Why Trading Iginla Was The Right Thing At The Right Time

Martin St. Louis retired this week.

I began writing something about him over the weekend, which led my thoughts to drift towards his exit from the Calgary Flames. In so many ways, St. Louis’ departure from Calgary came at the perfect time for him. He found an opportunity in Tampa Bay and was motivated to prove that the Flames made a dumb move in cutting him loose. The Flames obviously cut bait with St. Louis too early.

Thinking about him made me think about Jarome Iginla and his departure from the Flames. Some may think that the Flames held on too long with Iginla, but in retrospect, it may have been the absolute perfect time for it to happen. In so many ways, hockey is about taking advantage of chemistry and circumstances.

There are three specific things that come to mind when I think of Iginla’s departure and the positive impact it created that probably contributed to the momentum the Flames presently enjoy.

THE MONEY

Jarome Iginla was a player with a extensive track record. Part of that track record definitely factored into his financial compensation. In short: Jarome Iginla was paid like a high-end player of the day typically was, and brought with him a $7 million cap hit for much of his tenure with Calgary.

If he stayed in Calgary, there’s a good chance that sentimentality probably would’ve kept his cap hit higher than it would’ve probably deserved to given his presently level of offensive production. Tying up a bunch of money into a single player typically limits a team’s flexibility, particularly when the player is beginning the back-nine of the career – or is already well into it.

Getting rid of Iginla radically altered Calgary’s salary structure. Even when several individuals get raises next summer, you’re going to see a Flames club where the players making the big money are on the right side of 30 (and are the team’s biggest offensive weapons). The departure of Jarome Iginla made that realignment possible.

THE ATTACK

Speaking of realignments, here’s another massive one.

Let’s say you’re an NHL coach. You have an established 30-goal scorer on your line-up. It makes planning your offensive scheme easy. Almost too easy. Almost…predictable. Moreover, it encourages making one player the focal point of your attack, to the point where other options seemingly don’t even register on the radar. The Flames kept bringing in players in the same age cohort to bolster their attack and play with Iginla, like Mike Cammalleri and Alex Tanguay, while engaging in the never-ending game of “Let’s find the magical perfect center to play with Iginla.”

Ironically, as soon as Iginla left the team, they suddenly began to find depth up the middle – beginning with the drafting of Sean Monahan a few months after the trade. With no Iginla for the attack to revolve around, the team began exploring as many options as began available – including adopting an attack that brought defenders into the offensive end as a second rush, or even leading the initial rush. The result has been the most potent Flames offense in years, despite having little in the way of big-name, established, 30+ year old stars on the roster.

THE LOCKER ROOM

Trading Jarome Iginla completely changed the Flames locker room chemistry. Before the trade, the team had struggled for a couple seasons and the question was “When is the other shoe gonna drop?” Was someone getting fired? Traded? Something had to happen. There was a palpable tension in the room during media availabilities. Nobody joked around. It was a weird vibe.

Iginla got traded, and suddenly it seemed like a weight was lifted.

Not only did the proverbial “other shoe” finally drop, but from all accounts new leaders emerged in the room that hadn’t really been there before. Or that had, but hadn’t spoken up. When you enter a locker room or a workplace or any social setting with an established pecking order – where there’s a Hall of Famer sitting in the stall across from you – you naturally defer to them. And honestly, that’s not a criticism, it’s a fact. Jarome Iginla had accomplished enough in hockey that guys probably should defer to him in terms of leadership. But it does make it so that the main voice in the room is Iginla’s, and brands the group as “Iginla’s Team.” (Aside: it’s also why I take the Boston-based criticisms of Dougie Hamilton with a grain of salt; replace “Iginla” with “Chara,” and of course a 20-year-old wouldn’t speak up very much as a newcomer on a veteran team.)

Without an Iginla for the room to revolve around, you get all kinds of different things happening.

We now frequently hear that Sean Monahan is one of the main voices. Kris Russell is an alternate captain. Mikael Backlund is calling the Swedish prospects to welcome them to the team. Lance Bouma seems to be becoming a leader, as well. Bob Hartley now has a larger leadership contingent to rely upon during tough stretches, to the point where he’s joked that when the team is down after a period or two, he hardly needs to say anything to the team – they seemingly have a group in the locker room that does the talking instead.

The chemistry in Calgary has completely changed since Jarome Iginla left. And whether you use the word “identity” or “culture” or “mix” or whatever you want to call it, that change has been one of the key building blocks of the success the Flames have had on the ice. It’s not the only factor, but it definitely has had a big impact.

Only time will tell if Iginla’s departure from the Flames will be more successful for both parties as St. Louis’ was. Granted, only one of those parties ended up winning a Stanley Cup in the long run.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Jesus Christ, Flames fans have a discussion about the best player in franchise history and one of the top-20 goal scores in NHL history and the jackholes from ON (not saying they all are, just the ones posting here) have to ruin it by bragging about their teams ineptitude for the last decade resulting in getting McDavid. Guess what, it`s awesome you guys were so awful you got gifted 4 1st overall picks that wouldn`t have gotten if you hadn`t missed the playoffs every season but 05-06 since the 04 lockout while Calgary iced a, at the very least, competitive team for much of that time.

    So, kudos for cheering for a team that, aside from making the playoffs once, have been awful for one year short of a decade.

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Of their first 3 first overalls, none would be a first overall in a redraft. Development for many young players is no where near complete at age 18. Gaudreau is an example of that.

  • Rockmorton65

    Something no one’s mentioned in regards to the Oilers is how they’re staring down the barrel of cap hell. In the next 3 years or so, McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse will be coming off their ELC’s. Hall, Eberle & the nugget will be due raises on their current 6 mil. Talbot and Yakupov will need to be reupped during that time as well. Funny part is, is that in three years, they’re still going to have a second pairing defenceman making six mil for the next three years.

    Could it be that their window could be closing before McSavior steps on the ice?

    • piscera.infada

      They truly do have a perfect storm coming. & the whole irony will be, can their Chia pet pull of a trade & differ some of the young talent to match the right core group. They have two different core groups of very top draft picks. They have the Eberle/Hall/Nuge raised in a toxic losing culture. Yakapov is right in the middle, there is some poison in him but he is still close enough to the new core of high draft picks in Draisaitl & McDavid. Their defence man may have been drafted in the toxic years but may not have been exposed, but if Nurse, Reinhart & Klefblom are all able to transition to NHL, that’s a lot of potentially large contracts all coming in at one time. The trick is to delay talent from those big paydays. But how does a team that has been losing for so long, so starved for success start trading pieces for futures so they can avoid this cap hell perfect storm heading their way. These clowns should just shut up & pray their new management make better decisions than the last ones did.

    • Zarny

      Hahaha…sorry but the Oilers cap situation has been on the radar since the final ball dropped.

      McDavid will be on the ice before the window even opens. And it isn’t going to close because the Oilers have to trade 1 or 2 players for 1st rnd draft picks and/or really good prospects.

      • Rockmorton65

        So, you’re saying the windows not going to close because the Oilers would rather trade 1-2 players approaching their prime for picks than pay them? Thats the plan? Sounds like a never ending rebuild to me.

        I’m curious who you think will be traded to create the cap room they’ll need that will give them the room without affecting the core?

  • Zarny

    Iginla was an 11 time 30 G scorer with over 500 career goals and the Flames got a measly Ken Agostino, Ben Hanowski and Morgan Klimchuk in return because they trade Iggy 1-2 years late.

  • Glassplat

    Personal Observations from yesterday: as previous posts mentioned the layout of the arena makes viewing “everyone equally” a bit of a challenge as half the group is mostly at the far end of the ice. That said I focused mostly on the D guys.
    My thoughts…..
    Nakladal was a “man amoung the boys” – rarely lost a matchup and looked quick in all facets.
    Morrison looks to be a beast – big, fast, can skate and has a howitzer. I was standing at ice level for the C-D session and he was a overpowering most and rarely lost a battle.
    Hickey looks like the second coming of TJ. His stride looks to be 4 foot wide and likely never gets pushed off the puck. He’s lightning fast, can recover in a blink and seemed to always have a smile on his face.
    Kylington first came out and looked a bit uncomfortable. He stumbled a couple of times at the start of his acceleration during the wind sprints and I could tell he was frustrated. A coach saw what was going on and approached him. Oliver motioned to his skates with the blade of his stick seemingly complaining. From my vantage point up against the glass it appeared he was wearing new skates. To me he wasn’t used to the rocker or perhaps the skates were too stiff. He got noticeably “better” as the season progressed however during stoppages he looked in serious pain.