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(Jeff McIntosh)
(Jeff McIntosh)

Iginla's future in Calgary unclear Add to ...

All the chatter Tuesday morning at the Pengrowth Saddledome revolved around the future of Jarome Iginla in a Calgary uniform - and the inevitable question of what they might get for him in return if the Flames entertained offers for his rights.

My view is that a deal would only make sense if they could land a top-two prospect - either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, in the 2010 entry draft - in return. Otherwise, it's too much of a gamble - to deal the face of the franchise, a productive player, an excellent leader, someone who still has some good years left - if all you get in return is a solid NHL player. That sort of deal would set the franchise back for years.

But the discussion also reminded me of the history of just how Iginla got to Calgary in the first place - and the broader story of the draft choice that just keeps on giving. One could argue that the single most productive pick in the long history of the NHL entry draft came when the Atlanta Flames chose Kent Nilsson in the fourth round, 76th overall, in 1976 - this after trying and failing to secure Nilsson's rights the year before by getting his first name wrong.

After getting 562 points in 425 games from Nilsson, the latter fell out of favor with coach Bob Johnson, and so general manager Cliff Fletcher traded him to his friend, Lou Nanne of the Minnesota North Stars, for a pair of second-round draft choices. With the first of those picks, the Flames selected a relatively obscure college star from Cornell named Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk unexpectedly became a star, but after nine years in Calgary (and one Stanley Cup), he got into a contract dispute with the team. Eventually, general manager Al Coates ceded to Nieuwendyk's trade demand and sent him to Dallas for the rights to Iginla. This past season, Iginla played his 1,000th game for Calgary; he has twice won the Rocket Richard trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer, and led them to the 2004 Stanley Cup final.

Currently, Iginla, Nieuwendyk and Nilsson rank 1, 4 and 6 on the Flames' all-time scoring list.

If the Flames could somehow turn Iginla's rights into a Hall or a Seguin, well, that would keep the legacy of that obscure 1976 fourth-rounder going for another generation. Something to think about for whoever happens to be running the team next year - Darryl Sutter, if he keeps his job, or whoever they eventually settle on to replace him.

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