By noon Tuesday when NHL free agency began — the divorce between the Bruins and Jarome Iginla was inevitable.
It was an amicable split, with Iginla texting Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, but a divorce nonetheless.
Iginla could make too much money in free agency, eventually inking a three-year, $16 million deal with Colorado, for a return to Boston to make sense. The Bruins simply didn’t have the cap space or flexibility to offer Iginla much beyond a one-year, incentive-laden deal with no security for a player who turned 37 Tuesday and was looking for one last big contract.
“It was tough from the perspective of losing a player like that who can shoot, a right-hand shot, who is obviously a very experienced and a very good player, a Hall of Fame player,” said Chiarelli, who last spoke with Iginla’s agent, Don Meehan, late Monday night. “But the year before we had a Hall of Fame player in [Jaromir] Jagr, a few years before we had a Hall of Fame player in [Mark] Recchi [and], we usually manage to rebound.”
The sides had been trying to work out a deal since the Bruins lost to the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, but ultimately couldn’t get it done, even as Chiarelli explored trade options to try to free cap space to sign Iginla.
“At the end of the day, I really wanted to try and keep most of this group together and I wouldn’t have been able to do that to sign Jarome,” Chiarelli said. “Those are hard decisions that sometimes you have when you are cap challenged, but I kind of like where we are.
“We’ve got players signed. You see what the prices were today. We’ll find someone to fill that role, whether it’s someone from within or maybe through a trade.
“I felt that there were moves I could have made that at the end I didn’t want to make. I thought it was for the betterment of the organization, of the team, not to do it.’’
Iginla, the former longtime Flames captain and Penguins playoff rental, knew the team’s cap issues made it almost impossible for him to return beyond 2014-15, even though he would have liked to have made it work.
So he took the money and headed to Colorado, still in search of that elusive Stanley Cup.
The Bruins have less than $6 million left under the current salary cap, with some of that money earmarked to re-sign entry-level free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, and beyond this season to sign David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk, and Dougie Hamilton, all of whom are up after 2014-15, as is Carl Soderberg. Milan Lucic is up after the following season.
“Bigger picture, it was OK that it happened,” Chiarelli said. “From the perspective of losing him, a good goal scorer, it wasn’t fun, but you move on.”
That means the Bruins will have multiple voids at right wing — just as they did heading into last season — having lost Iginla and Shawn Thornton. Barring a trade, left-shot Loui Eriksson appears best positioned to move up to play on the top line with Lucic and Krejci, with Chiarelli calling him “very compatible with Krech.”
“I’m really comfortable with that,” Chiarelli said. “It’s a different look, but he’s a very smart player. He’s a great two-way player. He plays a very smart game. I saw him play with the Sedins. He can play at that level. He can play on the matchup. But, having said that, he can move down the lineup, he’s comfortable with it.
“So the options are there. It would be nice to get a right-shot, that would be a priority at some point, but I have no problem with Loui playing in that top line. I’ve talked to Krech about it and he welcomes it.”
Daniel Paille, too, is a candidate to move up from his fourth-line spot, with Matt Fraser also an option, as well as one of the centers (Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev) potentially moving to the wing. As of now, the GM said there are likely four or five players vying for two spots with the NHL club.
“That doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped looking to try and improve our team, to try to find a right winger,” he said. “We’ve got extra D, we’ve got D that teams covet. This is Day 1 of maybe 30 or 40 that you try to improve your team.”
Chiarelli said the team has been looking at a couple of trades, though he didn’t know when or if they would happen. That could include finding that missing right-shot, which Chiarelli sees as most important on the power play.
“We’ll keep pecking away at them,” he said.
One place where the Bruins do not seem to be looking for an upgrade is on defense, where Chiarelli said the team is settled with nine NHL-caliber players, including David Warsofsky, who is “as close to an NHL player as you’re going to get from Providence.”
Ultimately, on a day that was rife with big-money contracts, the Bruins gave out only one, a one-year, two-way deal to former Flames defenseman Christopher Breen, 25. The contract is worth $600,000 at the NHL level and $175,000 at the AHL level.
The Bruins, too, saw two other players officially sever their ties to the organization, though both were expected. Thornton signed with the Panthers on a two-year, $2.4 million deal, where he will likely finish out his career, and former backup goalie Chad Johnson inked a two-year, $2.6 million contract with the Islanders.