What Makes an Elite Player...Elite?

Kent Wilson
August 05 2011 06:53AM

(This is the third entry of the FN contributor search, this time by frequent commenter Vintage Flame. Make sure to keep the comments respectful because VF is a moderator 'round these parts.)

By Vintage Flame**

e·lite / i’lēt / Noun 1. A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, especially because of their power, talent or wealth.

Over the past season or two... or three, there have been many threads and discussions debating whether or not Jarome Iginla was, or rather is still, an elite player in the NHL? I think to answer that, you have to look at what it is that actually makes a player “elite” in status. Do you scrutinize the underlying numbers that are so prevalent and monitored in forums such as Flames Nation? Or is there another aspect to a player’s game that elevates him to an elite level; be it in the stats pages or in the eyes of his peers?

Well, let’s look at the numbers first! Iggy is 34, going into his 15th season in the NHL with the Flames. Last year he recorded 43 goals, which ranked him 3rd in the NHL. He had 43 assists, placing him 27th; and a total of 86 points, putting him 6th overall in NHL scoring. Those aren’t bad numbers, especially since it was his highest goal total since the ’04 season when he hit the 50 goal mark.

One of the most debated variables in looking at Iginla’s numbers has been the availability of, what fans consider, a number one centre on his line. It’s no secret that the team has struggled to find that key asset for the Captain that will lessen the burden on the guy shouldering the load on the scoresheet. It seems in the past that, when Iggy is scoring, the team is winning; albeit barely. It seems that other role players “appear” to take too many nights off because Iginla is playing his ass off, so these other contributors (eg. Bourque, Glencross and Jokinen) aren’t putting in a full effort. The biggest problem with this trend is that when Iginla stops scoring, these other guys aren’t able to pick it up and carry him through any slumps or droughts that he experiences. This might have a lot to do with the ongoing struggle the Flames have to establish a set identity for the team.

Despite what is said in the media, or by the coaches & management, the identity of this team starts and stops with #12. Unfortunately, this is also what widens the gap between teams like Calgary and Vancouver. The Canucks have the ability to move players up and down the lineup to disrupt the flow of their opposition. If a team shuts down the Sedins, the Canucks have the luxury of Ryan Kesler, who has shown he can play with just about any forward on the team. Conversely, when the Flames start shuffling the deck of forwards, it’s out of desperation to get Iginla some quality ice time, usually to the detriment of the other lines and, ultimately, the team. The Flames have tried the buckshot attitude with the top line ever since 2001-02 when Conroy was the best fit for Iginla, both on and off the ice. Iggy registered his highest goal total [52] and his 2nd highest point total [96] of his career. He won the Art Ross, the Rocket Richard and the Lester B. Pearson awards. It was also a career year for Conroy in all three categories of goals, assists and points. So what's happened since then? Plain and simple, the Flames have had a dwindling supporting cast that has made it possible for opposition to focus on cutting off the head of the dragon, to watch the body fall behind.

This is what brings me to other side of the “elite” coin. Despite all the short comings of the team as a whole, Iginla continues to put up the numbers. But I think what adds to the argument for the Captain as an elite player is that, in the course of these seasons, he continues to make the people he plays with better players. We have seen it with Conroy, we saw it with Mike Cammalleri in the 08-09 season, and we see it now with Alex Tanguay. It has been frustrating to see all these players brought into the organization to help the play of Iginla, only to see it have an inverse effect and subsequently result in the signing of big contracts on other teams. We have also seen this on the international stage. There is no doubt that, in the 2002 Olympics, the pairing of Iginla with Sakic filled up the scoresheet when it mattered. The same could be said for the 2010 Olympics when Iginla was paired with Sid the Kid. When it matters, in the NHL or International play, Iginla seems to be the spark or the catalyst that just makes everyone around him play to their full potential, if not more.

The debate will continue until the day he retires about when he stopped being an elite player in the NHL. However, I think one certainly has to or should consider the bigger picture when looking at a player of Iginla’s calibre. For a 34 year old player to not only finish 6th in NHL scoring, but to heighten the play of those around him, while carrying the entire weight of the team, the fans and the city on his back... one has to recognize that there is more to him than just numbers and statistics.

I’m not an expert by any means when it comes to Corsi or Fenwick stats. I know that his GVT rating is not even comparable when looking at the young snipers and leaders around the league. But what I have seen is this guy lead a pack of misfits and mistakes for the better part of the last decade, and still be respected and admired by his peers, be them teammates or opposition. I have no doubt that there are fans who would rather see Iginla traded for a player who puts up the leader type numbers. Then, I also have little doubt that any of those 'leader' players would hesitate in playing with #12, if given the chance. It stands to reason that, if “elite” means to be one of the best because of your talent, then Iggy can't be limited to Corsi or Fenwick stats to determine if he falls into this category. His talent extends beyond the tip of his hockey stick. It's reflected in the success of his teammates and in the hearts of his fans. I wonder what words will be used to describe Iginla as he undoubtedly goes into the Hall of Fame? I am as certain as I write these words, that “Elite” will be among them.

** Vintage Flame is a Calgary based sports junkie that prefers to call hockey a "religion" rather than an addiction. He believes there are two types of hockey fans. Those who cheer for the Flames, and those who don't understand the sport yet. When not engulfed in the hockey season, VF can usually be found passing the time with the NFL or commenting on this, that, and everything on Flames Nation.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#101 Dr. Nick
August 06 2011, 07:11PM
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Trading Iginla will not fix the Calgary Flames' real problem, because the problem is the Flames front office. Everyone wants to trade Iginla because they think Feaster can't screw that trade up and the resulting tanking of a season will get us a draft choice he can't possibly get wrong. So what if we get some top prospects and maybe a good draft pick for Iggy, will that make us better? No. The reason why is because we only have one Iginla to trade and we will have the same GM and president who will continue to screw up trades, drafts and free agent signings. If we can only get young talent by tanking, then obviously we have more of a problem than Iginla's age and defensive issues, because stars don't just come in the top 10 of a draft.

The only trade I would accept is Ken King, Jay Feaster, Brent Sutter and Jarome Iginla for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock, because I think this is only way to help fix the Flames long term. This will never happen of course but neither will trading Iginla help us improve because getting a couple of prospects and a draft pick will not stop the front office from making stupid decisions. I guarantee improving our scouting department and front office will go further than trading the heart and soul of the Flames.

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#102 Reidja
August 06 2011, 07:20PM
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@Vintage Flame

As soon as a GM calls me with an offer for Iginla, I will let you know. Although, it's not my job so I'm not holding my breath. I'm not one for the making up trades game. The backchecking thing was a response to the question "what more could he do". I think Kent has done a great job of showing that our first line was one of our biggest problems last year and a huge team weakness. Whatever line Iggy's on is our first one. He's the highest paid player and plays more minutes than any other forward, so yeah, I'd say he's played a pretty big part in us missing the playoff.

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#103 RexLibris
August 06 2011, 10:58PM
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IMO you aren't going to get a top 5 pick, especially a 1st overall, for Iginla. Any team drafting in the top 5, especially 1st overall, is probably going to covet that choice and the player/contract that comes with it more than a 7 million cap hit, 34 year old player with two years left on his contract. The economics of it just don't work. Furthermore the kind of trade that brought Iginla to Calgary don't happen any more. When Schenn was moved it was for a young stud who still has miles and miles left on the highway ahead of him and is signed until the 3rd coming of Christ.

To Dr. Nick: I wholeheartedly agree that the management of the Flames is what is principally wrong with the team and that is why I have said previously that I think even the Jets are in better shape because at the very least the GM and co. realize where they are what it will take to get where they want to go. I've read comparisons recently on FN of the Flames mgmt to the Leafs and, as horrifying as this may be to Flames fans, I think it is very apt. Both have exhibited a lack of accountability and a commitment to winning instead placing a priority on the bottom line. I say this because the Oilers ownership did the same thing for years in trying anything to get to the playoffs because the revenue meant the difference between profit and loss. The results are always the same and should be the title of one of Kent's blogs: Diminishing Returns.

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#104 jai kiran
August 07 2011, 12:26AM
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Look, I fully agree that Iginla is still an elite player and short of a truly great offer you don't trade him; that being said, to me, the biggest reason the Flames missed the playoffs last year is because Jarome had 3g in the first 15 games - what was the Flames record after 15 games? If Iginla puts up 10g in the first 15 games, the Flames make the playoffs - and it's not Corey Perry who wins the Hart.

Similarly, in 2009-10, if Jarome scores 10 in the last 16, instead of 1, the Flames make the playoffs.

I agree with VintageFlame that other players need to be able to step up in Iginla's cold streaks; but when the team is built on his shoulders he cannot go missing for periods as key as the first going and the stretch run.

He has been a streak scorer his whole career (but, Jesus, what streaks) and the slow starts are also a commonplace. But last year the slow start was fatal. And the timing of the streaks must be better.

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#105 kbignell
August 07 2011, 10:55PM
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Iginla in my eyes will always be an elite player and still one the best in the NHL. Jarome doesn't have what all other elite players in the NHL have, another elite player playing next to him. There is no other elite player on that flames team.

For instance, Stamkos plays next to ST. Louis who is coming off a 99 point season. Ovechkin has players like backstrom and semin playing around him. Sid has Malkin. Jarome has tanguay.

Tanguay and jarome both play good together, lets face it tanguay isn't a St. louis or malkin. I know they have been saying forever that jarome needs a top centreman, but he does.

feaster needs to fix the mess of what Darryl Sutter has made the flames have, which is too many mediocore players, not enough young players and no other elite nhl players. Jarome has been the face of the franchise for years and trading him would not be the answer.

If I were GM I would have tried trading bouwmeester instead of regehr. I say this because the salary of jay is more significent and jay isn't a shutdown guy like reggie was, nor is his offensive side as good as it once was. Babchuk is now signed. He put up good numbers last year and his offensive side is stronger than jay's.

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#106 Vintage Flame
August 07 2011, 11:28PM
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@kbignell

I agree with you in your take on the lack of a co-elite player for Iginla. I see what he has done over the past decade and can only imagine what could have been if he had a Malkin, Semin, Kesler, Kane or whomever.

While I have always been a fan of Alex Tanguay, even going back to his days in Colorado, he doesn't fit the bill for that elite linemate.

Feaster does need to fix a lot and Pat talks about it in his most recent article, "Steps".

If you can get passed the initial shock of the NKOTB video, Pat makes some good points about Feaster's moves in the off-season. We just have to remember, he won't be able to fix the team with one trade or a couple of signings. This is a team that is going to be DEEP in transition. i think we've only begum to see the tip of what is coming under Jay.

As for trading JBo over Reggie. Can't agree with you there. Jay is younger and a far better skater. Reggie was the best asset we had that was a tradeable commodity. Given Jay's lack-luster season last year and the size of his contract. The Flames would have had a tough time finding a dance partner for that trade. Feaster had to start making moves and Cap space.. Couldn't afford the long courting period in looking for a trade for Bouwmeester. And they definitely wouldn't have taken Kotalik as the ugly step sister either. Feaster made the right move.

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#107 Derzie
August 08 2011, 12:06PM
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Iginla is in my dictionary under Elite Player. He is not alone by any stretch. My definition of Elite is Top 5% for 3 or more years. Stats relative to peers, playoff moxie and leadership qualities are my criteria. Anyone who says Iggy is not elite is high, blind or both.

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#108 Taylor Rocca
August 18 2011, 06:22PM
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This article is by far the best submission.

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#109 Taylo Rocca
August 18 2011, 06:34PM
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If anybody votes for this article it means they are a horrible person and will have bad luck for years

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