Remembering Jarome Iginla's complicated Bruins legacy as he heads to Hall of Fame

Scott McLaughlin
June 24, 2020 - 6:22 pm
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Jarome Iginla was one of four NHL players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame Wednesday afternoon, and it's impossible to argue he doesn't deserve it.

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Across 20 stellar seasons, Iginla racked up 625 goals and 1,300 points, good for 16th and 34th all time, respectively. He led the league in goals twice and scored 30 or more goals in 12 straight full seasons from 2000-14 (spanning a full lockout season and a shortened lockout season along the way).

For most of his career, there wasn't much of a connection between Iginla and the Bruins. From 1996-2013, he played out in Calgary and faced the Bruins once or twice a season and that was about it.

But when the two finally crossed paths, boy was it quite a rollercoaster. As the 2013 trade deadline approached, the Bruins were battling the Canadiens for the division lead and looking for forward help.

The Flames were well on their way to missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season and nowhere close to building a contender. If the then-35-year-old Iginla was going to win his first Stanley Cup, it was going to have to be elsewhere. To the trading block he went.

The Bruins made their offer and, by all accounts, made a deal. Flames general manager Jay Feaster reportedly told Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli that his offer of Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski and a first-round pick had won the Iginla sweepstakes.

A few hours later, Iginla was a Penguin instead. What the heck happened? Well, Iginla had a full no-trade clause and had rejected the move to Boston in order to go to Pittsburgh instead. It was understandable -- the Penguins were running away with the No. 1 seed in the East and looked like his best chance to win a Cup -- but it was a bitter pill for the Bruins to swallow.

A few days later the Bruins landed another veteran legend, Jaromir Jagr, instead. As fate would have it, Boston and Pittsburgh would end up meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals, with those two front and center among the series storylines. It wound up not being much of a series, as the Bruins swept Iginla and the Penguins, with Iginla not registering a single point in four games.

The Bruins went on to lose to the Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, and Jagr and fellow right wing Tyler Seguin were among the Bruins who came under the most criticism. They had combined for just one goal all postseason, and none in the Cup Final.

That offseason, the right side of the Bruins' forward group got a total makeover. Jagr left in free agency, first-line right wing Nathan Horton left in free agency, and Seguin got traded to the Stars. Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, both acquired in the Seguin trade, would be part of the solution, but the Bruins were looking for a bigger name (and bigger body) to go along with them.

Enter Iginla... again... and for real this time. Putting any hard feelings behind them, the Bruins and the free agent Iginla agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal.

It proved to be a great marriage for the 2013-14 season. Iginla, already well regarded as a great leader and all-around good guy, was just that, quickly winning over teammates and fans whom he had spurned just a few months earlier.

Playing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, Iginla tied Patrice Bergeron for the team lead in goals with 30 and the Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the best regular-season record. Iginla also led the team in goals in the postseason, but the Bruins got upset by the Canadiens in seven games in the second round.

After the season the Bruins found themselves locked in cap jail, thanks in no small part to the way Iginla's contract had been constructed. A salary cap quirk for over-35 veterans allowed Chiarelli and the Bruins to have just $1.8 million of Iginla's deal count against their 2013-14 cap, with the remaining $4.2 million registering as bonuses that would count against the following season's cap if met.

Not only did Iginla hit those bonuses, but he also left in free agency for Colorado, meaning the Bruins were stuck with $4.2 million against the cap for Iginla even though he was no longer on the team. That, combined with several other bad contracts handed out by Chiarelli, limited what the Bruins could do in 2014-15, and they wound up missing the playoffs.

Chiarelli was fired, the Bruins missed the playoffs again in 2016, coach Claude Julien was fired during the following season, and then the Bruins finally started to turn things around under Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy and build their way back to Cup contender status.

In just a couple years, Iginla offered Bruins fans several ways to remember him, but it's that what-if of the 2013 trade deadline that looms over both the B's and Iginla. What if Iginla had said yes to the Bruins the first time?

If he had fit in the way he wound up fitting in the following season, that would've been a significant upgrade over Jagr. Would it have been enough to land the Bruins their second Cup in three years, and land Iginla that ever-elusive Cup he'd ultimately retire without?

In the remarkable book that is Iginla's Hall of Fame career, the Boston chapter is a relatively short one. But what an interesting one it was.

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