Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero started the week by adding grit, net-front presence and leadership to his club in longtime Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow. A day later, he added a bruising, stay-at-home blueliner in 6-foot-3, 240-pound Doug Murray from the San Jose Sharks. After those two big splashes, it seemed almost far-fetched when word around the National Hockey League was that the Penguins were still kicking the tires with the Calgary Flames regarding the availability of Jarome Iginla.
Far-fetched to everyone but Shero, perhaps, who seemed to swoop in on an almost-done deal between Calgary and the Boston Bruins in the wee hours of Thursday morning to add the Flames captain to a roster that is nothing short of stocked in anticipation of a lengthy postseason run.
“Talking with our coaching staff, with ownership – [we decided] as a group, if there’s a chance to get Jarome Iginla, then this is the year, with the salary cap where we have room and we do have assets,” Shero said. “There’s only one Jarome Iginla; this guy’s a future Hall of Famer. Talking to a couple of the players who have played with him about [his] character, there was no doubt in my mind, if there was a chance to try to add this guy, we were going to try to add him. And, at the end, we got him.”
So, while the Bruins thought they had a deal and sat two minor-league prospects slated for the trade out of Wednesday night games for Boston and Providence, Shero was offering two college prospects and a first-round draft pick of his own. In the end, the decision largely came down to Iginla, who had to waive his no-trade clause and was given input into his destination.
“I wanted it to be a mutual thing that [the Flames] were happy with the deal that they got but, also, if I was going to leave here, I’d love the best opportunity to try to win,” said Iginla, who has earned an extensive collection of hardware during his 1,219-game career with Calgary but does not yet have his name on the Stanley Cup. “I guess I had some choice in Pittsburgh and, to get an opportunity to go and play on a team with the two best players in the world, and a team on a roll like they’re on, and the success that they’ve had – as a player, I wanted that opportunity.”
Now, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has the enviable problem of trying to figure out where the pieces fit. Although Iginla showed chemistry with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, setting him up for the gold-medal goal, Bylsma is reluctant to break up the NHL’s hottest line in Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. That means Iginla is likely to start his Penguins career alongside Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, with Morrow sliding into a depth role on the third line centered by Brandon Sutter.
It’s to the Penguins’ benefit, then, that they believe the players in their dressing room are all in for the pursuit of a championship, even if they’re asked to accept a markedly different role than they might have held in the past. And that’s been very much by design.
“Every player who’s here is here for a reason, and that’s to try to help us win,” Shero said. “Everybody’s got to buy in to what their role’s going to be to help this team. Depending on the game, depending on the matchup, depending on the series, Dan’s got options now. If a line’s not going, or we’ve got a matchup we don’t like, we’ve got other options. And it all goes back to getting these players who I believe are here for the right reasons.
“[In] my conversation with Jarome Iginla, he was excited to come here, to help this team any way he could. There was never any conversation with any of these three players where they’ve asked me, ‘Who am I playing with? What’s my role?’ Nothing. Just, ‘Whatever I can do to help the team.’ And that’s the type of guys we’re adding.”
For Bylsma, he’s just glad to have a month to figure it all out before the postseason begins.
“I like the challenge of it,” he said. “We’re winning hockey games and going along here, and I like [approaching] the last 14 games with a clear message and a clear focus of becoming a team and bringing that together.”
And if the additions have increased expectations that, after three consecutive years of disappointing, early-round playoff exits, it’s the Stanley Cup or bust for the Penguins this season? Well, that’s just fine by them.
“I’m pretty cognizant of the fact that that’s a pretty good-looking team on paper, but that’s not going to mean anything,” Shero said. “I’m hopeful the fans of Pittsburgh love this hockey team. I am pretty certain, on the road, we’re not going to be a very well-liked hockey team by 29 other teams, or the teams we’re playing in the playoffs. They’re going to be out to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins with the players we have here now.”
“I think there was pressure before; I don’t think it’s changed anything,” Crosby said. “We’ve added some guys who are going to help us and we’re a better hockey team. I think that’s something that, if anything, should motivate us.”