BOSTON (CBS) — Ladies and gentleman, your new Bruins leader in goals is Jarome Iginla.
It took the 36-year-old until the season’s sixth month to rise to the top of the charts, but he did it, just as everyone suspected he would.
Well, not exactly everyone expected to see Iginla knocking at the door of 25 or more goals when the power forward started out his life with the Bruins. Not this reporter. Remember back when Iginla scored just four goals in his first 24 games? Yeah, that’s when it was looking like his goal-less performance against the Bruins with the Pittsburgh Penguins last June was the start of a downward trend. Now that he’s scored 23 goals in 67 games, that playoff flop seems an obvious anomaly.
When you’ve scored more than 550 NHL goals, there’s more to your game than just a sweet pair of hands. Iginla’s work ethic never seems to relent, even at his advanced age and while playing just north of 18 minutes per game of ice time. And the results are in the goals-scored column on the stats sheet.
“I’ve been working on it. I’ve been working on it and I’ve gotten some great looks,” Iginla said after he scored twice Saturday in the Bruins’ 5-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Iginla also credited chemistry with his linemates, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and some fortunate bounces for his success. It has also helped that during the Bruins’ eight-game winning streak, and even in the weeks leading up to the Olympic break, the Bruins have been attacked teams with four lines that both produce offense and wear down opponents with tireless forechecking.
Although Iginla’s early production didn’t hint at what he was capable of at the outset of 2013-14, the type of player he’s returned to being was exactly what general manager Peter Chiarelli set out to acquire last season in the weeks before the trade deadline and eventually imported via unrestricted free agency. Iginla had to know too that he would be such a great fit in Boston. I’m not going to nominate him for sainthood because he took a deal with a $1.8 million base cap hit that can be worth up to $6 million with incentives. But as we all observed at the time, Iginla and his agent’s willingness to work within the Bruins’ cap structure signaled their desire to make sure Iginla played with the Bruins and nowhere else this season.
As it’s turned out, even if Iginla hits all his bonuses and bring home $6 million this season (which will take up some of the Bruins’ extra cap space in 2014-15), he was still one of the best signings of last summer by any team. Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Briere were two of the veterans that could’ve landed in Boston before the opening of free agency. The Flyers are now married to Lecavalier (15-12-27 totals in 53 games) for four more years at a $4.5 million cap hit. Briere is costing Montreal a $4 million cap hit for this and next season, and he’s produced just 12 goals and 22 points in 55 games.
Everyone knows that before revisiting a partnership with Iginla, Chiarelli chased his old Ottawa Senators employee Daniel Alfredsson. The Swedish star landed in Detroit on a one-year, $5.5 million deal. While going through some injury problems, Alfredsson’s been fairly productive with 14-23-37 totals in 54 games. Nonetheless, his base cap hit before bonuses is $3.5 million, double that of Iginla. That could’ve hampered some of the other moves the Bruins made in building their roster prior to the season.
With the way Iginla has played, no one is regretting that the Bruins didn’t land Michael Ribeiro (four years, $5.5 million per with Phoenix), David Clarkson (seven years, $5.2 million per with Toronto) or Valtteri Filppula (five years, $5 million per with Tampa Bay). Nathan Horton wasn’t coming back, so you can’t weigh his deal against Iginla’s. And maybe the absolute best signing of last summer, New Jersey’s $4 million deal with Jaromir Jagr, also doesn’t enter the conversation because Jagr proved that he wasn’t a fit here in 2013 during his 33-game, two-goal stint on Causeway Street.
In terms of production and fit, Iginla was at least one of the three best unrestricted free agent signings of 2013. And one could argue he was one of the better bargains, especially because Iginla still has 15 games plus playoffs to add to his Hall-of-Fame resume. With the way he’s produced, Iginla’s price won’t be so cap-friendly this summer, but as he raises his price the Bruins’ chances of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston increases in turn. And that’s exactly what both the player and the team hoped would happen.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.