a player hoping to return to the Bruins.
“It’s been amazing . . . it’s been an amazing run," he said last week. "It’s a wonderful group of guys. We won the President’s Trophy, and it was the best regular season I’ve been a part of. You know, the group was already tight, but bringing us new guys in like myself, Loui Eriksson, [Reilly Smith], a lot of guys that they made feel part of it. It was a great regular season. Playoffs . . . we look at it, we know we can be better in certain areas.”
Part of the frustration with Iginla and the Bruins was the handful of posts and crossbars that the top-line right winger hit during the two playoff series against the Red Wings and Canadiens. Iginla could have had closer to 10 goals rather than the five he scored if his shots had gone one way or another by a fraction of an inch.
The Bruins also have to take a look at the top line right-wing spot with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and discuss whether a younger, faster option -- picture a Chris Kreider-type after the way he's been torching the Montreal defense with his speed -- might give a better look to an already heavy, powerful forward group. Or maybe trying a free-agent speed option like Marian Gaborik might make more sense for the Bruins given his skill set and the postseason he'll be coming off in Los Angeles, where he leads all playoff performers with nine goals scored this spring.
If Iginla does come back, the Bruins may have a different role in mind for him. Or they may want to give the KIL Line (Krejci, Iginla, Lucic) one more crack in the playoffs before making a final evaluation.
But whatever the case, it’s clear the Bruins want Iginla back in Boston next season and the ball is in the forward’s court as to whether he feels the same.