Anyone faulting, or even questioning, Jarome Iginla’s decision to drop himself into the Pittsburgh lineup instead of the Boston lineup just isn’t paying attention to what’s going on in the NHL.
The Penguins are a powerhouse, all the more mighty now that Iginla, the aged star right winger, is joining the roster. About the only thing left for Trader Ray Shero to do now is coax Mario Lemieux out of his owner’s box in Pittsburgh, have him suit up, and maybe have Mario Magnifique ask Wayne Gretzky to come along for the ride.
The Penguins have turned into the ice game’s Miami Heat.
“Well, they’re a lock, right?’’ said a laconic Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, sizing up Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup chances only a day after being told, and then untold, that Iginla would be a Bruin. “They’re good. They’re a good team.’’
As he is wont to do, Chiarelli, now nearly seven years in command on Causeway Street, took the high road Thursday in explaining the bizarre proceedings that led to Iginla making Boston the non-city of choice for him. Chiarelli looked tired, had every right to be exasperated, but repeatedly opted not to discredit the Calgary organization, though he ultimately outlined how Flames GM Jay Feaster reneged on his word.
“We had the player,’’ said Chiarelli. “We won the sweepstakes.’’
Over the course of slightly less than 12 hours, victory turned to defeat, shocking in itself, but all the more surprising considering that TSN, the Canadian-based media outlet that acts essentially as the game’s central registry, put its stamp on the deal with word on its website around 12:15 a.m. Thursday. Ex-Bruin defenseman Aaron Ward, a TSN analyst and storm chaser of trades, was given credit for the scoop of the trade season.
TSN doesn’t miss. Usually. But this wasn’t usually.
Based on what Chiarelli said, and what Iginla stated at his news conference Thursday, the 35-year-old power forward held, and executed, the right to name his destination. Feaster had two deals in hand, opted to accept Boston’s deal, and confirmed it with Chiarelli, though Iginla was given sway to swat it out of Feaster’s hands for the right to play with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and all the other prohibitive favorites.
Again, perfectly understandable on Iginla’s part. Bruins fans don’t want to hear it, but the Penguins are the better team this year, should win it all, and Iginla has been chasing a Cup since joining the Flames in October 1996. To have watched Ray Bourque here for a couple of decades is to know Iginla’s pain and wanting.
But Feaster reneged. Very bad business. Of course, the caveat is that he reneged because the face of the franchise was positioned to splatter egg all over his face. But that doesn’t exonerate Feaster. GMs live by their word, and if they are deemed untrustworthy, or blatant liars, or simply dithering buffoons who missed something in the details (such as, say, a player’s ability to veto a deal), then eventually no one deals with them.
When Feaster told Boston the deal was done, he had to live with it. Now he lives with the consequences, as does the faltering franchise (three years without a playoff berth) he represents. Either he was leapfrogged by his own ownership group, or thwarted by Iginla and his representation (Ontario-based Newport Sports), or he just messed up.
Feaster has messed up before this season, when making a free agent offer to Avalanche holdout Ryan O’Reilly. Had the Avalanche not matched Calgary’s offer, the Flames could have ended up paying them equalization rights (draft picks) and then losing O’Reilly via waivers. Feaster either missed or misinterpreted the technicality that O’Reilly needed to clear waivers because of his play earlier this season in the KHL during the lockout.
When I asked Chiarelli Thursday afternoon, he said Feaster never mentioned during their noon conversation Wednesday that Iginla had last call on the deal. Days earlier, according to multiple reports, Iginla agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join any of four clubs: Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.
If anyone is saying now that they knew all along Iginla had veto power, then congrats, because Chiarelli didn’t know it.
“Not how it was categorized to me,’’ said Chiarelli, asked to clarify what Feaster told him on the noontime call.
Another NHL team boss I contacted, one very well-versed in Calgary’s position going into the Iginla trade efforts, told me Thursday that he also was never aware of Iginla’s veto power.
“A general manager’s nightmare,’’ said the high-ranking boss, “is to have to make that call and say, ‘Uh, sorry, I know I said we had a deal, but . . .’
“You never, ever want to make that call.’’
Feaster had to make it, now he will have to live with it. Meanwhile, Chiarelli will have to look elsewhere to improve a team that is now three trades behind the Penguins, who in recent days also acquired ex-Stars forward Brenden Morrow and ex-Sharks blue liner Doug Murray. The Bruins also tried to land Morrow, which leaves Chiarelli 0 for 2 in the mano-a-mano matchup with Trader Ray.
The best player out there possibly to be had is Tampa’s Martin St. Louis, his name floated like Iginla’s the last 2-3 weeks. But a well-connected player agent I talked to in the wake of Iginla’s hairpin turn to Pittsburgh said Lightning GM Steve Yzerman isn’t moving the dynamic winger.
“No way,’’ said the agent. “Yzerman’s got kids there who he wants to be around St. Louis. He’s not going anywhere.’’
Yzerman probably would prefer to get Vincent Lecavalier off his books, but no one is touching the big center’s mega-contract, especially with the salary cap declining some 8 percent next season.
If Chiarelli decides to make the back end his top priority, veteran puck mover Dan Boyle might be acquired from San Jose. The Sharks are remodeling, though still refusing, thus far, to move their biggest legacy pieces up front, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Boyle, 36, has a reputation for being a bit prickly in the dressing room, and he has another year on his deal at $6.67 million, but he remains one of the game’s elite puck-moving defensemen. The Bruins haven’t had a puck mover like him back there since Bourque’s departure.
“Players are out there,’’ noted Chiarelli, a touch of lament in his voice and body language. “There’s always other players, but that [Iginla] was a good player.’’
Good, but gone, in one of the most bizarre chapters in NHL trade history. The next time the Bruins see Iginla — April 19 — he’ll be on Causeway Street with the Penguins, some 16 days beyond the trade deadline, a little more than three weeks after what might have been in Boston.
For the record, it will not be Jarome Iginla bobblehead night at the Garden.