Jarome Iginla liked his year in Boston.
He found an immediate home on the first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. With Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron performing the heavy lifting, Iginla settled into his groove as a complementary offensive player. The right wing could have returned for one more season and pursued the Stanley Cup.
But the Avalanche offered Iginla what the Bruins could not: security.
Iginla signed a three-year, $16 million contract with Colorado on Tuesday. He will ride shotgun alongside Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon, two of the league's most skilled centermen.
Iginla's track to the Cup will be far tougher in the Western Conference. Anaheim acquired Ryan Kesler to complement Ryan Getzlaf. Chicago landed Brad Richards as its No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews. Dallas loaded up by trading for Jason Spezza, then signing fellow ex-Senator Ales Hemsky. St. Louis signed Paul Stastny — and weakened Colorado — to slot in behind David Backes. Los Angeles is bringing back all its heavy artillery.
But the prudence of selecting a three-year standard contract won out over the insecurity of a one-year, bonus-heavy deal.
"On one hand, it was a tough decision," Iginla told TSN in Canada. "On the other hand, it wasn't. There wasn't an opportunity there. They're in a tough position with the cap. They were having a hard time with a one-year deal. They have some great young players they've got to keep and sign. I understand that. We were trying to get something to work. But I'd like to keep playing after this year. I feel good. I think I can be effective. Even if they could squeeze me in at one year this year, they most likely wouldn't be able to do it next year with the guys that are up."
The Bruins tried their best to sell Iginla on a one-year deal. Their comparable was Mark Recchi. In two straight offseasons, he signed one-year extensions with the Bruins.
But Iginla has more juice left. In the summer of 2009, the 41-year-old Recchi was coming off a 23-38—61 season between Boston and Tampa Bay. Iginla (30-31—61) turned 37 on Tuesday. Iginla's market options were greater than Recchi's.
Also, even had Iginla considered a year-to-year scenario, the Bruins might not have had enough cash to pay him accordingly. Krejci (unrestricted) and Dougie Hamilton (restricted) are up after 2014-15. Lucic (UFA) is due an extension after 2015-16. They are younger, higher-priority players than Iginla.
"It's no secret it was a good fit here," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli during a conference call. "Jarome was looking for security and term. He probably would have done a one-year deal with us on those terms at some point. But I didn't want to jeopardize not being able to sign the other guys."
In Colorado, Iginla will not receive any of his salary via bonuses. If he suffers a career-ending injury in October, he will make all of his money. Because Iginla is a 35-or-older player, the Avalanche are responsible for carrying his cap hit even if he retires.
Iginla leaves the Bruins with a double-barreled headache. His $3.7 million in bonuses represent the brunt of the Bruins' overage penalty, one that will leave them approximately $4.5 million under the 2014-15 ceiling. His departure also creates a trickledown effect that will take away one of the Bruins' advantages: depth.
Loui Eriksson will be a good top-line replacement. He's not afraid to enter the corners or the net-front battle zone. He's smart. He's good at stripping pucks and retaining possession. Eriksson doesn't have Iginla's shot. But his ability to control the puck will keep the top line in the right end of the ice.
The pain the Bruins will feel is lower in the lineup. The third line of Eriksson, Carl Soderberg, and Justin Florek tore up Detroit's third defensive pairing of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff in the opening round of the playoffs. At times, they had their way against Montreal's No. 3 duo of Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver. Montreal coach Michel Therrien wised up and yanked Murray from the lineup for good after Game 5.
That advantage goes away. The Bruins will have to look internally for third- and fourth-line right wings, most of whom are left-shot forwards (Iginla is a right-shot winger). Their prospect pool includes Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev, Florek, Matt Fraser, and Matt Lindblad, who are all left shots. Craig Cunningham is the only right-shot wing.
The Bruins could also consider moving Daniel Paille to Soderberg's right side. Paille took some shifts at right wing last year.
Or the Bruins could look outside for a top-nine forward. They have attractive assets on defense, led by Johnny Boychuk. If the Bruins move Boychuk and his $3,366,667 salary, the return could be a wing (preferably a right shot).
It also would free up a spot for defenseman David Warsofsky. While Chiarelli said he likes his group, it's one that could stand a mobility upgrade. Of their nine varsity candidates, five are stay-at-homers: Chara, Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, and Adam McQuaid. Their makeup of size and toughness diminishes the team's ability to retrieve pucks swiftly and get them going the other way. This is an area that requires addressing.
That might not take place until well into training camp. Management is willing to wait for the right opportunity.
"It doesn't mean we've stopped looking to improve our team with a right winger," Chiarelli said. "We've got extra D, D that teams covet. This is Day 1 of 30 or 40 to try to improve our team."