79Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Jarome Iginla, the quest for a Stanley Cup, and the Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginla is 39 years old, and he still has not won a Stanley Cup.

He’s playing in his 20th season. It’s been 1,501 games, 614 goals, 1,280 points. This is a surefire first ballot hall of famer. He’s been an all-star several times over, he has a King Clancy Award, a Lester B. Pearson Trophy, a Rocket Richard and an Art Ross. He should have a Hart Trophy. He should have a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe, too.

But he doesn’t. And time is running out.

Iginla is 39 years old. His best days are behind him. He appears to be dropping off quite significantly: the guy you used to be able to count on for 30 goals a season, easy, is on pace for nine this year. He’s several steps slower. It’s ending.

And yet, no Stanley Cup.

He hasn’t been with the Flames since the 2013 lockout season. He’s on his third team since then. It was unthinkable to imagine Iginla wearing any other team’s jersey; now, it’s just a fact of life that’s been ongoing for nearly four years.

But he played 16 seasons with the Flames. He holds most of the franchise’s records. He almost singlehandedly dragged them out of obscurity. He came as close as he ever has to winning with them. His best years were spent in Calgary. And all things being just in this world, he retires a Flame one way or another.

The Colorado Avalanche aren’t winning anything this year. They’re horrendous; it’s December, and they’re still among the very worst teams in the NHL. This could very well be it for Iggy, and so, he is reportedly willing to waive his no-trade clause.

We have to at least talk about it.

Who is Jarome Iginla now?

When we last saw Iginla – really saw him – he was still playing at a high level. He scored a game-winning goal on home ice. The floundering Flames were shut out on the road the next game. When they came back, he was a healthy scratch.

The last time we saw him, he was vintage Iggy.

A power forward driving to the net, shrugging defenders off of him and sure, it wasn’t picture perfect, but it was a goal regardless: his 525th wearing that jersey.

It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since then. The only current Flames who can call Iginla a teammate are Mikael Backlund, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Matt Stajan, and Dennis Wideman. Everyone else is gone. Johnny Gaudreau had been drafted, but wasn’t anywhere close to the NHL. Sean Monahan was still a couple of months away. Micheal Ferland was seriously struggling to become a pro. Dougie Hamilton, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk weren’t a fathomable concepts, and neither was having anyone not named Miikka Kiprusoff in net.

Since then, Iginla has scored 89 goals for three other teams. He’s put up 184 points over 281 games. He had 22 goals and 47 points as a 38-year-old last season, which are unthinkable numbers for the player we’re familiar with; he has three goals and seven points through 27 games this season. It’s depressing.

He’s not a scorer. We can’t even say “oh well nobody on his team is” because Nathan MacKinnon has 20 points this season, which would make him the Flames’ leading guy. Iginla is averaging 15:09 a game with very little to show for it, tied for 11th in Avalanche scoring. He’s tied with Blake Comeau. Rene Bourque has more points than he does.

But he is at least averaging two shots a game. His shooting percentage is a mere 5.9%, well below his career average; either he’s done, or he’s going through a dry spell. He isn’t getting consistent linemates to play with, either.

And yet. This season, Iginla is a 50.42% 5v5 CF player: one of just five regulars on that team to be a positive corsi player. He’s doing it with 43.40% offensive zone starts, the lowest out of those five. Against the odds, this year, he is driving play.

Maybe that trade rejuvenates him.

The Flames are not a contender

Here is where everything falls apart.

Iginla no doubt wants to go to a team that’s a Stanley Cup favourite. This is possibly his last shot ever.

The Flames do not fit his needs. They are still a rebuilding team. One that looks to be headed in the right direction, yes, but they still might not even make the playoffs this year. If Iginla knows what’s good for him, he wouldn’t come back here. (Then again if he knew what was good for him, an aging player chasing a championship, he never would have signed with the Avalanche to begin with.)

Of course, it’s not like Iginla has to go anywhere now; the trade deadline is still two and a half months or so away. The playoff picture will likely be at least a little clearer by then, so the top contending teams will be more obvious, and it can be like 2013 all over again, except with a player who isn’t going to be nearly as forceful a presence now as he was back then (and even then, he was on the decline).

You know what sucks the most about this? Prime Iggy is exactly what this Flames group needs right now. They are lacking in high end right wingers, aka what Iginla was for pretty much his entire career with Calgary. Can you imagine the havoc a first line consisting of Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, and vintage Iginla would wreak upon the NHL? This is a guy who had 50 goal seasons with Craig Conroy as his centre.

Today’s Iginla probably shouldn’t be on a line with Gaudreau, though. Today’s Iginla is not a key offensive contributor. Today’s Iginla probably doesn’t provide much of a boost at all.

And that’s ignoring what the Avalanche would even want for him. Colorado and Calgary aren’t compatible trading partners; the Avalanche need to readdress their rebuild and acquire high-skill young players, assets the Flames should not, under any circumstances, be parting with for a guy who is at the end of his career.

And yet

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

I miss the guy. I miss the goals he scored, I miss his shot, I miss him asserting his will all over the ice, I miss his ability to boost whatever linemates he had around him at any time, I miss him ragdolling opponents and laying huge hits and being a monstrous fighter and his forehead crease and his smile and literally everything about him.

The night he got traded was the worst. It has been almost four years. The Flames have moved on from him. They have new stars, new fan favourites, and now is not the time to retread. Giordano is the captain. Gaudreau is the hotshot high-scoring winger. Ferland plays just as physical a game, is as good a fighter as the Flames will ever need.

Everything in my head tells me “do not bother”. He won’t win a Cup here anyway; by the time the Flames are actually competitors, he’ll probably be retired. The only way the cost makes sense is if the Avalanche literally give him to the Flames for free as a gesture of good will, which is a stupid thing for a team in dire need of future assets to do.

You have to struggle to find a fit for Iginla on the ice; you have to struggle even more to find one off of it.

Logically, it’s obviously not going to happen.

And yet.

That doesn’t stop my heart from out of nowhere longing for scenarios in which he returns to Calgary and gets that one last boost he needs to get him through the rest of his career. Who were the 2004 Flames, anyway? They weren’t contenders and they just about did it. They have talented young players now. Who’s to say history can’t repeat itself? Wouldn’t it be the perfect time?

My heart is forcing my head to envision Gaudreau making a ridiculously perfect pass to Iginla who is loading up his one timer for a goal that they can’t take away this time. Gaudreau dances around, finding space and giving Iginla time to set up. He makes a pass through two defenders’ legs and sets it right on a tee, and Iggy blasts the puck on a shot the goalie has zero chance to stop, and then Giordano is passing a giant silver Cup to him before even lifting it himself.

None of that is going to happen and yet it is so easy to imagine. Iginla could retire an Av this season and a part of me is going to keep this fantasy going while always thinking, what if? Are sports nothing if not romantic? How much more romantic can you get than that? Who on earth could possibly be upset about seeing Iginla lift the Stanley Cup in a Calgary Flames jersey?

The sentimentality is stupid, and it is overwhelming.

It is not going to happen. The Iginla who left Calgary is no more. He is an older, much more ineffective player on his last legs now. He is not worth giving up much for, and he does not exactly provide any upgrades to this team, not now and especially not for the future.

And yet.

What if.

Iginla should not play another game for the Calgary Flames.

My heart tells me he has 16 out of nowhere wins left wearing the jersey he’s worn the most.

Hope was the one thing that never left Pandora’s box. At least there’s still that until reality rightfully euthanizes it.

  • RKD

    The mind says no but the heart says yes. Iggy is a world class future HOF and gave his blood, sweat and tears to this organization. I would love if Iggy in his prime was with Gaudreau but I think he’s really fallen off a cliff. Either he’s going through the motions or he totally is on his last legs. I can’t see him going past this year win or lose. I’m sure Johnny hockey would make sick passes to Iggy but it’s not the right move. This is a new Flames chapter, the Flames traded Fleury then Iggy took over and now that Iggy is gone it’s the Gaudreau show. Yes we badly need a RW but not at the cost of this team’s future.

  • Wideman’s at 5.25 and Iginla’s at 5.333. I’m not saying we SHOULD do it, but it would make me about as happy as winning the draft lottery.

    The heart wants what the heart wants boys, and the heart wants Iginla.