A prediction: It will be an emotional time for Jarome Iginla on Thursday morning when he bids goodbye to the Calgary Flames, the only team he’s played for as a professional athlete. Iginla’s 18-year association began with a trade when he was just a teenage prospect, moving from the Dallas Stars to Calgary in exchange for a future Hall of Famer, Joe Nieuwendyk. It ended late on Wednesday night when the team traded him to his destination of choice, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In his time in Calgary, Iginla turned pro, became an NHL regular, became a star, won a Rocket Richard trophy as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader and then won a second one. He led the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup final and in between, he helped Canada win two Olympic gold medals.
It was an impressive run, under any circumstances, and done with a level of class and dignity that can sometimes be rare to find in the world of professional sport.
The only thing Iginla couldn’t accomplish in Calgary is also the reason he’s leaving town – to win a Stanley Cup. Iginla agreed to waive his no-trade clause earlier this week and within 48 hours, the Flames had completed a trade with the Penguins to acquire two prospects and a first-round choice in the 2013 entry draft.
As an organization, the Flames have been treading water for years now, not getting any closer to winning a Stanley Cup. For the 36-year-old Iginla that meant the clock was ticking, on his career and on his championship dream. So now he moves on the Penguins, who were in the winner’s circle as recently as 2009 and have, in the past week, boldly moved to strengthen a team that been unstoppable of late, winning 13 games in a row.
Can anyone say juggernaut?
The Iginla trade ended a long but remarkable day in Calgary, where for the better of 12 hours, one of the Penguins’ chief rivals for Eastern Conference supremacy, the Boston Bruins, were thought to be the leaders in the clubhouse for Iginla’s rights. If he’d gone to Boston, it would have been the Raymond Bourque deal in reverse.
Remember how that unfolded? Bourque was the long-time Bruins’ captain, nearing the end of his career in 2000, when the organization did him a favour and traded him to a contending team, the Colorado Avalanche, for a chance to win a Stanley Cup. Bourque didn’t win it that first year, but he re-signed with the Avs and then won it the next year, putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career.
Iginla, at 36, may have more left in the tank than Bourque did at the time, but his short-term goal is the same – to help his new team, the Penguins with the Stanley Cup and add that to his own impressive personal resume. And Iginla had the final call there and he picked Pittsburgh as his team of choice.
Iginla will join a Penguins team that includes Sidney Crosby and Brendan Morrow, his Olympic teammates, along with Brandon Sutter, the son of his former coach in Calgary, Brent Sutter.
Otherwise, Iginla is going into unfamiliar territory – playing for a team where he doesn’t have a lot of personal connections, in a city where he played rarely in his NHL career. But after being constantly in the spotlight for most of the last decade in Calgary, maybe the opportunity to just play a role on a team will energize him.
With the Penguins, he can share the scoring load with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and others. Iginla has played the last few seasons as if he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders – and in some ways, he has. The responsibility for winning and losing generally fell on him, an unrealistic expectation in any team sport. In Pittsburgh, that weight will be shared with other accomplished players. On paper, it is by far the strongest team for which he’s played on, in an NHL career that began in 1995.
Meanwhile, back in Calgary, it could be hard-sledding for the Flames in the immediate aftermath of the deal, given that they were already an undersized team, even before trading Iginla away.
General manager Jay Feaster confirmed that this is just the start for him, making moves leading into the trading deadline. Calgary has been under pressure for years to retool and now, with the prospects of a playoff spot slipping out of reach, they are more prepared to act than ever before. Any number of veterans could be heading out of town, although the most desirable commodity left is defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who has been linked in trade talks to the Detroit Red Wings.
“We want to improve our hockey team and we believe there are a number of ways we can do that,” said Feaster at a press conference following the Flames’ 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night.
In making the trade announcement, Feaster confirmed that he had three firm offers and ultimately picked Pittsburgh’s because Iginla had a say in the matter.
He also paid tribute to Iginla’s contributions to the Flames’ organization, saying: “We, as an organization, owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jarome, not only for what he did for the franchise in his tenure as a player here and as our captain, but also for the fact that now, as … we’ve fallen short of the goals we set for ourselves as an organization, (Iginla) recognized that and recognized that there’s a time when we move on to another chapter.
“We respect very much the fact that Jarome worked with us. We feel we’ve embarked on the first step of a journey and a process – and that process is to make sure ours is a team that not only makes the playoffs on a regular basis but can legitimately compete for a Stanley Cup.”
That might take years to accomplish. In the short term, they are not the same team without Iginla as they were with him. It was a good run, but it was time to move on. Thankfully, and maybe a little too late for some, they finally all arrived at that conclusion in Calgary.