After the firing of Mike Keenan, we came up for the list of to-do items for the new skipper whichever Sutter it may be. The list of tasks had nary a mention of Jarome Iginla, which prompted the question of what effect the incoming coach would have on the incumbent captain.
To be honest, the initial response was to dismiss the query as invalid given the belief that No. 12’s demeanour and attributes were such that his modus operandi was completely independent of who was giving the orders. This isn’t Marc Savard (2001 model) we’re talking about here.
Then, after considering the matter for a while, it seemed reasonable to factor the Iginla matter into the coach equation. Then, when hockey commentators and bloggers whose opinions I admire broached the subject of finding a pilot who would make Iginla play defence again, it seemed imperative.
So here we go, a quick and dirty look at Jarome Iginla’s performance with the Calgary Flames sorted by head coach. You need not a grain but a whole shaker of salt to digest this information given variables such as the relative stages of Iginla’s career, the comparative strength of the team and the fallibility of the plus-minus statistic, but all that said, here we go:
Note: Ice time not available for 1996-97
Key: games, goals, assists, points, plus-minus, shots, minutes played, goals per game, points per game, shots per game, plus-minus per 82 games, minutes per game
First off, one surprising stat concerns scoring rate. Iginla had his 50-goal seasons for Greg Gilbert and Keenan, but his best goal-per-game rate was for Jim Playfair. On a points-per-game basis, it’s not even close — Iginla is two-tenths of a point per game better under Playfair then the next coach, Keenan. It’s also Playfair (along with Greg Gilbert) who gave Iginla the most ice time and Playfair was the last coach to use Iginla extensively on the penalty kill.
Secondly, no matter how incomplete the plus-minus stat might be, it’s very interesting to note that the plus-minus per 82 number is virtually identical under Sutter, Playfair and Keenan.
So, a conclusion based on these numbers, observational evidence and logic? I go back to my original thought that the identity of the guy filling the suit is mostly irrelevant as far as the play of Iginla is concerned. The fluctuations in Iginla’s performance over the years seem far more dependent on team circumstances and the natural progression of a player who started in Calgary at age 19 and is closing in on 32.
As for the perceived defensive shortcomings in Iginla’s game under Keenan this past season, I’d suggest that any flaws have always been there. It’s just possible that the chinks in the armour were exacerbated by playing with Michael Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi and Olli Jokinen, chaps whose own defensive capabilities and/or diligence have been called into question. The key is to partner No. 12 with defensively responsible linemates (especially at centre) and THAT is the one area where the coach matters.
Still, that item is lower down the list than the other pressing concerns for the new man in charge — Phaneuf, Kiprusoff and the development of the relatively few NHL-ready young players on the roster.