Jarome Iginla has career earnings of $83.825-million (U.S.) according to capgeek.com, the 10th most in NHL history. Moreover, Iginla will pass two of the newest members of the Hockey Hall Of Fame, Peter Forsberg and Rob Blake, next season when the first year of the three-year, $16-million contract he signed with the Colorado Avalanche this past week kicks in.
It is fair to conclude therefore that Iginla’s No. 1 priority in selecting the Avalanche over a handful of other suitors - including of all teams, the Vancouver Canucks - was not the money. Iginla was always like that, come contract time. In his years with the Calgary Flames, he wanted a fair deal, but he wasn’t trying to squeeze maximum dollars out of them either. For eight years in a row, he made $7-million per season – the going rate for players of his stature (two Rocket Richard trophies, three first-team all-star berths).
No, the lure of Colorado was the chance to finally win a Stanley Cup on what is likely to be the final contract of his NHL career (and which will leave him just shy of $100-million in lifetime compensation). You can buy a lot of waterfront property in Belize for that kind of dough.
Iginla took a long hard look at where the best opportunities to win might be and based on conversations with both long-time teammate Alex Tanguay and the Avalanche’s president of hockey operations, Joe Sakic, came away convinced Colorado was that team. Iginla made the point to the Denver Post on the weekend that Colorado’s raw youth was not a hindrance in his mind – that the Pittsburgh Penguins won their one-and-only championship of the Sidney Crosby era when Crosby was 21 and Evgeni Malkin 22; and that the Chicago Blackhawks won the first of two with the current core group when Jonathan Toews was 22 and Patrick Kane 21. The point is, if the talent is precocious enough, then the age on the birth certificate is not necessarily an impediment to winning. On the contrary, it might be an asset.
Nathan MacKinnon, the winner of the 2014 Calder Trophy, looks as if he could challenge Crosby, Toews, Anze Kopitar and that collection of centres within the next two years – what with the power in his game; his on-ice vision and his ability to play at a high-level in the team’s home playoff games. Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene all look as if they can be difference makers in terms of winning and losing. Both the Penguins and the Blackhawks had good supporting casts and Colorado made an effort to address that too, adding Iginla’s experience, along with Briere’s and also Brad Stuart’s on the blueline.
If anything, the NHL’s Western Conference should be even more dominant next year than last year, what with Iginla’s return and Jason Spezza’s migration to the Dallas Stars, leading the free-agent charge. If you read between the lines, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy didn’t think his team was ready for a major playoff surge this year, even though they finished the regular season ahead of both the St. Louis Blues and the Blackhawks, an extraordinary feat considering they were coming off a last-place finish in the conference.
They have a really nice nucleus in place but must make peace somehow with O’Reilly, who they are taking to salary arbitration. O’Reilly gives them a ton of flexibility, given that he, Duchene and MacKinnon have all played centre and wing for the team since their NHL arrivals. Iginla was essentially swapped in as a top-six forward to replace Paul Stastny, who signed with the Blues, and the expectation is that he will start on the same line as MacKinnon and Landeskog at camp.
But Roy has some options, depending upon Tanguay’s health and Daniel Briere’s viability to play a larger role than he had in Montreal this past season. Iginla and Tanguay have had excellent chemistry over the years – and arguably might have been consistently the best setup man he’s ever played with (apologies to Craig Conroy). There are concerns that Iginla can keep up in the Avalanche’s go-go-go style of offence, but if that proves factual, Roy could put together a veteran trio featuring Iginla, Tanguay and Briere that would face a lot of third defence pairs. Put it this way: The Iginla-Tanguay history/friendship might create options for Roy.
Ever since leaving Calgary, Iginla tried to win his championship first in Pittsburgh, then in Boston, and it didn’t work out either time. For whatever reason, they Bruins couldn’t get it together this year in the second round against Montreal, though they were the NHL’s top regular season team and Iginla was, as predicted, reinvigorated by the chance to play on a contending team.