For the first 16 years of his distinguished career, it looked as if Jarome Iginla would spend its entirety with the Calgary Flames, the team that acquired his rights in a 1995 trade before he ever played an NHL game. Iginla became the face of the Flames franchise, and meant to Calgary what Daniel Alfredsson did to Ottawa and Mats Sundin to Toronto.
Everything, in other words – and he was that guy for a good long while.
But the Flames began a rebuild in 2013, which obliged Iginla to move on. He first went to Pittsburgh, then to Boston and, most recently, to Colorado where he signed a three-year contract in the hopes that he might earn one last crack at a Stanley Cup championship before all was said and done.
Iginla came close once with Calgary in 2004 and had two pretty good runs in Pittsburgh and Boston, but things have not gone according to plan in Colorado.
So with the Avs hitting midseason and trade rumours swirling around some key pieces, the question is going to grow louder in the next two months. If Iginla had an opportunity to relocate and chase the Stanley Cup one more time, would he do so?
Provided the Avalanche are out of the playoff mix by March, which seems likely given their first-half struggles, the answer is yes – or so it seemed in an interview with Iginla prior to Wednesday’s game against the Flames in Calgary.
And if Iginla does move, would the logical destination be Edmonton, his hometown, to play for an improving young team that could use his leadership skills and, by the way, is currently run by a general manager, Peter Chiarelli, who also brought Iginla to Boston in the fall of 2013?
It would appear to be a good match, with Iginla offering the sort of veteran gravitas that a talented but inexperienced team could use. Milan Lucic, his linemate for that year in Boston, is there, patrolling the wing with Connor McDavid. While Edmonton has good reason to be optimistc about the team’s direction, the Oilers have gone 10 years without a playoff appearance and, as a result, have a whole lot of players without meaningful – or really any – NHL playoff experience.
And as everyone knows, experience matters. So many good young teams – Florida last year, a 112-point Colorado team in 2014 under coach Patrick Roy – can put together fabulous regular-season numbers and then falter once the postseason arrives. Having someone who has been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt can make all the difference in the world.
Iginla’s current boss, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, is also an old friend; they were the two key figures on the 2002 Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team that ended Canada’s 50-year gold medal drought in Salt Lake City and sparked the gold-medal victory in the final game over the United States.
Sakic also won the Stanley Cup as the Avalanche captain in 2001, and memorably handed the trophy off to Ray Bourque, a distinguished vet who made the move to Colorado from Boston hoping to cap off his career with a championship run.
At the moment, Sakic has more pressing things on his mind than finding a home for Iginla. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov needs to get healthy, and there has been no one to step in and replace the injured Erik Johnson on a leaky, thin blueline, but he would likely find a proper landing place for Iginla, should that be the way things play out.
Iginla, now 39, is having the most challenging offensive year of his career, with only five goals and nine points in 37 games, and is continually being shuffled up and down the lineup. But he can still shoot and has demonstrated that when the puck starts going in for him, it can go in frequently over a short period of time. He is the ultimate example of a player that can run hot after a cold spell.
Moreover, Iginla still has a stature in the game that his current scoring production doesn’t necessarily undermine and if Edmonton isn’t a good fit, then there are other possibilities as well.
The Chicago Blackhawks, a three-time Stanley Cup champion since 2010, always add a veteran piece at the deadline and would make a logical landing place. So, for that matter, would Los Angeles, where Darryl Sutter is the coach and had Iginla as the linchpin on a team that got to the 2004 Stanley Cup final.
Last year, the Kings brought in a former star, Vincent Lecavalier, who wasn’t even cracking the Philadelphia Flyers’ lineup, and he provided credible minutes and production (10 goals in 42 games) in the second half. Sutter is good at handling veteran players and by March, once perennial Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick returns to the lineup, they will seem like more of a Stanley Cup contender than they do now.
You cannot even rule out Calgary as a destination, because the Flames could absolutely use a physical presence on the top line to help Johnny Gaudreau get a little extra space and time on the ice.
So there will be options, and while Iginla is careful to say all the right things – that his focus at the moment is helping the Avalanche win games and turn their season around – the trade deadline will be here sooner rather than later and it’s important to know ahead of time, for family reasons among other considerations, what is possible and what isn’t.
“The deadline is still a couple of months off, so lots of things can change, but that’s part of the game and part of sports, and it’s also good for an organization, teams at the deadline, whether they’re in or out, to try to get assets back,” said Iginla. “I know how that works.”
Last month, Iginla played the 1,500th game of his NHL career. He has won the Art Ross Trophy once, the Maurice Richard Trophy twice and would have been the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP if Calgary had won in 2004.
Unless there’s a miracle turnaround in Colorado, it is less a question of whether Iginla will move one final time, but where he might end up and whether the destination gives him a chance to crown his career with a championship ring.
“Absolutely, it’s still the dream,” he said, “and I think it’s still possible. We’ll see what happens. I would love it. I would really appreciate it. I realize, over all the years, how many good things have to come together and how fortunate the people that win it are. I’d love to do that, and I still think it’s possible.”Report Typo/Error