Jarome Iginla bid farewell to Calgary and the Flames not with tears, but with his trademark forehead-creasing grin and his best wishes for the future of the franchise.
The former Flames captain spoke to the Calgary media on Thursday about his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins which was completed late the previous evening.
A Flame for all 16 seasons of his NHL career and team captain since 2003, Iginla is a beloved player whose departure is sad for Flames fans, but they’re also happy that he’ll get a chance to win that elusive Stanley Cup.
“I don’t know if you prepare a speech for this. I’m not retiring,” Iginla told a packed media room at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“I never would have dreamed I would have got to play here so long. It’s a great, great hockey city, a great community and such a great balance for a passion for hockey and a wonderful place to live. This is definitely mixed emotions.
“I wish we had more success and I really honestly thought we were going to have more success over the past few years, but I’m happy that we tried. I know we didn’t get it right and we haven’t been in the playoffs in the last few years to this date, but it wasn’t for lack of effort from our organization. They can still get in this year and I hope they go on a great run.”
The 35-year-old was dealt to the Penguins for a first-round draft pick and two college forwards. Iginla is Calgary’s all-time leading scorer with 575 goals and 570 assists in 1,219 games. He has nine goals and 13 assists in 31 games this lockout-shortened season.
He was named Calgary’s captain prior to the 2003-04 season when the Flames reached the Stanley Cup final and lost in seven games to Tampa Bay. That was the longest post-season Iginla experienced in Calgary. The Flames lost in the first round five times during his career.
The Flames have not made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season and will have a difficult time ending that drought without the face of their franchise. Calgary (13-15-4) is currently 14th in the Western Conference.
When general manager Jay Feaster approached Iginla about a month ago about a possible trade to benefit the struggling Flames, the Edmonton native obliged by waiving the no-trade clause in his contract.
Iginla provided the GM with a select list of teams he would consent to join. Iginla had more time than most traded players get to contemplate his departure, which accounts for his ability to control his emotions Thursday.
“It kind of gave me a chance to prepare because this has been home,” he said. “It’s a very difficult day and feeling right now because this has been my home and become home. I’ve grown up here.
“I understand it’s a new journey and I appreciate the fans that do wish me well, to go and try to win, Pittsburgh is a great opportunity.”
From the three offers under consideration, Iginla and Feaster chose Pittsburgh, a star-studded team featuring superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Iginla assisted on Crosby’s overtime winner that gave Canada an Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“I talked to Jay and wanted it to be a mutual thing that they were happy with the deal they got,” Iginla said. “If I was going to leave here, I wanted the best opportunity to try to win.
“I guess I had some choice in Pittsburgh. Getting the opportunity as a player to go and play on a team with the two best players in the world and team on the roll that they’re on and the success they’ve had, as a player I wanted that opportunity.
“I do really want to win a Stanley Cup. I would have obviously loved it to be in Calgary.”
Iginla is in the final year of a five-year, $35-million contract extension he signed in 2007. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on his 36th birthday July 1.
When negotiations heated up Wednesday, the Flames chose to protect their trade asset by scratching him from their game against Colorado at night. So in Iginla’s last game as a Flame at the Saddledome, he scored the winner in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over St. Louis.
“To think I played my last game in Calgary at home . . . I look back and wish I would have known it was the last one,” he said. “I’ll remember that last goal and the crowd’s reaction was awesome.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his best wishes to Iginla.
“Jarome Iginla is a class act, a proud Canadian, and an all-time Flames great. Thanks for everything, Jarome,” he posted on his @pmharper account.
Iginla played in three Winter Olympics for Canada and won two gold during his tenure in Calgary. Wayne Gretzky ultimately selected Iginla to his first Olympic team in 2002 in Salt Lake City, where Iginla scored two goals in the final.
Gretzky was in the Saddledome for Calgary’s game Wednesday, but Iginla watched from home as The Great One received a standing ovation when his face appeared on the scoreboard.
Gretzky’s trade from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988 was more shocking because it was unexpected. Gretzky could identify with what Iginla was feeling, however.
“It’s a little bit of a culture shock for him. That’s a hard thing Calgary had to do,” Gretzky told CHUB in Red Deer on Thursday. “It was probably hard for Jarome to say ‘I’m moving on.’ I’m sure people are happy for Jarome. He’s got an opportunity to play with Crosby and has an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.”
Iginla married his wife Kara and had three children while with the Flames. He says his family is on a previously-scheduled holiday in Hawaii, so he awaited his trade fate alone.
“It was very different at home without them and waiting all day and (Kara) felt a little odd too, a little bad,” Iginla said. “It’s probably best for the kids. It’s kind of a stressful situation for myself. They can just relax and enjoy themselves.”