What's the Secret Behind Jarome Iginla's New Life with Boston Bruins?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistApril 9, 2014

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 27: Jarome Iginla #12 of the Boston Bruins fist bumps alumni legend Johnny Bucyk before the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the TD Garden on March 27, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, Jarome Iginla scored two goals for Boston in a road game against the Washington Capitals. Those two goals gave him 30 on the season, making 2013-14 the 12th campaign of Iginla’s career in which he’s tallied at least that many goals.  

On one level, Iginla’s strong play this season isn’t a surprise. He’s been a high-end goal-scorer for a long time, and the Bruins wouldn’t have signed him to a bonus-laden contract potentially worth $6 million, per CapGeek.com, if they didn’t see him as someone likely to be effective for them.

However, the 36-year-old was still something of a gamble. His scoring totals had fallen off dramatically over the span of three seasons in Calgary, and while he rebounded in Pittsburgh following a late-season trade, there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t regress this season.

CALGARY, CANADA - MARCH 15:  Jarome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Nashville Predators on March 15, 2013 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Flames won 6-3.  (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

Obviously that hasn’t happened; Iginla’s having his best season in years. Looking at what the Bruins have done with him, it’s not hard to see that Boston’s been a far better home to him than Calgary was the past few seasons.

For one thing, Iginla doesn’t have to carry the mail the way he did for the Flames. That’s true both in the sense that his line is asked to do less and also in that he’s less individually responsible for the success or failure of his unit.

Iginla ranks fifth among Boston forwards this year on BehindtheNet.ca’s Quality of Competition ranking, narrowly behind regular linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic. It’s a rank that makes sense, because the Bruins also have a line centered by the wonderful Patrice Bergeron, which allows them to divide the tough competition workload between the two units. Iginla hasn’t had that sort of support in Calgary of late; he’s been on the top line of a team that often only had one threatening line.

Iginla’s also been used in offensive situations. With Bergeron’s line taking on many of the available defensive-zone minutes, the Iginla trio has been used more offensively. Fifty-eight percent of Iginla’s non-neutral zone draws at even strength have come in the offensive end of the rink this season. It’s the first time since 2010-11 (when he scored 43 goals) that Iginla has started more shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 12: Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins celebrates after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens with teammates David Krejci #46 and Jarome Iginla #12 during the NHL game on March 12, 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

In addition to a role where offense is more emphasized, Iginla has had reliable help. In 76 games with Boston this year, he’s spent more than an hour on the ice with only two forwards: Krejci and Lucic. Last year, in just 31 games with Calgary, he had half a dozen different regular linemates, and while some of them were very good players (Mike Cammalleri, for example), he also saw a lot of time shoring up people like Roman Cervenka and Matt Stajan. He’s left a situation where he had rotating linemates of vastly differing quality for one where he’s spending every night beside the same set of strong teammates.   

To be sure, Iginla’s had some good fortune, too. He’s converting shots to goals at a 15.1 percent clip this season, his best shooting percentage number since the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Over the long haul, that scoring will probably dry up a little bit (Iginla’s career average is 13.3 percent), but we’re talking about a pretty small part of his total offensive game here.

Iginla’s success this season reflects well on the player, but it also to some degree simply reflects the difference between the Bruins and Flames.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of BehindtheNet.ca, ExtraSkater.com, HockeyAnalysis.com and NHL.com and are current through the start of action on April 9.