There were overtures to Jarome Iginla from the Tampa Bay Lightning and general manager Steve Yzerman, a former Olympic teammate. There were talks with the Vancouver Canucks, where the new GM is a former member of the Boston Bruins' management team. There was a hint of interest from the Detroit Red Wings, coached by the two-time Olympic coach Mike Babcock.
But in the end, Iginla left the Boston Bruins to sign with the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, where he will be reunited with Joe Sakic, the team's executive vice president of hockey operations. Way back in 2002, when Canada was trying to end a 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought, Sakic and Iginla were a magical duo in the gold-medal winning game over the United States.
Iginla signed a three-year, $16-million contract with the Avalanche on his 37th birthday, and essentially tied his hopes and dreams to win a Stanley Cup to Colorado – and how quickly the team can go from up-and-coming team to legitimate contender. Colorado had a breakthrough season in 2013-14 season, finishing atop the Central Division ahead of both the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, but lost in the opening round to the Minnesota Wild, another team on the rise.
Iginla will replace Paul Stastny in the Avalanche lineup, after Stastny left to join the Blues on a four-year, $28-million contract that kicked off a crazy first day of the NHL free agency season.
After two-and-a-half hours, there had been 46 signings worth a total of $393-million, according to TSN, many of the deals predicated on the NHL salary cap rising to $69-million next year, up from $64.3-million a year ago.
Iginla plays the right side, but that will actually be a good thing in Colorado, where two natural centres, Ryan O'Reilly and the Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon both played out of position last year, on the wing. In addition to those two, Colorado also has Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene as top-six forwards. On a young team with a big upside, Iginla's experience and leadership qualities should greatly assist them in becoming a team that learns how to win.
Stastny's departure was not that big of a surprise to the Avalanche. He was the No. 1 player on the free-agent board and was scooped up by a team that had targeted him as their new No. 1 centre from the moment they were eliminated in the opening round by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues were in on the Jason Spezza negotiations too, but ultimately landed Stastny on a four-year term for $7-million per season. It was a lot of money to spend, but not an especially long term. Stastny was born in Quebec City when his father Peter played there, but grew up in St. Louis and still owns a home there.
Stastny will add a playmaking component to a St. Louis team that had a lot of depth at forward, but mostly of the grinding variety. He will likely end up playing on a line with fellow U.S. Olympian T.J. Oshie.
Stastny had an exceptional playoff for the Colorado Avalanche last season, getting 10 points in the opening-round loss to the Minnesota Wild.
If Stastny was the No. 1 target amongavailable free-agent forwards, Thomas Vanek was a clear 1A, as the arm's race in the Central Division heated up. Vanek had been rumored heading back to Minnesota for going on two years now and that's exactly where he landed, signing a three-year, $19.5-million contract with the Wild simply because he wanted to play there.
He played his college hockey there; his wife is from there; his off-season home is there; and thus, he gave the Wild a hometown discount. Vanek left about $30-million on the table, after he turned down a seven-year, $50 million contract extension offer with the New York Islanders.
Minnesota didn't want to give Vanek the sort of term they gave both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise (13 years, $98-million) two years ago, when they made the biggest splash in the free-agent market of all NHL teams. Vanek's signing essentially takes the Wild out of the running for Jarome Iginla, who is now in talks with the Vancouver Canucks, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings about a possible contract extension.
Minnesota had the dollars to commit to Vanek after Dany Heatley's $7-million contract expired – and though Vanek didn't have much of a playoff with the Montreal Canadiens last year, is surely an upgrade on the fading Heatley. According to TSN, Vanek's contract calls for $5.5-million this year, $6.5-million next year and $7.5-million in the final year of the deal.
Vanek had 68 points in 78 games playing for three teams – Montreal, the Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres – last season. He is a two-time 40-goal scorer (43 in 2006-07 and 40 in 2008-09), but hasn't scored more than 32 goals in any of the past five seasons.
But with Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu along with young and up comers Mikael Granlund, Nino Neiderreiter and Charlie Coyle, Minnesota should be able to improve on an offence that produced just 207 goals last season, which is in the bottom third of the league.