A little history lesson in the context of the Jarome Iginla trade talk, which shows no signs of dissipating in advance of the NHL trading deadline.
In 1995, the Calgary Flames were in the midst of a contract dispute with Joe Nieuwendyk that eventually became irreconcilable. General manager Al Coates knew he had to make a trade and ultimately was able to interest two teams in the former 50-goal scorer: the New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars. The Rangers were just a year removed from a Stanley Cup championship and the Stars thought they were close to contending.
Both badly wanted Nieuwendyk for what he could bring to the mix – primarily goal-scoring and leadership – and in the end, Coates created a successful bidding war between the two teams. The Flames wanted youth and promise, and ultimately took the Dallas offer – Iginla and Corey Millen's contract – ahead of the Rangers' bid, which revolved around Dan Cloutier, then a top goaltending prospect.
What Coates accomplished then is what Flames general manager Jay Feaster needs to do now: Coax a trading partner into surrendering an A-list prospect in any potential deal for Iginla, rather than settling what most teams generally get in exchange for a rental at the trading deadline, which is a series of secondary prospects and roster players with a limited upside.
Those you can find anywhere.
The history of recent trading-deadline transactions suggests that quantity over quality rarely works out for the sellers in the end. Take, for example, the negotiations between the Atlanta Thrashers and the Pittsburgh Penguins for winger Marian Hossa at the 2008 deadline. Atlanta accepted four pieces from the Penguins in return – players Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a No.1 draft choice that, because of Pittsburgh's playoff success that year, turned out be No.29 overall (Daultan Leveille).
Within a couple of years, Atlanta (now Winnipeg) had nothing of consequence to show for the Hossa deal – and in fact, the throw-in that went the other way, Pascal Dupuis, was and is still having considerable success with Pittsburgh today. Two years later, Atlanta again received four pieces from the New Jersey Devils in a trading-deadline deal for Ilya Kovalchuk, and of those four pieces, only Johnny Oduya is an NHL regular – and he now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The point is, these trading-deadline auctions can represent perilous waters for the team with the commodity to deal. Eventually it evolves into what we see today – one far-ranging, league-wide poker game. Feaster is the dealer and he's trying to get as many of his rival GMs as possible to join him at the table and thus drive up the ante.
One of the reasons the Penguins moved to add Brenden Morrow from the Stars, as opposed to holding out for Iginla, was they likely felt the asking price for the Flames captain was too high.
The qualities Calgary detected in Iginla when they originally acquired him back in 1995 – a player in the midst of a breakout year, in which he would score 63 goals in 63 games for the Kamloops Blazers – are what they need to see now in any prospect who may be coming their way now.
It's not that people will ever forget Iginla in Calgary – he is the team's all-time leading scorer – but it was far easier for them to turn the page on the Nieuwendyk era (he too was an extremely popular player) because of what they received in return.
Why did the trade talks between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks over the rights to Roberto Luongo go off the rails? Largely because of Vancouver's insistence that Nazem Kadri should be included in the deal and Toronto's unwillingness to part with a player they believed had a significant upside. In the end, they were both right – the Canucks for trying to pry Kadri away, the Leafs for refusing to meet their asking price.
But it illustrates a potential stumbling block in these types of negotiations. They can end in a stalemate if the two sides get stubborn and dig in. If the Flames can't get a Kadri in any Iginla deal and are only offered a collection of Angelo Espositos, what do they do then? It's a tough call.
These are complex negotiations and the only thing you can be sure of is that Calgary's hockey operations department is feverishly poring over the reserve lists of any teams they think will bid on Iginla – to see if someone there has the necessary upside to make the deal. Otherwise, it may go the way the Rick Nash talks did at last year's trading deadline: Two months of feverish updates followed by … nothing.
And wouldn't that be an anti-climactic result to the Iginla sweepstakes after all this breathless anticipation?