Jarome Iginla will be playing in Boston – just not the way everyone initially thought.
First, a little background: about a month before the trade deadline, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster approached his longtime captain (who would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 – his 36th birthday) and requested a list of teams he would approve a trade to since he had a no-move clause in his contract.
Unsurprisingly, a number of clubs were interested in the future Hall of Famer – the Penguins and Bruins among them. Feaster had offers from each organization and went to Iginla and his agent with both of them. And Iginla decided on Pittsburgh.
The process seems simple enough, but unfortunately it didn’t appear that way to the public. Since the Flames did have an offer from the Bruins, virtually every major media outlet reported that Iginla to Boston was a done deal. But it wasn’t. Iginla had the right to waive his no-trade clause as a part of any deal and had the power to pick his destination, ultimately deciding on Pittsburgh.
However, try telling that to the Bruins fans that went to sleep that night believing with absolute certainly they had the legendary Jarome Iginla on their team to bolster them for a Cup run, only to wake up and discover he had joined the high-powered Penguins, already a Cup favorite. Stunned is the best word to describe the feelings of not only Bruins fans, but the entire hockey world.
After all of that drama, the two teams are now set to meet in the Eastern Conference Final. Iginla had a feeling this scenario would play out when he made his decision, and he is ready for it.
“I was very fortunate that both teams were interested and I was fortunate that Calgary gave me that chance,” Iginla said. “I chose Pitt. I’m thrilled. I know Boston is a great team and it was one of those situations that when I did it, I knew there was a big possibility that we’d be in this situation and here we are. I’m excited about the challenge.”
It has been an adjustment on the ice for Iginla over these last two months in Pittsburgh. Not only did he have to get used to a new team for the first time in his NHL career, as he had been with the Flames franchise since his first full season in 1996-97, but he had to switch to left wing from his usual right in order to play with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Fitting in with the longtime linemates, getting used to the tendencies of two such dynamic players and trying to adjust accordingly was another situation Iginla had to work through.
You want to be able to be as good as you can be. I think I’ve had some good games; I’ve had some not-so-good games. I’ve been very fortunate to get to play with great players in ‘G’ (Evgeni Malkin) and ‘Sid’ (Sidney Crosby) and ‘Nealer’ (James Neal). I’m enjoying playing with them. - Jarome Iginla, on his play in Pittsburgh
“Playing with ‘G’ and ‘Nealer,’ they have such a great chemistry,” Iginla said. “They really, really enjoy playing together. So you want to play with them and play hard, but not disrupt that and kind of just find different places to go and contribute to that. If that’s going to the net and getting out of their way in certain positions where we all like pucks.”
But despite the growing pains, Iginla stepped up big through an influx of injuries to the Penguins down the stretch and finished the regular season on a tear, with four goals and seven points in his last six games (overall, he scored five goals and 11 points in 13 games in a Penguins jersey).
And in the playoffs, Iginla enters the Boston series with 12 points (4G-8A) in 11 games – a total that is tied for fifth in the league.
When asked about whether or not he is performing the way he wanted to in coming here, Iginla said he never placed any expectations onto his play. All he has ever tried to do, whether here or in Calgary, is his best. Cliché as that may sound, it’s true. And being a future Hall of Famer that’s scored 530 goals and 1,106 points in 1,232 regular-season games, Iginla’s best is all the Penguins can ask for.
“I don’t think anything has changed from every game you go into,” he said. “You want to be able to be as good as you can be. I think I’ve had some good games; I’ve had some not-so-good games. I’ve been very fortunate to get to play with great players in ‘G’ (Evgeni Malkin) and ‘Sid’ (Sidney Crosby) and ‘Nealer’ (James Neal). I’m enjoying playing with them. I think our chemistry is getting better and better as time goes on as far as trying to help them out. So I didn’t really have a lot of expectations different than you want to be ready to go and contribute whenever you get a chance.”
Like Iginla said, he Malkin and Neal really started to come together as a line in the last two games of the Ottawa series, combining for eight goals and 11 points, and they are looking to continue that in the Boston series. And for as much as Iginla says he enjoys playing with Malkin and Neal, those two feel the same about him.
“He’s been great, a guy that’s fun to play with and has a great shot and he can get it off all around him,” Neal said. “So, he’s a tough guy to cover. He’s been doing that really well and getting some rebound goals and helping our team win. So, obviously a huge addition and he’s showing why we got him.”
Off the ice, Iginla has been exactly as advertised since joining the Penguins.
I think you would have a hard time finding somebody in this world to fit in easier anywhere. He’s a great guy and obviously a good player. He demands respect right away for that. But he’s very considerate and a great teammate. - Douglas Murray, on Iginla
Iginla is one of the most beloved athletes to ever play the game of hockey. He’s been described as a better person than he is a player, and that’s saying a lot as the six-time NHL All-Star has two Rocket Richard Trophies, Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and two Olympic gold medals in addition to his other achievements. As Iginla’s Olympic teammate Brenden Morrow said back in March after the trade happened, “he's just one of the top human beings you'll ever meet. Just a quality, quality person.”
Defenseman Douglas Murray, who also joined the Penguins at the trade deadline from San Jose, has spent a lot of time with Iginla as they are staying at the same downtown hotel and carpool to the arena, practice facility and airport together. They even sit next to each other on the plane. And according to Murray, the amicable Iginla has assimilated effortlessly into this locker room – as if anyone would think anything different.
“I think you would have a hard time finding somebody in this world to fit in easier anywhere,” Murray said. “He’s a great guy and obviously a good player. He demands respect right away for that. But he’s very considerate and a great teammate.”
Iginla may be 35 years old, but his production hasn’t dropped as he scored a total of 14 goals in the shortened season and had 11 straight 30-goal seasons before that. But perhaps even more importantly, he still has the ability to overpower defenders physically with his strength and have his way with them along the boards and around the net. The way he works to stay fit along with his overall demeanor has left a lasting impression on these Penguins.
“I think just the way he trains off the ice and the way he handles himself, I think a lot of the younger guys, because of his career and his reputation, look to kind of feed off that and learn from the way he carries himself,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He shows up with a smile on his face every day. I think he just wants to be just part of a winning situation. I mean, the guy doesn’t complain about anything. I don’t want to say he’s just happy to be here, because that sounds like he just kinds of shows up and doesn’t care. But he’s a guy who obviously is a real competitive guy, but at the same time, he’s pretty carefree.”
Iginla may be one of the most genuinely kind, politest human beings on this planet, but on the ice, he is a warrior.
Not only can he score with both his big shot and ability to create chances in the blue paint, but he can drop the gloves with the best of them. Mess with any of his teammates on the ice and you’ll pay the price.
You don’t mess around when this guy is on the ice. He’s a fierce competitor. He sets the tone. There’s not a lot of people that aren’t put in check when Jarome is on the ice and when Jarome is playing and around those areas. I think that’s what he does for (Neal and Malkin) playing with them and specifically in those tighter areas. - Coach Bylsma, on Iginla
That may be the most important part of his multi-faceted game going into this series with the Bruins, who have a lot of big, physical players that like to throw their weight around in addition to smaller pesky players like Brad Marchand, who has the ability to get under opposing players’ skin. Having Iginla on a line with Malkin and Neal, who will surely be targeted by the Bruins, may make their opponent think twice about taking extra liberties.
“You don’t mess around when this guy is on the ice,” coach Dan Bylsma said of Iginla, who fought Nathan Horton during the team’s only meeting in Boston April 20. “He’s a fierce competitor and from the bench, what I see happening around our net or when there is physical stuff, it’s not really as visible as what I know is going on when there’s extracurriculars on the ice, when there’s a little bit of guys going after Malkin or Neal or anybody in those scrums. He’s a fierce competitor. He sets the tone. There’s not a lot of people that aren’t put in check when Jarome is on the ice and when Jarome is playing and around those areas. I think that’s what he does for those guys playing with them and specifically in those tighter areas.”
Iginla won’t just be dealing with the big, bad Bruins; he’ll be dealing with the boos from their jilted fanbase. He’s going to have a tough time of it both on and off the ice, and that may add up to one motivated Iginla. That’s what his teammates are hoping to see.
“He handled it pretty good in Boston last time we played there, I think he had the game-winning goal,” Morrow recalled. “So, some people just seem to rise up under pressure in those occasions and we hope he’s one of those guys. He seems to be throughout his whole career, but I can’t answer those questions for him. But (do) I know we’re all excited here and it’s not Jarome against the Bruins, it’s the Penguins against the Bruins.”