In a past hockey life, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was a dependable stay-at-home defensemen for four seasons at Harvard, a player whose skill-set and approach probably would have appealed to Claude Julien‘s sensibilities.
Tuesday, the old defenseman proved he still has one of the most necessary attributes of the position: the ability to recover and make the right play when it appears you’ve been beaten.
Chiarelli acquired legendary and still-productive 41-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr from the Dallas Stars for fringe prospects Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne and a conditional second-round draft pick that could become a first if the Bruins reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s a brilliant trade, the perfect response to the one that got away.
The frustration among Bruins fans was still palpable six days after aging Flames power forward Jarome Iginla derailed an all-but-done deal by choosing Pittsburgh (or more accurately, the chance to play with Sidney Crosby) over Boston.
Iginla seemed like the perfect fit, a prototypical Bruin in style even though he never has played (or probably ever will play) for the franchise. Acquiring him was a longstanding hockey daydream that vanished right when it seemed to be on the verge of coming true.
That the deal collapsed after most of us went to bed believing it was complete was beyond frustrating, particularly since Iginla willingly joined forces with a conference rival. But as consolation prizes go, it’s hard to imagine it gets much better than acquiring a player with 679 goals and 1,000 career assists, especially when the price was much less than it would have cost for Iginla.
Plus, given that Jagr was a Penguin during his electric prime, it’s instantly easy to anticipate the intrigue of a Boston/Pittsburgh Jagr/Iginla showdown in the postseason.
Of course, unless you ignore hockey to the degree that, oh, ESPN does, you know Jagr is no longer the awesomely/ridiculously maned force of nature who racked up five seasons of 42-plus goals for Pittsburgh while often riding shotgun with Mario Lemieux more than a decade ago. He’s not the same. Heck, the NHL is not the same.
But it’s always cool when the team you follow acquires a genuine legend of the sport. It’s even cooler when the legend can still play at a high level (sorry, circa 2000-01 Paul Coffey). Sure, Jagr has been around so long that many of his peers are long since out of sight and out of mind — for instance, he was the Penguins’ top pick in 1990, the year the Bruins used their No. 1 on Bryan Smolinski. Jagr’s rookie season was then-teammate and future Bruins Stanley Cup winner Mark Recchi‘s second full year. His teammates that season included Bryan Trottier, Tom Barrasso, Ron Francis, Joe Mullen, and Barry Pederson.
But Jagr can still play, and play very well. He has 26 points, more than Tyler Seguin, and his 14 goals are as many as Bruins leader Brad Marchand. Not to mention five more than Iginla’s season tally so far.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Jagr is as committed and disciplined defensively as Julien demands, but perhaps it will be beneficial to have a player who doesn’t fit their prototype.
He may make the Bruins less predictable on instinct alone, and there is zero doubt that he will be an asset in at least one essential way. Jagr should provide a significant boost to the Bruins’ feeble power play, which ranks 24th in the NHL at a 15.2 conversion rate and has been particularly abysmal on the Garden ice. Jagr alone has six power-play goals this season. The entire current Bruins roster has 14 — total.
Perhaps there will be some ancillary benefits of bringing him aboard. As much as I’m an apologist for Nathan Horton, I’d love to see Jagr skating alongside David Krejci on the first line. There was a lot of talk when it looked like Iginla would be delivered to Boston that many of the players in the Bruins locker room were eager to play with someone many grew up idolizing. Maybe this has the same effect.
At the very least, he’ll be a skilled, savvy, important piece on a team that relies on its depth more than most.
And the truth is that the Bruins, ailing and too often sluggish lately, needed something. A couple of somethings, really, if they’re going to make a legitimate run at their second Cup in three years. Maybe the trade deadline delivers a playmaking defenseman such as Mark Streit or the expensive Brian Campbell.
But acquiring Jagr is an excellent start. Not to mention a rather impressive recovery.