Alcohol, opium and Jarome Iginla to the Flames rumors: the three most addictive substances in Southern Alberta at the writing of this piece.
At a time when hockey news is as scarce as water in the Sahara Desert, the whispers that a Jarome Iginla reunion with the Flames is in offing get louder by the day, and an ever growing excitement about the possibility is hitting a near fevered pitch on the internet.
But the question regarding an Iginla-to-Calgary reunion is not, “Could it happen,” but rather, “Should it happen?” Does it make sense for a team that believes its window of competition opens this year to add a 40-year-old past icon who has lost multiple steps in the last few years in an attempt to push themselves over the top?
The heart wants what it wants
We at FlamesNation have tried to establish ourselves as a forum of logic, reasoning and unbiased analysis regarding the Calgary Flames. If the Flames are rumored to be in on – or eventually get – an ineffective player or make a questionable deal, Lord knows you’ll hear about it. A Jarome Iginla signing at this point looks to be very much that: a questionable allocation of resources on an ineffective player that will simply chew up a roster spot and return a net-negative effect on the team.
BUT JUST THINK OF HOW BEAUTIFUL IT WOULD BE!
The number 12 has been rightfully vacant since Iginla’s departure in April of 2013, but his place in the hearts of Flames fans is anything but. From Pittsburgh to Boston to Colorado and most recently to Los Angeles, we’ve followed Iginla from afar, overcome with warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia every time he popped up on a highlight reel or was mentioned in an article. Heck, his vintage Gordie Howe hat trick against the Flames last March as a member of the Los Angeles Kings dented the Flames’ playoff hopes, but all we could think of was how awesome it was that he came out and saluted the crowd as the first star of the game.
Jarome Iginla’s name being called out on Oct. 7 during the player introductions of the Flames’ home opener would likely blow the architecturally suspect roof right off the Saddledome. It would be something out of a storybook.
Iginla’s second tour of duty with the Flames would start with a media frenzy press conference, in which he would talk about how great it is to be back, how much things have changed since he left and his excitement to chase that elusive Stanley Cup with a young, up and coming Flames team that he affectionately watched grow from afar (even if that’s a crock of ship we’ll all believe it and love it). Then will come the countless articles about Iginla’s fast approaching, guaranteed bounce-back year with the franchise he embodied for the better part of his career, his impeccable physical shape that will allow it and think pieces on his fit with Monahan and Gaudreau. Then, he’ll undoubtedly place near the top in fitness testing, and probably even have a big preseason game to top things off.
The frenzy will be near deafening when the Flames open the regular season on Oct. 5 in Edmonton.
Unfortunately, all evidence points towards the positivity going straight off a cliff – alongside his play – immediately after. Everything about Iginla’s recent results and the fact he is 40 years old point to him likely not even being an NHLer next year.
Since signing with the Bruins and then the Avalanche after his trade from the Flames, Iginla’s counting stats have steadily declined. The numbers below are, of course, GP – G – A – P:
His underlying statistics paint an even grimmer picture, showing the drastic decline of a once superstar.
Since we here at FN love graphs, here’s essentially how Iginla’s on-ice impact has gone since departing Calgary.
A popular argument for signing Iginla despite his being 40 years old is pointing to 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr and the above-average results he’s turned in at his advanced age. Problem is, the two really aren’t at all comparable. Iginla’s recently completed age 39 season isn’t even in the same stratosphere as Jagr’s in terms of possession impact.
The counting stats are similar, but the chart suggests Iginla was the beneficiary of good linemates and powerplay time which boosted his counting stats, because he got absolutely caved in otherwise. On Jagr, amazingly enough, his metrics across the board improved over the five years following 2012-13. Now that’s a guy the Flames should look into, but I digress.
If the Flames really are interested in bringing back Iginla, is there anyway they can somehow squeeze positive value out of a player who, despite still possessing the ability to score, is regularly smashed possession-wise?
Finding a fit for Iginla
The Flames already have a 12-15 goal possession black hole in Troy Brouwer, so it seems extremely counter productive to go and add another. I think at this point everyone understands that Iginla is no longer a top six forward, and frankly isn’t a top nine guy either. The one caveat of positivity with Iggy is the fact his anti-tank gun of a shot hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s not unreasonable to say Iginla is still one of the most lethal shooters from in and around the hashmarks in the NHL, primarily on the powerplay, as evidenced by half of his 14 goals coming on the man advantage.
Aside from perhaps Mark Giordano, the Flames lack a true one-time threat on the powerplay, and rely more on seeing eye shots, rebounds and cross-crease passing to bank goals on the PP. Adding in an artillery dynamic like Jarome Iginla parked on his off-wing tossing rockets at the net is no doubt attractive. Problem is, what do you with him for the other 57 or so minutes he isn’t standing around waiting to shoot?
The Columbus Blue Jackets perhaps offered an interesting solution to such a problem this past year with their usage of Sam Gagner. Gagner posted over 50 points despite spending most of the year on the fourth line. How can a player have that big of an offensive impact in such a limited role? Power play time: 193.23 of Gagner’s 860.07 total minutes this past season came on the power play, where he was a primary fixture – and an effective one at that – for the Blue Jackets. That means 22.35% of the time Gagner spent on the ice was on the powerplay. In contrast, Iginla spent only 16.5% of his ice time this past season on the PP. Most of that maybe comes from the Avalanche and Kings relying on him as a top nine forward night in and night out, but there’s room to adjust his usage.
Iginla was also a 48.8% CF player at even strength against reasonably tough competition, so in theory, he shouldn’t get completely snowed in against weaker competition. In comparison, Troy Brouwer carried a 46.9 CF% at evens.
So, theoretically the Flames could shore up their powerplay with a big shot, and then keep him on the fourth line with 8-10 minutes a night against other teams’ fourth lines where the damage of his even strength play should be minimized. In a perfect world, Iginla scores a few even strength goals and combined with his power play markers and some luck, ends up with a reasonable goal differential. Probably not a positive one, but not to the point where he’s a legitimate and consistent detriment to the team when in the lineup. Not exactly painting the rosiest of pictures though, am I?
Assuming Iginla can agree to this usage design (which is no guarantee given the immense amount of pride he must take in being one of the game’s best players for such a long time), he would likely be reunited with centre Matt Stajan. The Flames are paying Stajan and Brouwer a combined $7.65 million next season, so it’s safe to presume they’ll reprise their roles on the fourth line come next fall. In a time when teams are fashioning progressively younger, faster and cheaper bottom sixes, especially fourth lines, having a unit of Iginla-Stajan-Brouwer is less than ideal at an average age of 34.6 and slowwww. Frankly, a line of Hamilton-Jankowski-Iginla would be, aside from fascinating, probably a better option. The Flames’ financial statements likely squash that, so they’d be stuck with a large anchor of a fourth line.
At the end of the day, none of this really matters. Jarome Iginla would be back in a Calgary Flames jersey, the only sweater he really ever belonged in. He probably wouldn’t play anywhere near the full 82 game spread, but the ones in which he does play in, he would play in. As a Calgary Flame. With a flaming C on the front of his sweater and his iconic 12 on the back. He would score a goal or two in the ‘Dome and we would all get to live the Iggy Dance again. Maybe one of those goals will even be significant in nature.
The argument to sign Jarome Iginla is rooted in pure emotion, not logic. The Flames are all but certainly getting worse by signing him. But that’s okay, hockey is a game and we watch it for fun. I would tolerate an ineffective fourth line for one last opportunity to be Hanging in the Dome, Chilling with Jarome.
After all, Johnny Gaudreau is going to feed him cross-ice pass for a Stanley Cup-winning, one-timer goal in overtime of Game 7, next summer. It’s a no brainer.