On Thursday night, Peter Chiarelli received an unexpected call. Don Meehan, Jarome Iginla’s agent, was on the line. Meehan delivered some surprising news. His client wanted to play for the Bruins.
“I raised my eyebrows,” recalled the Bruins general manager, “and I said, ‘Really?’ I was excited.”
On March 27, Iginla had said no to the Bruins, and instead was traded to Pittsburgh.
Less than four months later, Iginla had a different idea. The Bruins were happy to accommodate his change of mind.
On Friday night, Iginla signed a one-year deal that could total $6 million. Iginla’s base salary will be $1.8 million, and he could earn $4.2 million in performance bonuses, most of them attainable.
“I wasn’t sure how it would be received,” Iginla, during a Saturday news conference with Chiarelli, said of his desire to play for the Bruins. “Peter and the organization were great. I’m thrilled they gave me another opportunity.”
The Bruins were recruiting Daniel Alfredsson at the time of Meehan’s call. Once Alfredsson informed Chiarelli he preferred Detroit, the Bruins trained their sights on Iginla.
The 36-year-old Iginla should be the first-line replacement for Nathan Horton, who scored a seven-year, $37.1 million payday with Columbus. Like Horton, Iginla is a gritty, right-shot right wing.
Iginla is eight years older than Horton. Iginla’s 0-to-60 time may be a tick off Horton’s straight-line speed, and Iginla will have to develop chemistry with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
But Iginla’s snarl, smarts, competitiveness, and wrist shot should make him the go-to shooter on the line. Iginla has scored 30-plus goals in 11 straight 82-game seasons. Last year, he scored 14 goals and 19 assists while splitting time between Calgary and Pittsburgh.
“Jarome is a Hall of Fame forward,” Chiarelli said. “We coveted him from before. Now we’re very fortunate to have him join our mix. Jarome, based on talking to him, is highly motivated and wants to win.”
Iginla will be a go-to presence in the dressing room after being the captain in Calgary.
“Leadership and experience is very important,” Chiarelli said. “It can help settle things down, and help run the pulse of the team with the coach. It’s very important when you’re building a Cup contender.”
In Pittsburgh, Iginla played left wing, and was not going to displace Pascal Dupuis or James Neal, Pittsburgh’s top two right wings. During the Eastern Conference finals, Iginla played mostly alongside Neal and Evgeni Malkin.
In Boston, Iginla will return to his natural position.
“I probably do feel more comfortable on the right side,” he said. “I didn’t think there’d be that much of a difference. There is a little bit of a difference in seeing the ice and how you’re receiving the puck.”
Iginla would have been a Bruin — Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a 2013 first-round pick were headed to Calgary — had he approved the trade in March. Instead, the Penguins sent Ben Hanowski, Kenny Agostino, and their 2013 first-rounder to the Flames.
At the time, Chiarelli fumed about losing Iginla. Chiarelli maintained, however, that he did not think less of Iginla because of his decision. Iginla had a no-trade clause.
“My opinion of him hasn’t changed as a person or player,” Chiarelli said. “I know he’s a terrific player. He plays the type of game we’re looking for. He plays a heavy game — heavy shot, heavy forecheck, a power forward-type of game.”
At the time of the trade, the Penguins had ticked off 13 straight wins. They already had acquired veterans Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. Malkin and Sidney Crosby are the NHL’s two best centers. Pittsburgh looked to be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, a prize Iginla has never won.
“They were on a real roll,” Iginla said. “At the time, leaving at the deadline, I believed it was a great chance to win. We did make the final four. It was a great experience, great organization. We would have liked to have gone further. But we ran into the Bruins.”
Iginla’s one-year deal could be a Boston audition. He wants to continue playing beyond 2013-14. Iginla said he still enjoys training near his summer home in Vernon, British Columbia. Offseason workout partners include ex-Bruins Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew.
“I still feel very good,” Iginla said. “Last year was an average year. I know as you get older, once you have one, people start thinking how much you have left in the tank. I still feel great. If you look over my career, I’ve had some average years. I think I’m going to bounce back. I don’t think it was a bad year. I think I got better.”
Because Iginla is working on a 35-and-older contract, the Bruins can apply his $4.2 million in incentives toward the bonus cushion. Teams can exceed the $64.3 million cap by 7.5 percent ($4,822,500) by using the bonus cushion.
Teams are penalized and must carry an overage the following season if they exceed the cushion. The Bruins carried a $1.13 million cap penalty in 2011-12. They exceed the 2010-11 cap by that number, mostly because of performance bonuses due to Mark Recchi.
. . .
The Bruins are close to extending the contracts of Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron, according to Chiarelli. To accommodate Rask’s expected cap hit, the Bruins will likely place Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve at the start of 2013-14. The Bruins can then exceed the cap by all or part of Savard’s $4,007,143 annual hit . . . The Bruins signed Chad Johnson to a one-year, $600,000 contract on Friday to replace Anton Khudobin, who signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with Carolina. Chiarelli said he wanted to save money by signing a cheaper backup goalie.