Chiarelli: Bruins thought they had Iginla

Peter Chiarelli.

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins lost to Pittsburgh in the competition for Jarome Iginla. That should make it tougher for them to beat the already powerful Penguins in the playoffs.

It was a bitter battle to lose, of course. Especially considering Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli thought he already had the Calgary Flames’ all-time leading goal scorer in the fold.

A few hours later, Iginla was a Penguin.

Just like that.

“We believed we had a deal,” Chiarelli said, at about noon on Wednesday for the Flames’ captain and the top prize in the NHL trade market.

But Iginla had a no-trade clause which allowed him to choose his destination from teams that made offers. And shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Calgary general manager Jay Feaster called Chiarelli with the bad news: Iginla had chosen the Penguins and Sidney Crosby.

“It’s tough. I mean, we’re talking about a really good player,” Chiarelli said. “This kind of stuff happens. It shouldn’t, but it does. The reality of no-movement and no-trade clauses, it’s going to happen more. It’s a disappointment, but you get back on your horse and you go out there and find some more players.”

He still has time to improve one of the NHL’s stingiest defensive teams but one that has struggled on offence. The Bruins scored five goals Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, but still lost 6-5 to drop from the second to the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Penguins hold the top spot, lead the league in goals and had won 13 straight games at the time of the trade. That deal followed two others in which they obtained forward Brenden Morrow from Dallas on Sunday and defenceman Doug Murray from San Jose on Monday.

So what does Chiarelli think of the Penguins now?

“Well, they’re a lock, right?” he said with a laugh. “They’re a good team.”

But so are the Bruins.

Chiarelli called them “a serious contender” but said they must improve to become more competitive for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals two years after they won the NHL championship.

“You still have to be patient because, you know, you trust in your players,” he said. “They’re a good team. We have to be better in a number of areas, but we’re getting points, and we also know that the prize is after the regular season. We’re committed to fixing these things.

“I’m committed to trying to improve the team also.”

He’d like to add a forward and a defenceman.

But the big catch got away when Iginla chose the Penguins. Chiarelli said he talked with the Flames a couple of weeks ago about Iginla and there were further conversations between the teams. Feaster told him that the Bruins were on a list that Iginla, in the final year of his five-year contract, would agree to be traded to, he said.

A few days ago, the Bruins offered defenceman Matt Bartkowski and minor-league forward Alexander Khokhlachev for Iginla. The final offer also included a first-round draft choice.

“We were informed around noon (Wednesday) that we had the player,” Chiarelli said. Feaster “just had to talk to Jarome and his agent regarding the logistics of everything. From that point on, there had been some discussions regarding Jarome taking some time, not to decide, but to kind of let things soak in.”

Chiarelli had “no doubt” that the deal was done, “but as time went on, the doubt started to grow.”

Starting at around 5 p.m. there was “radio silence” between the teams and the Flames didn’t return his calls, he said.

“I, obviously, in my experience, know that if things go silent it means that something is going screwy from your end. And it was,” Chiarelli said. “Later that night, around quarter to 12, I got a call from Jay saying that it was the player’s choice and he opted to go to Pittsburgh and we were out.”

He said he had asked for permission to talk with Iginla earlier but was denied so he wasn’t able to offer a contract extension or convince him to come to Boston.

He didn’t blame Feaster, called him a “gentleman” and said he didn’t think “there was anything nefarious on Jay’s part.”

Iginla said during a news conference on Thursday that “when it comes down to the choice I had, one or the other, it’s really hard to pass up the opportunity to play on a team with Sid and (Evgeni) Malkin.”

That’s the team the Bruins could face in the playoffs.

“I would welcome it. I think when we’re going, we play a really good game that matches up well against them,” Chiarelli said. “I’m not laying down for them, but they know what it takes.”

And now they have Iginla.

“There’s always other players” the Bruins could trade for, Chiarelli said, but “that was a good player. That was a real good player.”

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