RALEIGH, N.C. — Negotiations with Jarome Iginla have not begun. Iginla, an unrestricted free agent at year’s end, may not know his future with the Bruins until well into the season, or perhaps even toward its conclusion.
But Iginla’s performance through 20 games underscores that he may belong in Boston for more than one season.
Iginla has four goals and eight assists and is averaging 18:33 of ice time per game, second among team forwards after linemate David Krejci (19:11). Iginla’s north-south, shoot-first approach has made him a good replacement for Nathan Horton alongside Krejci and Milan Lucic.
“I like the style of play,” Iginla said. “I like the down-low puck possession, trying to get to the net, trying to get some dirty goals. I like the style. With the D’s, we’ve been fortunate. They get the puck up really well. You don’t spend a lot of time in your zone.”
The quality that’s pleased Iginla’s bosses is his consistency. Horton always ramped up his game in the playoffs, but he had too many valleys during the regular season. Horton’s coaches didn’t know which player would show up — the dynamic power forward or the passive right wing.
There’s been no such concern with Iginla. Iginla’s only shortcoming is his failure to translate his scoring chances — he has 56 shots, second only to Patrice Bergeron.
Iginla, who turns 37 July 1, is on a one-year contract and and there will be several factors in his return. First is whether the 2014-15 salary cap will rise from its current $64.3 million ceiling. Second is how much the Bruins will have to pay restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith (Krug will be due for a big-time raise). Third is how Iginla performs for the rest of the season.
Ideally, the Bruins would proceed with Iginla the way they did with Mark Recchi, who signed two straight one-year contracts with the Bruins until his retirement in 2011.
That may not be good enough for Iginla. The former Calgary captain would like to play four more years.
“I’ve always had a goal of playing and playing well until I was 40 years old,” Iginla said. “I’m 36, but once you get anywhere over 32 or 33, you always have to prove yourself and prove you can still play at a high level. I think I’ll do that. I really do. I still love the game. I’m having as much fun as ever. Games are still fun. I really enjoy playing here with the Bruins.”
Gerbe finds a home
On July 4, Nathan Gerbe received news he did not expect to hear from the club that drafted him in the fifth round of 2005. Despite the one season remaining on his three-year, $4.35 million contract, the Sabres did not want the former Boston College standout to return to Buffalo.
Gerbe was coming off a 42-game season in which he had five goals and five assists while averaging 12:30 of ice time per game.
“No. No idea,” Gerbe asked if he anticipated being bought out. “It’s one of those things that just came up. You get blindsided by it. But you learn from it, you move on, and you take what you can.”
Later that month, the unrestricted free agent signed a one-year, $550,000 deal with Carolina. So far, the move is agreeing with Gerbe.
Through 21 games, Gerbe (5-5—10, 18:04 minutes per game) had already matched his 2013 output. Gerbe is Carolina’s second-leading scorer behind captain Eric Staal. Most recently, Gerbe has been skating with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer. Gerbe is playing in all situations, including power play (2:46 per game) and penalty kill (1:13).
Gerbe’s former team is undertaking an overhaul. Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston, his former coaches, are gone. So is general manager Darcy Regier. Gerbe hopes for better things for his former teammates. But Gerbe doesn’t miss being part of a rebuild.
“When I look over the big picture, I’m happy I’m not there,” Gerbe said. “I enjoy it here. This is a great organization. All the guys and staff have treated me really well, better than I could imagine. So I’m happy.”
Shawn Thornton was a healthy scratch for the first time. Jordan Caron, inactive for the last eight games, replaced Thornton on the fourth line. One reason was Carolina’s lack of an enforcer. Tough guy Kevin Westgarth is injured.
“It’s been a while since he played,” coach Claude Julien said of Caron. “I think it was important to get him back in our lineup. Tonight, I don’t think there was a real big threat as far as having to rely on Thorny. There’s a good chance you’ll see Thorny in the lineup tomorrow. He’s been playing well also. It’s a back-to-back game. He just misses a day, not four or five. To me, it was an easy decision to make.”
Caron played 8:31 with two shots. In the third, he replaced Brad Marchand on the second line after the left wing turned over a puck in the defensive zone.