75Sergei 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.

  • Bob Cobb

    Edmonton is not the answer, Edmonton doesn’t want Iginla…they are said to be shopping Hendricks, who at this stage compares to Iginla, because he cant keep up, so how does Iginla help?

  • jakethesnail

    Lanny MacDOnald had 26, 23 and 18 points for us in his last three seasons….BUT he scored the WINNING GOAL for us in 1989 to win a cup for the Flames!

    SIGH!

    A one day contract so Iggy could retire as a Flame would be the best we could hope for…

  • Cold Hard Truth

    Why not? Maybe he signs with us next summer for one last year as a flame before retirement. We need depth on RW, and could use another leader/mentor for our young team. Smyth returned to the Oilers afterall.

  • Kensington

    Iggy won a cup for us in 2004, no matter what the rest of the world says true Flames fans know. Having said that by the time Iggy left it was the best thing that could happen to the Flames and they immediately started playing better as a team because players came out of playing in Iggys shadow. Sorry only ever want to see him on retirement night in a Flames sweater. Leave those great memories where they belong … in the past.

    • Arminius

      Maybe he won us the cup maybe he didn’t. All I know is that it’s pretty hard to convince your friends and family of that when you have your imaginary Stanley Cup ring on to show them

  • Lucky 13

    Gawd thanks Ari, all that sentiment has me dealing with feelings.
    I absolutely loved, loved, loved Iggy and all that he exemplified as a Captain and a human being.

    And to top it off someone mentioned 2004 game 7 Tampa Bay series.

    (Insert sad music)

    Ari, can you script a happy ending to all this or should I just go drown my sorrows now?

    Never mind, the bottle opened itself

  • kittensandcookies

    I was going to say that Iginla’s skating has been really slow this year, but then I realized that the whole team is a pile of molasses other than MacKinnon. So maybe he’s just slowing down for the slugs.

    God the Avs are just terrible this year.

  • JoelOttosJock

    If the Flames trade for Iginla I will never cheer for the flames again. Never was a fan of him, did a lot of good things in the community and is a good hockey player, but he was part of the problem in the Sutter Era. Listening to his comments after the 10-1 drubbing the avs took from les habs the other night, complaining about emelins hip check on colborne summed up why he will not win a cup..he’s washed up, retire with some class, realize no contender wants you.

  • Ole YELLEr

    Good article I agree it probably wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen. I wonder what kind of a return Iggy will fetch at the deadline? I can’t see it being too much unless he starts to score more regularily. A part of me does think well if it’s no more than say a 5th round pick and the cap works it’d be fun just for the what if. How storybook would Iggy retiring not only as a Flame but as a Cup winner as well be? Sadly I’m pretty sure the part of me that thinks that isn’t my brain.

  • Azim

    Beautifully written, Ari.

    The same heart vs head battle wages with me when it comes to Iggy. I don’t know if the fit is there, in terms of style, player development, the Flames current status on the rebuild-contender axis, or salary. But dammit, as you so eloquently write – the potential for the fairy-tale ending is just too perfect.

    One thing to note: Iginla has always been a slow starter. It’s almost guaranteed, if his amazing durability continues, that his second half will be better than his first. Couple that with the revitalization of joining a better team (double revitalization if its the Flames), and can totally see some flashes of vintage Iggy. If Selanne and Jagr have done it, why not Iggy?! Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be the actual prime-time Iggy, but an effective Iggy that can help an-already strong team is all that’s needed.

    A more realistic scenario to a trade to Calgary in my opinion is that he signs on in the summer for one or two years, when (hopefully) the team transitions to an actual contender.

    PS – Did anyone see that deplorable ending to the Sportsnet article on Iginla a couple weeks ago (Luke Fox I think)? He said: The most romantic scenario: Peter Chiarelli, for whom Iginla scored 30 goals when both men were with the Bruins, brings him home to Edmonton.”

    Yuck, Iginla to LA to rejoin Sutter makes more sense than that. I’m still fuming with that example of troll journalism.

    Here’s the link to the article (I encourage you to tweet your displeasure at Fox):

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/jarome-iginla-trade-colorado-avalanche-free-agent-edmonton-calgary/

  • EhPierre

    Game 6 was the first time I ever watched a hockey game

    The day Iggy got traded, despite knowing it will happen for weeks, was one of the saddest days in my life

    A part of me, heck 99% of me, still hopes that Iggy gets to lift the Cup with the Flames. My imagination is running wild thinking this is the season the Flames do a repeat of 2004, with Iggy finally being able to play with a talented centre, winning the Conn Smythe and more importantly, the Cup.

    I know what I’m wishing for Christmas

  • Daves Waves

    “You know what sucks the most about this? Prime Iggy is exactly what this Flames group needs right now.”

    Beautifully written piece, Ari. Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but if I were to change one thing, it would be:

    “This Flames group right now is exactly what prime Iggy needed.”

    Thank you, Captain.

  • Truculence

    Hmmm…Pretend your mom is reading over your shoulder they say….and then they load a number of f*cks that would have prolly got your average commentator reprimanded.

    Administrative privilege, I guess.

  • brodiegio4life

    gotta feel for iggy… did he ever have the chance to play with a centre in cgy as talented as mony, bennett, or backs? Can’t imagine the damage he would’ve done with a legit first line centre during his prime

    • PrairieStew

      Look at both the career goals and points list. Name the players that played with each player above Iggy on the list. Each player has at least one other Hall of Fame team mate that helped them. Iggy’s list of accomplices reads like the 4th line. Realistically the best player that Jarome played with that helped his numbers would have been Phil Housley – a defenseman.

  • RickT

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post. Born in ’88, and a Flames fan all of my life – I was fortunate to see Fleury during much of his prime here, and Iginla be entirely dominant and just bend the ice to his will.

    That all being said, if Barkov can drag Jagr up and down the ice for 82 games in a season, I bet Bennett and Gaudreau could do the same for Iginla post-TDL to the last game.

    Bennett’s ceiling is what Iginla would have been, had he been a centre. Gaudreau is that playmaker we wanted forever. I think he could be an effective 3rd liner.

  • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

    I’m sure I’m not alone when I say this article accurately sums up my feeling on the matter.

    Iggy was pure class in Calgary. He was the player I pretended to be in shinny games. I’m young enough to remember the Halloween my friends and I walked like 5 km against our parents wishes to trick or treat at his house. He answered the door and signed a few things for us, something he apparently did every year he was available.

    The night he was traded is tied for worst hockey-related night of my life with game 7 against Tampa.

    Seeing him lift a cup in a Flames jersey, or even wear one would be amazing. But it definitely shouldn’t happen. And now I’m sad, so thanks, Ari. You’re forgiven because this is my favourite piece you’ve written

    • Xcameron

      Totally agree with this. The only way this MIGHT happen is if both the Flames and the Avs are totally out of it at trade deadline, there are no real biters for Iggy elsewhere and Joe Sakic sees the beauty in Jerome coming home.