There are times when it’s better not to have a full appreciation of what you’re up against.
Say, hypothetically, you’re an NHL veteran who has spent 16 seasons in one city and is pining for one last shot at a Stanley Cup, so you leap at the chance to move across the continent to join a contender featuring two of the best players in the world.
On paper, it seems perfect, and perhaps you score 12 points in 15 games for your new team. And then maybe it doesn’t end in glory.
It isn’t until a few months later and you’ve signed elsewhere that you understand trying to fit in with a new team on the cusp of a playoff run wasn’t such a straightforward matter after all.
If you’re Jarome Iginla, future Hockey Hall of Famer, you’ll say things like this: “It was more of an adjustment than I thought it would be.”
By now the irony of leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins, his hand-picked destination at last season’s trading deadline, for the Boston Bruins, the eventual Stanley Cup finalist he turned down, has worn off for the former Calgary Flames captain.
While he says very nice things about his time alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and about western Pennsylvania – “I really enjoyed my time there, I had a good opportunity” – there’s an unmistakable sense the fit is more seamless in Boston.
“I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did. I had a great time in Pittsburgh, but it’s different doing it in mid-stride. When I joined Pitt, they’re rolling, it’s playoff time, you’re trying to go and just fit in,” he said this week.
“When you get a chance to come to training camp, it’s different. You get a chance to know the guys a little bit more, away from a pressure situation, work through some missed passes and different things.”
Hindsight being what it is, watching Iginla take the ice in a Bruins jersey this week at the Bell Centre made intuitive sense.
The Bruins’ rough-and-tumble, no-nonsense ethos is tailor-made for a player who, while he’s slower than in his pomp, still has a lot to give as a power forward – ask the Habs, who watched him score a pair of power-play goals in his first preseason game alongside linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
He could have had at least a couple more, and in mid-season form likely would have.
The mere fact Iginla knows where and with whom he’ll be playing with in Boston – he is essentially a like-for-like replacement for right-winger Nathan Horton, who departed during free agency – is also a major difference.
In Pittsburgh, Iginla bounced around the lineup as the coaches tried to accommodate both him and veteran winger Brenden Morrow.
The chemistry experiment failed in the conference final against Boston, it was implicit given the Pens’ dire salary cap situation they wouldn’t be in a position to re-sign Iginla – which obscures the idea he may not quite have been what the team felt it needed.
Initial viewings suggest Iginla, who signed a one-year deal in Boston, may be a more perfect complement to his current linemates than he was to Malkin or Crosby.
“I knew they’re good players, but to see them up close and see how strong they are, everyone knows about [Lucic], but you see his passes and how much room he gives you,” Iginla said. “And [Krejci], just how strong he is for being so crafty, you can see why they have a lot of success.”
It’s the preseason, so by definition it’s too early to speak conclusively about the experiment, but the mutual-admiration society seems well-entrenched.
“You can see why he’s scored as many goals as he has,” said Lucic, who’s tantalized by what he sees with Iginla on the power play, the signature weakness of a team that has played in two of the last three Stanley Cup finals. “It’s been a strong point his whole career, having that shot off that elbow or in the slot and finding those areas where he can score … if we can keep finding him it’s going to work to our advantage.”
Though the Edmonton-born Iginla’s life has featured an unusual level of upheaval in the past five months – he and his wife, Tara, sold their house in Calgary and relocated first to Pittsburgh, then Boston with their three children – he says he’s found a new comfort level off the ice.
The family has settled in Back Bay, a tony downtown neighbourhood where most of the Bruins players live, and the adjustment to the East Coast is now complete.
“The first time [moving] was new, for myself and my family it was a really big deal, leaving. I’ve played pretty much at home, Alberta and Calgary are home,” he said, adding: “I came in a couple of weeks early because the kids had school, they start early, so it gave me a chance to go to the captains’ practices … it feels like we’re through it, the move. The kids are happy in their schools, and it’s a new adventure.”
If comfort and happiness equate to strong play, Bruins fans will surely forgive him the detour that saw him arrive in Boston a few months behind schedule.