Around noon on Wednesday, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster told Boston counterpart Peter Chiarelli that Jarome Iginla would be a Bruin. Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a first-round pick would be going to Calgary.
Feaster planned to make Iginla a healthy scratch that night against Colorado. In turn, Chiarelli began to protect his assets.
Bartkowski, one of six healthy Boston defensemen, would not dress against Montreal. The Bruins promoted Torey Krug from Providence to replace Bartkowski. Khokhlachev would be a healthy scratch for Providence against Portland.
As it turned out, those safeguards were not necessary.
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, following the Bruins’ 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal, Feaster called to deliver the news that Chiarelli had feared: Iginla, who had included Boston as one of at least three teams he wanted to play for, had shortened his list to one club. Iginla wanted to go to Pittsburgh. The Bruins were out.
The Penguins acquired the Calgary captain for a first-round pick and college prospects Ken Agostino and Ben Hanowski.
“These things happen all the time, more than you know, about deals going south for whatever reason,” Chiarelli said during a Thursday press conference at TD Garden.
“We believed we had a deal. We operated on the premise of a deal. When things were silent — in my experience, you know when things go silent, usually something is going screwy from your end. And it was.”
Neither Boston nor Calgary was satisfied with the conclusion to several weeks of chatter. The Bruins wanted Iginla (9-13—22) to beef up their attack. With Nathan Horton off more than on lately (two goals in his last 15 games), Iginla would have given the Bruins the touch and bite they require on the right side.
“It’s tough,” Chiarelli said. “We’re talking about a really good player.”
The Flames would have landed two pro players in Bartkowski (3-21—24 in Providence) and Khokhlachev (0-0—0 in two AHL games). While Bartkowski has struggled with confidence and decision-making in the NHL, he skates well and can muscle forwards around. Khokhlachev, the Bruins’ second-round pick in 2011, is an undersized but clever forward with top-six skill.
Instead, the Flames had to accept what some league personnel believe was a lesser package in Agostino (fifth round, 2010) and Hanowski (third round, 2009).
Iginla used a no-movement clause in his contract to land his preferred destination.
“We had a deal with Boston that we liked,” Feaster told TSN. “We certainly felt that would have been an acceptable way for us to go as an organization. The player indicated he wanted to be with Pittsburgh, so we got a deal done with Pittsburgh.”
Chiarelli declined to disclose specific details on why the trade skidded off the rails. But the deal started to crumble Wednesday afternoon, when the Flames wanted to give Iginla time to consider the transaction.
“I assume it’s because of the magnitude of the player Jarome was for the organization, they wanted to give him some space on this,” Chiarelli said.
As the afternoon progressed, Chiarelli called Feaster several times. Feaster didn’t return Chiarelli’s calls. During their final conversation, Feaster acknowledged that something had happened to alter the trade’s direction.
On Thursday, Chiarelli declined to share Feaster’s information, but based on Iginla’s comments during a press conference, the right wing dictated his destination.
While Chiarelli couldn’t get his calls returned, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero had no problem contacting Feaster. Like the Bruins, the Penguins had expressed their interest in Iginla several weeks ago.
Feaster had told Shero earlier Wednesday that Pittsburgh was an unlikely landing spot for Iginla. Shero informed his charges in hockey operations they were probably out.
But by Wednesday night, the Calgary-Pittsburgh talks reengaged. By the time the Penguins landed Iginla, the reports were that the Bruins had gotten their man. When Shero called home to inform his family of Iginla’s acquisition, his children told their dad he was wrong — that the power forward was headed to Boston.
“I guess I had some choice in Pittsburgh,” Iginla said. “Getting the opportunity as a player to go play on a team with the two best players in the world, and a team on a roll like they’re on, and the success they’ve had, as a player, I wanted that opportunity.”
Iginla was referring to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Like any right-shot right wing, Iginla would prefer to skate alongside the left-shot Crosby and Malkin. In Boston, Iginla would have played with right-shot centers David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Rich Peverley.
The Penguins have a lot going for them.
They are riding a 14-game winning streak and lead the league in points. They have Crosby and Malkin. Coach Dan Bylsma is well-regarded by players around the NHL.
They play in Consol Energy Center, which opened in 2010. Earlier in the week, Shero acquired Brenden Morrow from Dallas and Douglas Murray from San Jose. The Pittsburgh infrastructure might be second to none.
Chiarelli asked the Flames for permission to speak with Iginla and make his pitch, but Calgary denied the request.
“Let’s be honest,” Shero said during a Thursday press conference. “A lot of this has to do with having a Sidney Crosby. Having an Evgeni Malkin. Having this beautiful building. Having ownership that we have.
“I’m just the guy, as the manager, who tries to consummate the deal.”
In comparison, the Bruins are like the tight end compared with the quarterback — an important player, but not the star. They are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. During their 1-3-0 road trip last week, they scored just six goals.
Currently, Pittsburgh projects to have the better shot at winning the Stanley Cup, a trophy that has eluded the 35-year-old Iginla.
Now the Bruins regroup. Chiarelli planned to speak with Bartkowski and Khokhlachev, the two would-be ex-Bruins, to repair those bridges. Chiarelli and his group will pursue secondary trade targets — ideally, one forward and one defenseman. Prices remain high, especially for rentals.
“We have an ability to add players,” Chiarelli said. “But it’s been the hardest that I’ve ever seen it in my years because of the short supply.”