Game Over For Iginla?
As the Calgary Flames last week welcomed aging right wing Jaromir Jagr to their ranks, former Flames captain Jarome Iginla remains without a contract.
It’s possible the 40-year-old Iginla could sign with an NHL club in the near future. After all, if the 45-year-old Jagr could ink a deal days before the season opener, maybe a team will take a chance on “Iggy”?
Surely there’s a rebuilding club or a playoff contender that could benefit from his two decades of NHL experience, leadership and scoring skills?
The difference is, the older Jagr netted a respectable 46 points in 82 games last season with the Florida Panthers. Iginla managed just 14 goals and 27 points in 80 games split between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.
Yes, the teams they played for last season had their issues but there’s no denying who had the better season. Had Iginla reached 20 goals and 40 points in 2016-17, as he’d done in 17 previous seasons, he’d would’ve opened this season with an NHL club.
Iginla’s best seasons, of course, came during his long tenure with the Flames from 1996 to 2013. For most of those years, he was the face of the franchise. For several of those years, especially during the Flames’ lean period from 1997 to 2003, he was often the only worthwhile player worth watching. A dynamic and exciting combination of strength, power and goal-scoring finesse.
The Flames’ longest-serving captain (2003-04 to 2012-13), Iginla was always approachable and accommodating with interviews. Always smiling. When things were going well, he deflected attention away from himself and onto his teammates. During the difficult times, he shouldered the burden. He was the consummate captain and teammate.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Iginla fought his own on-ice battles and was unafraid to drop the gloves with anyone who challenged him. He also stood up for his teammates. His fearless on-ice style earned him considerable respect from his peers and made him a favorite of NHL fans.
Since Iginla’s 43-goal, 86-point performance in 2011-12, however, his production steadily eroded, bottoming out in last season’s woeful output. That fact wasn’t overlooked this year by NHL general managers.
There’s talk that Iginla’s waiting for the “right opportunity”. Whatever that is, it’s likely harder to find now than it was over the course of the summer.
Should Iginla fail to land with an NHL team, it’s assumed he could join Canada’s Men’s Olympic team for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With the NHL not participating in the 2018 Games, he’d be the obvious choice to captain Team Canada.
Iginla’s been a champion at every level in international play, helping Canada win gold at the World Juniors (1996), World Championships (1997), World Cup of Hockey (2004) and the Olympics (2002, 2010). Indeed, he’ll be forever linked to Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal” in the 2010 Games, with Crosby’s call for the puck (“Iggy!”) setting up one of the most famous tallies in Canadian hockey history.
But having already reached the summit of international play, perhaps Iginla is more interested in one last shot to win the trophy that’s eluded him for 20 years: the Stanley Cup.
Iginla came oh-so-close to winning hockey’s ultimate prize in 2004, when he and his underdog Flames fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a thrilling seven-game Stanley Cup Final. They were perennial playoff contenders for the following four seasons but never got past the opening round.
Despite Iginla’s best efforts, the Flames become also-rans from 2010-11 to 2012-13. Facing free agency and with the Flames in rebuild mode during the lockout-shortened ’12-’13 campaign, he accepted a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His reunion with Crosby, his Olympic teammate was short-lived, as the Penguins were swept from the Eastern Conference Finals by the Boston Bruins.
Iginla’s final playoff appearance came with the Bruins a year later, falling in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. He subsequent sign with the Avalanche, who were coming off a 112-point campaign and looked like a club on the rise in the Western Conference. Sadly, the Avs imploded and never reached the postseason during Iginla’s tenure.
During 2016-17, it was painfully apparent that Iginla’s skills were fading. The once-dominant power forward was always a slow starter, but by last December, it was clear he couldn’t find his offensive groove.
Shipped to the Kings at the trade deadline, Iginla managed six goals and nine points in 19 games. That included his “Gordie Howe hat trick” performance against the Flames in Calgary on March 29. For a brief moment, he was the Iginla of old, but that game may be his last hurrah in the NHL.
If Iginla’s NHL career has come to an end, he departs with an impressive resume. 625 goals and 675 assists for 1,300 points in 1,554 games. Winner of two Richard Trophies (2002, 2004) and the Art Ross (2002). The Flames’ all-time leader – by wide margins – in games (1,219), goals (525) and points (1,095).
Like Jagr, Iginla is a future Hall of Famer. He’ll be forever remembered as one of the game’s great power forwards.
Time, however, caught up with Iginla much faster that it did with Jagr.
Perhaps the final chapter in Iginla’s NHL career has yet to be written.
Most likely, however, we already saw it.