The Question of Jarome Iginla – Part 3

Olympic News - February 28, 2010


In part one of this series, we established that Iginla’s performance this past season fell short of his expectations and pay grade.

In part two, we saw that the dip in performance was in line with a trend of decline which has been in evidence since Iginla peaked four seasons ago. The decline is also congruent with the career arc of skaters in general, and Marcus Naslund in particular.

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In this article, I’ll look at what this all potentially means for the organization going forward.

It’s an unpleasant thing for Flames fans to consider trading Jarome Iginla. He’s been the organization’s best player for a decade, the author of some of the team’s best moments in recent memory as well as a gregarious and well-spoken spokesperson for the club and city in general. Sutter’s ability to attract and sign notable free agents during his tenure can likely be directly linked to the captain’s quality as a hockey player and as a person. He is truly an iconic figure in town and the accolades are well earned.

It is diffcult to coldly regard such players as on-ice assets without sentiment. But the responsibility of general managers is to balance what is and what is going to be against against what was and make the best bets possible in order to maximize gain and ice the best team possible.

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At this stage of his career, Jarome Iginla looks like a bad bet to provide value for his contract. He’s a diminishing asset, albeit one with pedigree and clout around the league. Those will both fade as Iginla ages and his play drifts gradually from peak to valley. The task at hand, therefore, is to weigh his perceived value across the NHL (how much will teams pay to acquire him?) versus his probable value as a Flame (his performance versus price). If the former is greater than the latter, it obviously behooves Sutter to move Iginla now.

There are only two ways the Flames can garner value fromt he Iginla $7M/year contract through it’s remaining years:

1.) He rebounds back up to pre 2008-09 levels. I would say this is possible though not probable. Unless Iginla is hiding some sort of infirmity that could be corrected with restorative surgery (like, for example, Teemu Selanne), his decline looks to be simply the wear and tear of age. This is basically a "hope and pray" strategy, although one that admittedly worked out (in the short term) with Kipper this season given his bounce back up to a pre-Keenan level of performance. So it can happen I suppose, although it’s not something I’d bet my money on personally. 

It’s also the riskier move. Should Jarome continue to decline, his stock will fall in the eyes of the NHL in general, as will any potential return the Flames could demand in trading him. Or, to put it another way, this may be Iginla’s peak trade value from this point going forward.

2.) The club acquires an elite talent to carry the mail. Iginla remains a useful player and probably one that can still put up points at a decent clip at both ES and on the PP. He doesn’t appear to be a driver of results anymore, however, and given the fact that the club has built around him as if he were, there is a general lack of other elite talent on the team to help shoulder the load. There’s a lot of good-to-very good support players to be sure (Bourque, Langkow, Hagman, Glencross, Moss, Dawes, etc.), but there’s no one on this team I would expect to reliably face the other elite forwards in the league and win even half the time. Assuming the goal is to compete for the Stanley Cup (and not merely for the final playoff spot), that’s not good enough. 

As such, an elite, playmaking center is probably required for the Flames to leverage their investment in Jarome (unfortunately, Matt Stajan doesn’t cut it). Ironically, I never subscribed to the notion that the club needed a "true #1 center" before this point given the quality of Iginla’s results over the years with reasonable facsimiles (most notably, Daymond Langkow), but here we are. Many note that Iginla’s play seemed to elevate on Crosby’s wing during the Olympics, to which I say…no kidding. Crosby is likely the best center in the world right now, if not the best player. He and Jarome, when paired, were deployed by Babcock in purely offensive surroundings (o-zone draws, power play time), while feeding guys like Bergeron and Toews the tougher assignments. To put it bluntly, if that’s what it takes to elevate Jarome’s play up to previous levels, it’s simply beyond the Flames organization to do so.

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Not only because they don’t have the cap space nor the trade assets to acquire a Sidney Crosby or anything remotely resembling him at this time, they also don’t have a team of Toews and Bergerons to feed to the wolves (few do. That’s why the Olympics are fun).

That said, this may be why it makes sense for a club already possessing the likes of Crosby or Bergeron to acquire Iginla presently – they already boast the pieces to effectively shelter Jarome and therefore leverage his contract to something approaching full value. Of course, it’s never ideal to have to carefully manage the ice time of a guy making top-15 money, but it’s a lot easier to do when you boast Crosby and Evegeni Malkin as your top 2 centers, for example.

Let’s also be clear that Iginla’s trade value is of pressing concern to the organization presently. Sutter has gambled heavily on the roster over the last two seasons, his betting chips the franchises future assets. The club now lacks cap space, draft picks and quality prospects (especially at forward) and the pillars of the franchise around whom Sutter has built the team are all past their peak seasons (with the possible exception of Jay Bouwmeester). Unless Sutter – or Sutter’s replacement – can orchestrate a bit of budgetary/signing/trade magic this offseason, the club is poised to sink deeper into the middling murk of the Western Conference.

As such, a strong return for Iginla could go a long way to righting the ship, assuming an appropriately attractive package of young, established player + quality prospect + draft pick. And since Sutter spent the Flames other notable trade asset on veteran roster players in a vain attempt to salvage the season *cough* Phaneuf *cough*, Iginla likely represents the next best avenue of return. We can’t be certain without canvassing the other GM’s in the league of course, but it’s defensible speculation at the very least.

Whatever happens, I’d like to state emphatically that nothing that occurs from this moment forth can sully what Jarome Iginla has accomplished as a Calgary Flame. Whether a trade this summer or graceful ride into the sunset a few years from now, Iginla will forever leave an indelible mark on the organization and city as a whole. His play sustained the club through dark times and his personality both off and on the ice will always be remembered with affection and pride. He’s arguably the greatest Flames player of all time there should never be another Calgary skater to wear #12 once Jarome takes it off for good. Don’t mistake my current evaluations of the player to be indictments of his character nor an admission of animus towards the man. Like Nieuwendyk, Fleury and MacInnis before him, Jarome Iginla will always remain a Calgary Flame, wherever else he may end up.

  • Tha Legion

    If the GMs of the league have the same perception of Iggy as the idiots on hfboards, the trade wouldn’t be worth it. And really, dollars-per-point value, this year really kind of crapped on his worth to other teams. I think that, if he does get traded, Calgary is going to get a poor return for him and it will be a move that everyone hates and the (ex) Gm regrets soon after.

    • Here’s the issue: do you think Iggy’s trade value is going to improve when he’s 34? 35? I suppose it’s possible if the team somehow has an Avalanche type year when everything goes in, but that’s wishing on a star.

      He’s 33 years old this summer. If he has another 60 point season next year, how many teams do you envision lining up for him then?

      So the choice may be: sell him now for as close to value as you can get now, move him for pennies on the dollar a couple of years from now, or let him ride out his days in town (as Naslund did in Vancouver) and get nothing for him at the end of his contract.

      • Obviously his trade value is going to keep dropping with age (even if his numbers improve, people are going to look at age vs salary and balk). I just don’t think he can be traded for great overall benefit, barring (as Domebeers mentioned) a full rebuild.

        I see two possible outcomes with the current state of the Flames. The first: Iggy is kept, the moves made are focused on tweaking the team, and either the team lucks out and gets together a group that wins in the next few years, or they have to wait til he reups his contract at substantially less money. Otherwise, full rebuild. If Iggy goes, Langkow goes, Kipper probably goes, and Regehr goes. Wipe out all the ageing, expensive players and roll the dice for something resembling this year’s Colorado (with less of the being outshot) or Chicago of a couple years ago.

        To sum up: I am with Domebeers on this one.

  • Good, balanced article, except for that Joe endorsement at the end.

    Uhh…well, Ill say it: Don’t really want Darryl pulling the trigger on this move, but Im hoping he gets fired anyways.

    We wrote a post a while ago about sending all the bad contracts to the Heat. Turns out that if you have a NMC, then you can’t get sent down (is this true?).

    So as you alluded too, we looked hooped, cap space wise, and no FA is coming to save the day. If trading Jarome is the route we are going down, I don’t see why you would keep Kipper, Bourque, Hagman, Stajan, Langkow, or even Moss. Paying secondary, complementary players isn’t something rebuilding teams need to do, and having Kipper would seem pointless. You would want to lose a lot of games the year you trade Iggy so you can get another good draft pick.

    So if your talking about the full rebuild Im for it, but if it’s just trading Iginla I think it doesn’t do enough, so I would be against it. We can’t go halfway with the rebuild, because that doesn’t work. In my opinion they should trade everybody and start fresh, or if they choose to be mediocre, keep Jarome, so at least I can watch #12 as we lose at the Dome.

  • @Domebeers

    I don’t think trading Iginla is admitting to a full tear-down. If what we saw this season was a real indication of Iginla’s abilities now, the truth of the matter is: he’s no longer crucial to thew team’s success (because he’s no longer an elite player). If you get a good return for Jarome in terms of a roster player, save some cap space and clear out some of the other dead wood (Staios, Sarich, Kotalik, etc) the team will still be pretty competitive.

  • I too believe that Iggy will have dimishing returns, BUT trading the cornerstone of the offense will not help. I think he will rebound, as he tends to. Remember the years he has done well he not only had a good #1 centre (Connie or Langs) but also a complimentary winger (McAmmond, Cammi, Tanguay, Hueselius). It takes a team to win and score. Power forwards get worn down quicker but I believe he can hold his own, but the team truly needs someone waiting in the wings to take over. They don’t have that, that is one of my main concerns. I don’t trust Sutter making the moves needed. My biggest fear is that Darryl will stick around, bring in more pluggers and “just guys”, continue to preach the defense first system and fail again. When people say, “But Brent had success in New Jersey!” Well his forwards were much different than the ones here. Here they are power forwards, guys who will bowl you over. In NJ they were quick skillful guys, who could chip the puck and race in and score. Power forwards, need room, they need passes and a defense first system doesn’t have that. Lastly, I think Iggy’s future is sitting infront or near the net, ala Andrychuk.

    • I think Jaromes recent play would indicate that he considers his skill set best served as a perimeter sniper. He seems somewhat reluctant to do the Smyth, Holmstrom, Andreychuk thang.

      Movement of a superstar/franchise guy is a difficult thing to time. Rarely are they moved too early but invariably too late, naturally hindsight is a very useful tool in the evaluation… ha!

  • I know you’re not saying trade Iginla outright, only that it might make sense, but still…

    I don’t see the Flames going that route just yet, especially from the PR standpoints you mention at the outset. Call it irrational, emotional, or a lack of clarity, but an organization run by Ken King is more image savvy than to let Iggy go after a season like this.

    Iginla is special. He’s the Ryan Smyth of Calgary only moreso: he has heart and soul, but also the ability to construct sentences without the use of the word “obviously.” Make a trade like that solely as a hockey move and you piss off the beer-buying, jersey-wearing masses.

    If you’re right about Iggy’s decline as a ‘tough minutes’ forward (and the Flames corresponding mediocrity) and suitability as a hired gun, there will still be plenty of buyers at trade deadline 2011. If you’re wrong and Iginla rebounds, the Flames won’t be sellers.

    The talk next spring may well be, “Iggy needs a chance to win” (I can see the smug Eric Francis article already). Then and only then will the Flames have the blessing to move the best player the team has ever had.

    The great Flames you mention – Nieuwendyk, Fleury, and MacInnis – were moved after fans had come to grips with the likelihood. Nieuwendyk had his contract mess, Fleury was UFA deadline deal, and MacInnis had his pending offer sheet.

  • I find it interesting that whenever fans begin to talk about rebuilding everyone points their fingers at teams such as the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Capitals, but no one really talks about the BlueJackets, Islanders, Thrashers, Panthers and all the other teams that have been ‘re-building’ for a decade plus.

    step in dog crap and the smell might linger for a whole lot longer than you might want. Just take a look up the highway.

    simply put, the flames organization is not about to actively pursue a losing product in the hope it will be better off 5-8 years down the road.

    • We’re not saying that rebuilding is what SHOULD be done, we’re saying that, if Iginla is to be traded, that is the only situation in which it would make sense to do so. To be honest I don’t see much difference between “rebuilding” for a decade or more, and engaging in a combination of narrowly missing the playoffs and getting knocked out in the first round for a decade (note: not talking about the Flames… yet). At least with rebuilding teams you get the excitement of the draft, the potential of the young players. What we’ve enjoyed of late has been a team sitting somewhere between mediocre and good, depending on the year, and looking like it has just taken its second step into a pit of quicksand.