In the winter of 1995, Calgary Flames general manager Al Coates found himself at a crossroads. The team was at an impasse with forward Joe Nieuwendyk, who was sitting out due to dissatisfaction with his contract. In a chat on Friday morning on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, Coates recounted how that situation ended up bringing Jarome Iginla to Calgary.
At the time, the Flames were approaching the holiday roster freeze. But without the franchise’s all-time leading scorer (at the time) and sitting with a 7-19-7 record, the club decided to finally make a move to end Nieuwendyk’s tenure with the team on Dec. 20, 1995.
“We had a really good player in Joe Nieuwendyk who was not playing for us,” recalled Coates. “So you make a decision as to whether or not to let him sit and do nothing, or try to make the team better for the immediate future and long-term future, which was the main criteria of the transaction.”
Coates added that the important thing in any Nieuwendyk trade would be getting a “can’t-miss” prospect back. Given the trajectory of the franchise at the time, he felt that was crucial.
“In this particular case, it was all about the future because we were going through a bit of a rebuild,” said Coates. “[Al] MacInnis was gone already. Mike Vernon had been previously traded to Detroit. Gary Roberts was having injury problems. We definitely were starting to put pieces together again for the future of the franchise. So the piece was the most critical thing, the criteria was the most important thing that we did to really understand and examine what it was that we had to get back if we were going to make a transaction like this. That was the key.”
According to Coates 13 different teams discussed the prospect of a trade with the Flames – and this was back when the league only had 26 members. But their insistence of getting a top prospect back narrowed the field down fairly quickly to two teams. (For the curious, The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek has reported that the other finalist team was the New York Rangers, while it’s been widely reported that the Flames insisted that Iginla or fellow Stars prospect Todd Harvey had to be part of the deal.) The other team pulled their prospect out of the deal as the holiday roster freeze loomed, so Coates decided to pull the trigger on the trade with the Dallas Stars. Nieuwendyk went to Dallas, while the Flames received Iginla and depth forward Corey Millen.
Contacted by Dallas’ front office at Hockey Canada’s World Junior camp in New Brunswick, Iginla originally thought he had been traded to the Calgary Hitmen before it was clarified that his NHL rights has been swapped. He signed with the Flames after Kamloops was eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs and the rest, as they say, is history.