Bruins’ cap issues force Iginla to explore options

The Colorado Avalanche will reportedly plan to make a strong bid for Jarome Iginla. (Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP)
June 26, 2014, 12:09 PM

Don Meehan, the powerful agent who counts Jarome Iginla among his vast clientele, has started setting up meetings with teams other than the Boston Bruins to discuss the veteran winger’s future.

Without getting into specifics, Meehan confirmed to Sportsnet early Thursday that Iginla’s focus is expanding now that the hockey world has gathered in Philadelphia for the entry draft — a turn of events that says more about the current state of the Bruins’ cap situation than the player himself.

This does not appear to be a case where an agent is trying to capitalize on the free agent interview period and create leverage. Meehan is simply protecting his client.

After playing for three different teams over the last 15 months, Iginla is certainly not eager for a change of address. He and the Bruins had a happy and productive union last season and Boston continues to offer him a legitimate opportunity to win that elusive Stanley Cup.

What Boston might not be able to offer is the security of a multi-year deal or even as much money as other teams are willing to give him on a one-year contract. That’s just reality. As it is, the Bruins are likely going to have to trade a player or two off their roster just to maintain the necessary flexibility under the cap.

“We’re going to have to make some harder decisions this year,” general manager Peter Chiarelli acknowledged to reporters earlier this week. “It’s something that we’re prepared to do.”

The biggest reason why the Bruins are having trouble freeing up the room to sign Iginla now is because of the contract they gave him last July. That was an incentive-laden deal that saw him receive $3.95-million in bonuses, which makes up most of the $4.75-million “overage” charge Boston has been assessed for the coming season (overage estimate courtesy of capgeek.com).

It was a creative contract that allowed Boston to handle a falling salary cap while still adding a front-line player. Iginla would never have worn the black and gold without it.

More creativity will be required to keep him playing at TD Garden next season.

The numbers are all a little bit fuzzy because the upper limit of the salary cap hasn’t been finalized, but the Bruins currently have about $7-million in cap space remaining with 17 players signed. That includes just nine forwards.

Reilly Smith, fresh off a 20-goal, 51-point campaign, is a restricted free agent along with Justin Florek and Jordan Caron. Defencemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski find themselves in the same position. Don’t forget Iginla, either.

There simply isn’t enough money to go around, which is why you’ll soon start to hear murmurs about possible moves. There has already been some speculation about the veteran depth players on the roster: Chris Kelly, Dan Paille, Gregory Campbell and Johnny Boychuk, among them.

However, they were all around for the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup win and Chiarelli won’t part with any of them easily. The GM even wrestled with his recent decision to allow fourth-liner Shawn Thornton to walk away in free agency.

And so the Bruins arrive at this weekend’s draft as the team most in need of cap relief, not to mention the toughest choices to make. There’s no better place to pull off trades — either big or small — but the Boston GM made it clear that his heavy lifting doesn’t need to be completed before leaving Philadelphia.

“We’re in the midst of making these decisions and we want to see how the market plays out,” Chiarelli said. “You know, I guess my point is that these decisions may stretch into the summer, they may stretch into training camp, they may stretch into November.”

All of which brings us back to Iginla, who is facing a more immediate timeframe for an important decision of his own.

Less than a week out from July 1 — his 37th birthday — he must weigh all kinds of different factors: Can he find another fit as good as Boston? Is he willing to risk injury while playing on another one-year, incentive-laden contract? Does he want to move his family again? Is the Bruins cap situation going to hurt the team’s chances of contending?

What can’t be overlooked here is that this should be easy.

Iginla loved playing in Boston and the Bruins loved having him. He produced 30 goals while playing on the top line for a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy and continued to deliver in the playoffs.

In a world without a salary cap, the extension would already be signed.

However, under the current circumstances, Meehan is setting up meetings to see what else might be out there for his client.

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