WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Free agency, mega-contracts and wealth disparity among owners have made the one-organization superstar almost as rare as the 150-point season.
When Nicklas Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings in 2012 after 20 seasons in one uniform, the ranks of the one-team legends was diminished further. In 2013 another icon of one city, Jarome Iginla, was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Iginla remains the Flames' all-time leader in games played, goals and points; he was in the midst of his 16th season with an organization that traded for him when he was 18 years old and anointed him captain at 26.
Some legends, like Brett Hull and Paul Coffey, get traded around the NHL their entire careers with varying levels of success at each stop. A few like Lidstrom make it all the way through to the end with one team. Others are shipped off late in their careers and the results historically have been mixed.
In Boston, fans witnessed the tragedy and triumph that can occur when a legend leaves. Slowed by years of punishment from hockey and surgeries to his knees, Bobby Orr hobbled his way through 26 games with the Chicago Blackhawks after leaving Boston because of a contract dispute. Ray Bourque failed to help the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in his first go-round with the team, but his second season finished with the Avalanche on top of the mountain.
It was with that background that Iginla, a few days past his 36th birthday, agreed to again change teams and sign with the Boston Bruins. Iginla's reputation as not just a goal-scorer but a fiery player with a physical streak and will to win that once caused him to fight Vincent Lecavalier in a Stanley Cup Final game also seemed a perfect fit for what's come to be known as "Bruins hockey." In the tradition of Derek Sanderson, Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely, Iginla could beat teams with his shot and his body.
As it's turned out, the pundits who predicted a marriage between Iginla and the Bruins would produce fireworks were right. Iginla has been every bit his old self, and the Bruins have been battling for Eastern Conference supremacy.
"I've definitely been very fortunate to get an opportunity here. Myself and my family have really enjoyed it," Iginla said. "The guys are a great group of guys. It's been fun winning this year and battling. The whole year we've been pretty much near the top of the conference, so that's been enjoyable too. I haven't been in that situation over my career where over the course of the year to be up there like that."
Through 74 games Iginla has a team-high 30 goals and 60 points. During a recent eight-game stretch, Iginla scored nine goals. Coach Claude Julien has classified Iginla as a player who has come in and performed "as advertised."
It's hard to believe there were questions about what Iginla still could provide a team with a Stanley Cup championship as its only goal when Iginla arrived in Boston. Prior to his stint with Pittsburgh, he hadn't skated in the playoffs since 2009. And the lasting image of Iginla in a Penguins sweater was a joyous one for Bruins fans. Iginla's last-second shot in Game 4 landed in Tuukka Rask's glove, a save that clinched the Eastern Conference title for the Bruins. The Penguins had been swept and Iginla had been held without a point.
For reasons still unexplained (Iginla had four goals and eight assists in 11 previous playoff games), that shot and series lingered in the minds of general managers all over the League. The demand was low for a likely Hall of Fame inductee with more than 500 goals and coming off a season that saw him score 14 in 44 games. He hadn't scored fewer than 32 goals in any of his prior 10 seasons, but with limited options in front of him Iginla had his representatives call Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli to work something out.
Chiarelli admitted he was surprised by the gesture because prior to Iginla's trade to Pittsburgh, the Bruins had thought they swung a deal for the forward. However, Iginla used his no-trade clause to make Calgary deal him to the Penguins. The adage about sports being a business usually is used by team executives to explain a trade of a beloved player. In this case Iginla was proving there was nothing personal between him and a city that felt scorned and let Iginla know it every time he touched the puck during the two conference finals games at TD Garden.
Iginla started to turn the Boston faithful in his favor from the outset by agreeing to a one-year, incentive-laded contract that allowed the Bruins to fit him and others under the salary cap. The Bruins eventually would benefit not just from Iginla's financial sacrifices but also his desire to show up those that doubted him over the summer.
"I think I had a tough last series against Boston last year," he said. "And it wasn't my only deal I could get, but it was what I felt was the best opportunity to win and be able to fit in. … I felt fortunate to have that opportunity. So I didn't mind to have the one-year deal. But as far as people counting me out, yeah, it's pretty funny. It was a half-year and it wasn't actually that bad of a year; it was just a bad series for myself and the team we had. So then that's what people remember.
"Yeah, you're definitely trying to prove … I was trying to prove myself coming into the year. But any time you're, I don’t know what age it is, 33, 34, anything over that, you're always [doing that]. But honestly, even as a player, I think everybody, you always feel like you're always trying to prove yourself. You have a great year, you have to prove you can follow it up and you're not complacent. There's always something to prove yourself I think as an athlete, but yeah, you definitely feel that."
In his first game for Boston, Iginla showed the home crowd his ability to fit in with the "Big, Bad Bruins," when he dropped the gloves to fight Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas. Iginla has fought three other times this season. And after a slow start offensively, Iginla has produced a team-best total of goals, including those that came during a hot streak that was reminiscent of his prime years in Calgary.
SOG: 196 | +/-: 34
The Bruins couldn't have found a better player to replace Nathan Horton on the line with center David Krejci and Milan Lucic than Iginla. That trio has played together from the first day of training camp and has played as a unit on the power play for all but one game, when Lucic was sick.
As Lucic and Krejci, each in their mid-20s, continue to mature into consistent, all-round players, Iginla has influenced that process. In 74 games Krejci has a team-high 62 points, and Lucic has 21 goals and 54 points in 73 games.
"I think the thing about him that you learn … playing with a guy like him that's scored as many goals as he has and been a competitor for as long as he has, is every practice, every chance, every shift, whether it's game or practice, when he gets in those areas he's trying to score, he's trying to make a play, he's going hard every time," Lucic said. "Those are the habits that he's created over his career that's helped him be the player that he's become. And I think those habits that he has has helped him become the player for us as well."
Iginla said he's hopeful his next contract will be for more than one year. He's enjoyed his time in Boston but knows anything can happen in free agency. The best way for him to impress the Bruins and the rest of the League will be to follow his regular season with an explosive playoff run that ends with him winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.
"I can't wait," he said. "I can't believe it's three weeks away. Yeah, I want to make up for [last season], but also just it is the most fun time to play. You've earned your spot to get there and we have a chance. So, yeah, I can't wait."
Iginla missed out on being a one-team superstar. Adding a Stanley Cup championship to his legacy will make the moving worthwhile.