The Almost Blockbuster Trade…

The last trip the Providence Bruins made to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania was a long one. It was an overnight ride from Portland, Maine to the Keystone State in the midst of a seven-game road stretch. I mentioned my not-so-Rainmanesque victory at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in my last blog post, but intentionally left one story about the trip out.

The NHL Trade Deadline was approaching late in the month of March, and the P-Bruins were two games away from a nine-game win streak that would carry them to the postseason. In the meantime, the Boston Bruins needed reinforcements, especially in the scoring department.

A team that was about to reach the top ranking in the American Hockey League might be sapped of a few of its best players, which is a part of the ebb and tide of talent in AAA hockey. Some teams go on postseason runs fueled by  NHL-quality players that made the regular season look inconsequential  (like the Binghamton Senators of two years ago, thanks to a then-hapless Ottawa Sens). Others have their best guys taken away to serve as “Black Aces” or emergency replacements in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With an underachieving NHL squad above it, there were some pretty large questions looming about the stacked P-Bruins roster.

At the time, Jarome Iginla was one of the biggest names on the trade market, because of his scoring ability, great attitude and his desire to play for a team that might actually win the Cup. (Sorry, Flames fans.) The Bruins were among the favorites to land the winger. For those of you who pay attention to the Boston sports landscape (or the NHL’s), I’m sure you heard all about Calgary’s “done deal” with Boston which would bring Iginla to the black and gold. There was a special kind of uneasiness about that Wednesday night…

When we hopped on the bus in Maine, it was just about sealed: Iginla would be headed to Boston in exchange for two P-Bruins and a first-round pick. Matt Bartkowski and Alexander Khokhlachev would be headed across the continent to play for either the Flames or their AHL counterpart, the Abbotsford Heat. They were both on the bus with us though.

After a six-plus hour overnight ride, we made it. Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza was the destination for Friday’s game, and we were dropping the equipment off a day early. The moment we stepped off of the bus, we were greeted by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins equipment staff. Before any other words were exchanged, we got an apology from them. When we asked what they were sorry about, the following word confused us more than cleared things up: Iginla.

It turns out that Jarome didn’t want to play for the Bruins, so the deal was off. During the same time period, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a deal of their own with the Flames, and Iginla suited up for the Eastern Conference’s best team, the other black and yellow squad.

Along the way, I wondered what it would be like to get on a bus thinking you’re about to be shipped to another team, only to find out you were sticking around. While Koko didn’t get as much playing time in the last ten games of the season, Bartkowski had a strong end to the season and an assist-laden start to the playoff campaign. He got called back up to Boston, as did Torey Krug because of a bevy of Boston blueliner boo-boos. (Unfortunately, fancying the language up doesn’t change reality. It didn’t seem to affect Boston in Game 1 against the Rangers though. Krug had the game-tying goal in a 3-2 OT win.)

So the P-Bruins did lose Bart, at least for now, and they haven’t been using Koko, though their team has done just fine. Currently on a six-game winning binge, they’re one victory away from the American League’s Eastern Conference Championship. It may be only a minor consolation, but the Providence club would have to eliminate Pittsburgh’s AHL team to move on.

If former Penguin Jaromir Jagr ends up as a postseason success for the Bruins, it will be even more of a dig against Iginla. I’m not calling it now, but a Boston series win over Pittsburgh later in the playoffs would complete a trifecta of spite.

Does it make me a bad guy rooting against such a stand-up teammate?

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