PHILADELPHIA — All would be well and good for the Bruins if Jarome Iginla returns in 2014-15.
The No. 1 right wing is the piece that sets the Bruins right. He clicks on the first line. Iginla and Milan Lucic assume the dark-alley duties of hitting and grinding and intimidating while David Krejci works his stuff in the middle. Iginla allows Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson to play second- and third-line roles, causing matchup issues for opponents without the Bruins’ depth.
There is no debate from either side about Iginla’s place in Boston. He wants to come back. The Bruins want him to return.
Numbers — the $69 million salary cap for 2014-15, the Bruins’ overage penalty, and the multiyear term Iginla would command on the open market — might say otherwise.
“Jarome wants to stay. We’re trying to find a spot for him,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “But we’re both big boys. If we can’t, we can’t. Certainly we’re both trying to work at it.”
On Thursday night, Chiarelli met with Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent. The result: Iginla will speak with other teams during the interview period, which closes on Monday, one day prior to the opening of free agency, which coincides with Iginla’s 37th birthday.
It’s likely that Iginla will find a suitor more willing to give him better security, in years and dollars, than the Bruins can offer. The question, however, is whether Iginla would be in better position to chase his first Stanley Cup in a destination other than Boston.
The Black-and-Gold bosses remain confident in their group. Tuukka Rask (Vezina) and Patrice Bergeron (Selke) won awards in Las Vegas for being the best at their job descriptions. Zdeno Chara, runner-up to Duncan Keith for the Norris, is still within his window of dominance. There are many GMs who’d like to swap rosters with Chiarelli, especially if Iginla comes back.
“In a broad sense, I feel good,” Chiarelli said. “With Jarome or that type of player, it would obviously be better. We’ve got some players that are going to come up and bubble up. I always like that energy and enthusiasm these guys bring. I feel good. Our younger guys are getting better.”
The hangup is more about term than dough. The ideal scenario would be for Iginla to sign a one-year extension. The Bruins could stack Iginla’s contract with bonuses, keeping the cap number low, because he is a 35-or-older player.
It would be tougher for the Bruins to go beyond one year. The NHL does not allow 35-or-older players to earn bonuses on multiyear contracts. The Bruins would have to ship out salary to make it work.
The most likely candidate would be Johnny Boychuk, who has one year remaining on his deal at $3,366,667. Teams are always hunting for physical, experienced, right-shot defensemen. Chris Kelly (two years left at $3 million annually) would be another possibility.
Even if Iginla accepts a one-year extension, the Bruins might have to dump a contract via trade. Any swap that subtracts a core player is not one that Chiarelli would enjoy making.
“I wouldn’t call them painful,” Chiarelli said of such transactions. “But there’s players you don’t like trading. Maybe there’s some pain involved in that.”
There are few secrets in the NHL. Every GM knows Chiarelli would have to unload a contract or two to accommodate Iginla in either scenario. The Bruins still have to save cash to re-sign Torey Krug and Smith, their two most important restricted free agents.
Also due for raises: Matt Bartkowski, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser, David Warsofsky, and Zach Trotman, who could all be in the mix for permanent or temporary varsity status in 2014-15.
The Bruins currently have approximately $58 million dedicated to 17 players (two goalies, six defensemen, nine forwards) projected to make next year’s team. They will carry an overage penalty of roughly $4.5 million, which puts their upper limit around $64.5 million. This leaves them counting every penny under the ceiling.
As such, Chiarelli’s rivals are seeking a score. They are proposing to send the Bruins flotsam and jetsam as gifts for acquiring good players and their contracts. Chiarelli is not eager to have his pocket plundered.
“When they see all this talk about Iginla, it’s like, ‘Yeah, Chiarelli’s going to have to move something,’ ” the GM acknowledged with a smile. “There’s a lot of them. They want to help out. I’d be doing the same thing if it was going the other way.”
If Iginla walks, the Bruins would most likely look internally because of their cap situation. Eriksson and Smith would be under consideration for promotion. The Bruins would need two right wings to replace Iginla and Shawn Thornton. Both are right shots. The Bruins have more lefties (Fraser, Florek, Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Lindblad) than righties (Craig Cunningham, Seth Griffith) who are pushing from Providence.
“We’ve got good alternatives,” Chiarelli said. “I’d like to have Iggy. I’d like to have a right shot. Iggy’s right shot is good. We’ve got two lefties right now. You see how [Iginla] plays. He plays a Bruins style of game.”
That style might have to be played elsewhere.