The Answerman returns to ponder Jarome Iginla's future in Calgary, with the NHL trading deadline just two weeks away …
Q: Poor James Duthie. After Corey Perry signed that contract extension with the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, the TSN host deadpanned that a little bit of him dies every time a key NHL player goes off the trade market.
A: An understandable reaction. People actually greatly misunderstand what the NHL trading deadline means any more. Once upon a time, teams used it to bolster their lineups for the stretch drive and beyond, in the hopes that there was a Butch Goring out there that could help them get over the top and win a Stanley Cup. Nowadays, the trading deadline is all about providing content for cable sports shows and newspaper websites. Dozens of trades occur annually and rarely do of them have any tangible bearing on the outcome of the playoffs. And this year, it'll be worse than ever.
Q: Worse than ever because?
A: Because, in a 48-game season, so many teams consider themselves genuinely in the hunt for a playoff spot and thus will be reluctant to move players as rentals. It'll be a seller's market for the few teams actually willing to make players available.
Q: Presumably, that brings us to the Calgary Flames and the fact that their long-time captain, Jarome Iginla, is at the top of every trade rumour list. Is this really it for Iggy in Calgary?
A: Could be. But let's start with a dose of sober realism. Any potential deal that involves the face of an NHL franchise is endlessly complicated – far more difficult to pull off in the real (as opposed to the fantasy) hockey world. In the end, for Iginla to move, two disparate agendas must come together. Or to put it another way, there needs to be something in it for Calgary and there needs to be something in it for Iginla.
Q: Okay, start with No. 1. What would Calgary look for in a trade?
A: In a perfect world, high-end young prospects rather than draft choices. Whatever happens with Iginla or any other Flames player that might be available at the deadline, one thing isn't going to change for the team. Organizationally, the Flames will never go all scorched earth and enter into a comprehensive and painful five-year rebuilding plan. If they go forward at all with dumping assets because they can get a premium for them at this year's deadline, it will be done with a view to getting the franchise turned around in a hurry. So a prospect in the pipeline, or even better yet, a young, improving NHLer, is far more valuable to them than a draft choice which may help many years from now.
Remember this: Calgary was prepared to give up a potential lottery pick in top-heavy 2013 entry draft when it signed the Colorado Avalanche's Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent earlier this month. That long-term operating approach isn't going to change.
Q: Okay, so that covers Calgary's objectives. What might be Iginla's?
A: Back when he was still talking about his future plans, Iginla never wavered much off one position: That at this stage of his career, with his 36th birthday approaching on July 1, winning is what really matters to him. All along, he has professed a wish to win in Calgary and to stay in Calgary for different reasons, some personal and some professional. Iginla has a no-trade clause, so any deal that general manager Jay Feaster might contemplate will have to be cleared by him. In Iginla's mind, he has to realistically assess Calgary's chances of winning a championship in the five or so years that remain in his career. If he believes that they're moving further away from that goal, as opposed to getting closer, then he might agree to move on.
Q: Contractually, he will have that right this summer anyway, because his contract is up?
A: Correct – and that too is an important part of the equation. In the past, Iginla has always come to terms amicably and well in advance of any approaching deadline. He has played eight consecutive years on two different contracts for the same salary, a flat $7-million (U.S.). This year, there was an important change in negotiating strategy. Instead of talking extension this past summer, both sides agreed to wait until the end of the season to re-assess their respective situations. That small shift in pattern, which didn't attract a lot of attention, was important to long-time Iginla watchers. It signalled, for the first time, that he was at least contemplating a move elsewhere. Until this past summer, all the conjecture and speculation fell mostly in the pipe-dream category.
Q: So what happens?
A: The goal for any general manager in a position to sell is the same – drum up a market for his available players. If Feaster can interest two or more teams in Iginla – or in Jay Bouwmeester, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cory Sarich, Lee Stempniak or Mike Cammalleri – then he could get some tangible assets in return. No one can say for sure what Iginla's value is as a rental – or whether a team such as the Los Angeles Kings would actually sacrifice goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier in order to get a player that might help them repeat as Stanley Cup champions. It's all a guessing game right now, as GMs weigh options. There's a lot of movement every year at the deadline, but only a handful of deals are ever seismic or game-changing. Moving Iginla though would be one.