<
>

Jarome Iginla looks like a keeper

BOSTON -- Whether or not Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has already discussed a possible contract extension for Jarome Iginla, it's a no-brainer to re-sign the veteran forward and future Hall of Famer.

His first season in Boston has been a good one. No doubt the Bruins have been a successful team without him in previous seasons, but Iginla's presence, both on and off the ice, has helped this team once again become a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Iginla scored a pair of goals in Boston's 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday at TD Garden, while the Bruins extended their winning streak to eight games.

Iginla increased his point streak to four games, with four goals and one assist for five points in that span. In the past 18 games, he has 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points, and it was his 13th multiple-point game of the season. Overall, he has 23 goals and 30 assists for 53 points, while playing in all 67 games this season.

He's added so much to this team, it's easy for fans to forget last year's trade snub when Iginla waived his no-movement clause and chose the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Bruins. No one should blame him for that decision. All he wants is to win his first Stanley Cup before he eventually retires.

During the summer, his agent contacted the Bruins to see if the team still had interest in his client, and Chiarelli quickly jumped at the opportunity and signed Iginla to a one-year, incentive-laden deal. The 36-year-old forward has reached all but one of those incentives. He's only seven goals shy of reaching 30 and earning his entire $6 million contract this season.

He'll be an unrestricted free agent again after this season and he genuinely would like to remain in Boston. Unless, of course, the Bruins do win the Stanley Cup and Iginla pulls a Mark Recchi and retires on top.

"I've really enjoyed it and my family likes it," Iginla said of his time here. "It's been a great experience playingwise and it's been fun winning. It's a fun group and it's a nice balance between being focused and still the guys are a tight-knit group. I've really loved it and I've gotten a great opportunity to play with some great players right from day one.

"I love it. I don't know what the future holds but I definitely feel very pleased to have gotten to be here now and play here this whole year. It's definitely been one of the most fun years I've had to date."

It's also no coincidence that Milan Lucic and David Krejci are enjoying their most consistent seasons of their respective careers in Boston with Iginla as a linemate.

Krejci has 16 goals and 43 assists for 59 points in all 67 games this season. The top-line center had three assists Saturday and now has 23 points in the past 21 games. Lucic had a goal and two assists against the Hurricanes, and he now has 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points in 66 games this season.

"It's been great having him here," Lucic said of Iginla. "You can see he's obviously come into his own here and starting to feel good about himself. We all know what he can do from what he's done in the past and he's definitely a confident guy that's always pushing for more. You see the little things in him that has made him so successful throughout his career and it's starting to show more and more as this season goes on."

Lucic, who on Saturday registered the third 50-point season of his career, hopes Iginla returns next season.

"Obviously it's out of my control, but he's been a great fit for us on the ice, on our line and in the dressing room, so obviously that would be great," Lucic said.

Claude Julien has coached some talented veterans during his tenure in Boston, including future Hall of Famers Recchi and Jaromir Jagr. Iginla ranks up there, too.

"He's exactly what he was advertised as," Julien said. "He's a good team player, a hard worker, and a competitive guy. I can see why he had a letter in Calgary because he has that leadership quality in him."

Iginla has played with some talented linemates during his 17-year career, but with Lucic and Krejci, this trio has become Boston's best first line in a while.

"They're right up there and I'm very fortunate to get to play with them," Iginla said. "It's awesome to play with these guys. They're very competitive. They're very hungry. It's not just their skill level, which is very high, but it's their compete level, their drive and physicality."

As an opponent and student of the game, Iginla knows how much talent his current linemates possess. What he doesn't understand is how good Krejci and Lucic have been this season in particular.

In fact, Julien recently had a conversation with Krejci and told the assistant captain how pleased he is with his consistent play this entire season. A lot of the credit goes to Krejci, but Iginla's presence also helps.

"I said, 'This is as consistent as I've seen you since you've been here.' And that's all part of growing as a player, maturity, understanding his role, and at the same time he's wearing a letter this year, so he's got some responsibilities," Julien said.

Lucic doesn't wear a letter on his sweater, but he's been a dominant force the entire season and he's on pace to set a new career high in points. He's only 10 points shy of his high of 62 points with 15 games remaining in the regular season.

Again, Iginla's presence helps.

"Looch has come back this year and has played the way he finished last year," Julien said. "We can't forget these are still young players. They're in their 20s so there's always room for them to grow and that's what we're all seeing here is growth."

Julien added, "At the same time, you've got a guy like Jarome Iginla, who for a guy who has been in the league this long has really done a great job of maintaining his conditioning. He comes into games and practices and works hard and competes hard all the time, so those young guys will have an opportunity to do nothing more than trying to follow his lead."

If this continues, Iginla may finally reach the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. He definitely deserves it.