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What's next for Flames and Jarome Iginla?

It was earlier in the week, just two days before the Calgary Flames' playoff hopes would to come to an end, when someone reached out and touched the nerve.

That anyone would dare suggest the Flames trade their all-time leading scorer, captain, No. 1 citizen and Canadian Olympic team stalwart wasn't the touchy part. It was who said it - Rhett Warrener, a former Flames defenceman and Jarome Iginla teammate.

Timing is everything, Warrener said, and time has come to move the man for the good of the team because "it doesn't seem to me he's making the team better. … If you're not in the playoffs, you haven't done what you need to."

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For the second year in a row, the Flames are Stanley Cup playoff-watchers, just like the rest of us.

In 2010, the complaint was Iginla didn't do nearly enough, didn't score enough, especially down the stretch, which was why his team fell short. This time, the captain hit the 1,000-point mark for his NHL career and fired three goals in last Wednesday's 6-1 thumping of the Edmonton Oilers. Well before that, Iginla had helped lead the postseason charge, showing some of his best offensive stuff in years.

But with the Flames having failed to win a playoff round since the 2004-05 lockout year, the question looms larger than ever: Now what for Iginla?

Should he stay or should he, as Warrener and others believe, be traded while his value is high?

The Flames current situation isn't pretty: The present lineup is the second-oldest in the NHL; the farm system is filled with moderate talents, no sure stars among them; and Calgary has just one pick among the first 100 in the coming NHL entry draft. Team management must also decide what to do with its eight pending unrestricted free agents (Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Brendan Morrison, etc.) and how in the world to get rid of Ales Kotalik and Niklas Hagman and their bloated salaries.

Moving Iginla was rumoured at the 2011 trade deadline, and the Flames reacted by stating they had no such intentions. One NHL team source found that curious: "Why would you not at least explore the possibility to see what Jarome Iginla could bring?"

When Iginla is asked for his thoughts on the matter from time to time, he'll say: He hasn't been asked by Flames management to waive his no-movement clause nor is he even thinking about doing that.

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Calgary has been the only place he's played. His kids were born here. He can easily visit family in Edmonton and vacation in the B.C. interior. He also has no burning need to be on a bigger stage in New York, Toronto or Los Angeles, where the Kings were keen to get him this season. (L.A. eventually sent prospect Colten Teubert, a first-round draft pick and a conditional pick to the Oilers for Dustin Penner.)

"I love playing here. My family loves it here. But at the same time, [trade speculation and older players moving on]its part of sports stories, I know that," the 33-year-old said. "I'm not looking to go anywhere."

Iginla made that comment without knowing who will be running the Flames next season. It's possible acting general manager Jay Feaster gets the job, providing the owners accept his plan on how to reshape the team. It's also possible the owners hire someone else. They have consulted with outsiders on what should be done player-wise and planning-wise this summer.

Whoever winds up in charge, Iginla didn't appear all that concerned, saying: "At 95 points [which the Flames could reach Saturday with a win over the Vancouver Canucks] even teams that are sitting pretty in the playoffs are not that much better. I don't believe we're rebuilding."

But do the Flames want Iginla, who turns 34 this July and has two years and $14-million (U.S.) left on his contract, to be part of the plan going ahead? Why not trade him coming off a 42-goal season to expedite a Calgary makeover?

"I'd go along with the harder decision," Warrener insisted. "This core group, to me, hasn't done it. The proof is in the pudding. It's not the right mix."

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His teammates say the right winger still has plenty of game after taking and delivering his share of bumps over 14 NHL seasons.

Tanguay was asked if he'd noticed any changes in Iginla, having played with him in 2007-08, and against him for two years before being reunited last fall. He insisted there was little difference.

"He plays pretty much the same way," Tanguay said. "From talking to him, he's tried to adjust through the course of the season, but he knows where to find a shot and he takes care of his body."

Iginla has paid close attention to how well Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nik Lidstrom and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis have performed in their later years and feels newer training techniques and medical care has allowed athletes to be effective longer. He added that less hooking and holding had reduced the number of groin injuries and made for easier skating.

All true. But the issue remains: What next for Iginla? And the Flames, too?

Theirs is now a limited-time relationship. The captain may be good for another year or three, or perhaps this is his peak and, as Warrener asked: "If Iggy stays here, do you see them next year being a contender?"

A playoff contender, maybe. But not a Stanley Cup contender. There are too many holes to fill and arguably the best way to do that is to trade the 1,000-point forward.

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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