Now the Bruins wait.
At noon on Tuesday, the chats that Don Meehan, Jarome Iginla’s agent, has had with his client’s suitors will turn into hardcore negotiations. From those dealings, Iginla could receive a two- or three-year offer that is guaranteed to trump the one-year extension the Bruins prefer.
At that point, Iginla will have a decision. He will return to Boston on a one-year, bonus-heavy contract to chase the Stanley Cup that’s given him the slip since his NHL debut in 1996, or the right wing will elect the security of a multiyear contract — with a team less powerful than the Bruins, most likely — and join his fourth organization in just over 15 months.
This is business.
General manager Peter Chiarelli will understand if Iginla walks. The No. 1 right wing, who turns 37 on Tuesday, is coming off a 30-31—61 season. Within the market’s context, Iginla is a top option among his competition. Iginla scored more goals last year than Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Ales Hemsky, Jussi Jokinen, Mike Cammalleri, and Daniel Alfredsson, the other unrestricted, shoot-first wings.
Last year, Iginla made $3.7 million in bonuses by playing in 10 games. If he signed a similar deal with the Bruins and blew out his knee in Game No. 9 next year, his money, and perhaps his playing days, would be gone. He would have no such worries about salary on a standard multiyear contract elsewhere. This could be Iginla’s final pursuit of a big-bucks score.
The Bruins will have to be patient. They better get used to it.
The 2014-15 season opens in three months. The Bruins will have two tasks to fulfill by then: filling out their roster and slotting in under the $69 million upper limit.
Neither might be settled until then.
If Iginla leaves, the Bruins will not be in a good position to land his replacement immediately. After factoring in their overage penalty and Marc Savard’s long-term injury exception, the Bruins will have less than $6 million in cap space.
Most of that free cash will pay for the raises due to Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Neither is eligible for arbitration. Matt Bartkowski, Matt Fraser, and Justin Florek, the restricted free agents best positioned for varsity status next year, are also due for slight salary bumps.
“If we don’t get Jarome signed and fit into our salary structure, I’m not going to go out hard and try to find a replacement for two reasons: The annual cost and the term are going to be really expensive,” said Chiarelli. “So we may sit back a bit, wait until that market goes through, and maybe look to the secondary market. At the same time that market goes through, there may be a stronger trade market. We may look to that market.”
The raises will continue after 2014-15. David Krejci will reach unrestricted status after next season. Dougie Hamilton will be restricted. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, also UFAs after 2014-15, will help to frame Krejci’s market. The Bruins’ No. 1 center will not reach the top-flight megabucks that Toews and Kane will earn. But Krejci belongs to a tier of players under the Blackhawks’ stars.
Hamilton’s development curve looks excellent. The Bruins will have two options: lock up Hamilton to a long-term deal or a bridge contract. They don’t have any questions about Hamilton’s ceiling nor his character. The first route is more likely than the second.
Milan Lucic will be unrestricted after 2015-16.
“We have to save money for Krech and Dougie the following year,” Chiarelli said. “The guys we’re trying to sign — Torey, Reilly — these are good players. [We have to save some] for Looch the next year. I’ve got to be careful about adding a big piece.”
By being patient, Chiarelli is pursuing value. Once the big-time UFAs go — Hemsky would be a good fit, but the Bruins can’t afford his price — there could be lesser players looking for work. Assuming the Bruins designate Loui Eriksson for first-line duty, they’d pursue cheaper third- and fourth-line wings. A player such as Braintree’s Brian Gibbons would be an example of a younger, faster, and less expensive target.
One wild card is Alfredsson. The former Ottawa captain was the Bruins’ initial target last summer before he signed with Detroit and the Bruins landed Iginla. Alfredsson, 41, is deciding between playing and retiring.
If Alfredsson keeps his skates on, he’s told the Red Wings he’ll return only to them. But Alfredsson could change his mind. The Bruins could sign Alfredsson to a one-year, bonus-stuffed deal.
Or the Bruins could look to the trade market. They have assets on the NHL roster (Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille) and in Providence who would attract interest.
Or they could do nothing. Florek and Fraser contributed in the playoffs. The Bruins are satisfied with the development of Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev, Craig Cunningham, and Matt Lindblad. David Warsofsky will push for permanent NHL status.
The challenge with being patient, however, is that other teams will progress in drilling down their 2014-15 rosters. They’ll spend money. They’ll fill openings.
If Chiarelli inquires about trade help in September, for example, he’ll have fewer dance partners than he has now.
“If we don’t do anything, one, two, or even three of our young guys are going to find a spot. And they’re going to do well,” Chiarelli said. “I’m sometimes like, ‘You know what? Maybe we should just do that.’ Because our young forwards are starting to bubble up a little bit now. You don’t want to box them out. But if I can be patient and find the right fit there, then you can bring them on a little more slowly, whether they’re on a lower line or whether they’re in Providence. Eventually, if you can get to that point where you have to finalize your roster, you could be scrambling.
“But you know what? We’ll figure it out. If we’re not where we should be and we have to do something, I will. I understand that’s a consequence that I’ll have to deal with.”