Bruins

Kalman: If Iginla In Decline, Cap-Friendly Deal Is No Bargain

Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
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The Pittsburgh Penguins' Jarome Iginla fights for the puck with the Bruins Nathan Horton, left, and Zdeno Chara during the 2013 NHL playoffs. (Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jarome Iginla fights for the puck with the Bruins Nathan Horton, left, and Zdeno Chara during the 2013 NHL playoffs. (Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins fans might’ve thought their lasting image of Jarome Iginla would always be his last fruitless attempt to score against Boston and prevent the Pittsburgh Penguins from getting swept as time expired in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Now there should be a full season of Iginla-in-Boston memories after he signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal to wear a different type of black and gold in 2013-14.

Whether those memories will be celebratory or disheartening will be determined by how Iginla performs for the Bruins. And regardless of Iginla’s production in the regular season, we won’t know which column to file Iginla’s Bruins season under until we see how his 36-year-old body holds up to the rigors of a playoff season after an 82-game schedule, regardless of the length of said postseason run.

If the 2013 playoffs were any indication, the Bruins aren’t getting the Iginla that once led the Calgary Flames to the Cup final or an equal replacement for the departed Nathan Horton. Prior to going point-less in four games against the Bruins, Iginla scored two goals (both in the same game) in a five-game series with the Ottawa Senators. His postseason followed on the heels of a 44-game regular season. He looked slow and unable to be a catalyst in those games against the Bruins, and finished up on Pittsburgh’s third line rather than skating with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby like he’d hoped when he okayed a trade to the Penguins. It remains to be seen whether he has enough gas in his tank to still play at a Hall-of-Fame level.

Read: More from Matt Kalman on CBSBoston.com

And, unfortunately for the Bruins, they’re going to need Iginla at his absolute best. Unlike at the trade deadline, when they hoped to add Iginla to a lineup that also included Horton and the since-traded Tyler Seguin, the Bruins are now asking Iginla to replace those scorers. When asked whether he’s thought about a different role with the Bruins now as opposed to joining them in April, Iginla said he hadn’t thought much about it. Well, the difference is that back then he might’ve even ended up on the Bruins’ third line. Now it’s top six or bust for Iginla, who cannot be as invisible as he was in the conference finals when the puck drops on 2013.

As far as veteran experience and proven goal-scoring and two-way play, the Bruins should be better with the switch to Iginla and Loui Eriksson from Horton and Seguin. However, they’re also slower and older. Eriksson has yet to play in a pressure situation in his NHL career, and he’s no one’s idea of a Bruins-type physical player.

When you combine the changes up front (including the trade of Rich Peverley) with the drop off on the back end after Andrew Ference left, and the switch from Anton Khudobin to the untested Chad Johnson as Tuukka Rask’s backup goaltender, it’s difficult to see that the Bruins are better than the team that came two wins shy of the Stanley Cup last month.

A lot of the Bruins’ fate rests on Iginla’s aging shoulders. It was great of him to take a deal that will only pay him $1.8 million guaranteed and force him to earn the rest in $4.2 million of incentives. Of course, if he’s not worthy of the full $6 million by the end of the year, he’s not exactly a bargain. And the Bruins won’t match last season’s success.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

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