It was only a year ago today that Jarome Iginla scored his penultimate goal for the Calgary Flames, the team he’d toiled for since 1996 without the benefit of parading the ice with the Stanley Cup hoisted over his head.
Three days later, the winger would score his final goal in a Flames uniform during a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. On March 28, the Bruins made a deal for Iginla, trading Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a first-round pick to Calgary. You know what happened next.
Iginla wanted to play with whom he deemed “the big boys.”
The image of a bloodshot Peter Chiarelli at the next day’s press conference in the wake of the deal that wasn’t will remain among the few low points of the Bruins general manager’s legacy. Because Iginla had a say about where he was headed, he chose the Pittsburgh Penguins instead, even if the deal (Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and a first-round pick) wasn’t as beneficial for Calgary as the Bruins’ offer.
In one fleeting evening, Flames general manager Jay Feaster proved himself an incompetent star-crossed pushover. Yup, he was fired eight-plus months later as Calgary got off to an 11-15-4 start.
Of course, Iginla meant about as much to the Penguins’ playoff run as a knife does to chicken broth. While he scored five goals down the stretch for his new team, he was mostly considered a disappointment in the playoffs, with 12 points over 15 games. Mind you, only Evgeni Malkin (16), Kris Letang (16), and Sidney Crosby (15) had more on the Pittsburgh roster. Iginla netted four playoff goals for the Penguins, but his resume was etched once he went without a point against the Bruins, the team he didn’t want to play for, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Some might see that as a red flag when the streaking Bruins make their playoff run beginning next month. Meh.
If the trade of Tyler Seguin didn’t put you off guard last July, then the Bruins coming to terms with the player who didn’t want to be here only three months earlier truly gave you a WTF moment. Iginla has never really come out and said he mistake a mistake in choosing the Penguins last spring, but seeing first-hand how his new team was thoroughly handled in that playoff series, perhaps in some part because the Bruins felt slighted by “the player” (as Chiarelli classified him during that surreal press conference), had to give Iginla a sense of remorse. After all, on paper, Claude Julien’s Bruins may not be flashy, but when you watch them day in, day out, you truly get a sense of how dominant they truly are as a complete unit. Maybe Iginla’s eyes simply weren’t open to that reality until he experienced the product on ice.
A team-leading 25 goals later, the former target has become beloved in Boston. And yet, the debate remains open: If Iginla were on the Bruins last season, does that team have the snubbed fire in their belly to get past Pittsburgh? If Iginla were on the Bruins, would they have had more firepower than Chicago in the Stanley Cup final? Would they even be there?
This isn’t a simple 180 for Bruins fans, mind you. “The player” dissing Boston last spring came with a grand sense of retribution once the Bruins manhandled the favorite Penguins. But when it became known that Iginla’s agent was the one to contact Chiarelli last summer, it was almost an instant cleansing of sorts. The 36-year-old’s desire to play for the Bruins represented regret. Kudos to both Iginla and Chiarelli for not harboring any ill will. After all, where would the Bruins be without him?
Iginla’s team goes for its 11th straight win Friday night in Colorado against the Avalanche, the initial foray into the Bruins’ brutal end-of-the-month schedule, which also includes the Canadiens, Flyers, Blackhawks, and Capitals.
The nine teams the Bruins have played over their current streak carry an average of 76 points. The six teams they will face prior to April boast an average of 85 points this season. It’s not exactly a stretch that will prove if they’re for real or not (I think we can establish their mainstay power, no?), but with four of six on the road, it’s not like fans should expect the team to challenge the 13-game streak Boston enjoyed in 1971.
And with Iginla skating on the first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, should we really be worrying about a playoff drought? Especially considering he skated on the third line with Brandon Sutter last spring? Especially since he scored four goals and eight assists in the 11 games leading up to the series against Boston?
The 15 playoff games last season were the most Iginla had played in nine years. In 2004, he scored an NHL-high 13 goals in his best postseason to date.
Yet, no Cup.
When the playoffs begin on April 16 (as of today, the Bruins would face the New York Rangers, whom they’ve beaten three times in three meetings this season), Iginla will also have a full season of familiarity with his team, as will Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. He doesn’t exactly have the playoff resume, but it’s not like he has a Peyton Manning history of futility either.
We all make mistakes. Iginla had the humility and desire to admit to his. What that means in terms of reward is anyone’s guess.
Hopefully Chiarelli will invite Feaster to a few of the playoff games at the Garden. It’s the least he can do.