Full disclosure: Like many Calgary Flames fans, I love Jarome Iginla. I love his skill, his physicality, his demeanor, the way he’ll drop the gloves and swear at opponents on the ice, and flash that smile and be as humble as anyone off the ice. I saw him once on the street in Calgary a few years ago, with his wife and daughters, going into a restaurant to eat. He was shorter than I thought, but solidly built- he was CUT. I felt like he could snap me in half and then apologize for doing it. But that slice of normalcy made me appreciate him even more- here was someone who could be a normal guy (save for, y’know, being phenomenal at hockey), doing normal-guy things.
For the past few years, with the Flames in a slow, downhill vector as a team, I’ve been bracing for the idea of Jarome Iginla in another jersey, chasing the Cup wearing something other than a flaming C. It hasn’t happened, but I’d say I’m as ready as I could be for it now.
Though one could make a very cogent argument that Miikka Kiprusoff is more crucial to the team’s success- if the Flames don’t trade for him, ’04 doesn’t happen- it’s Iginla who, for many of the Flames’ fans, is the face of the Flames. Iginla is out front, is the team’s captain, the leading scorer, the guy who takes the questions every night, who is always here, as all the players around him change.
Iginla, much like the team, is getting older, and his skills aren’t what they used to be. He’s not capable of being a physical force, dominating the play every night, going into a crowd of three players and emerging with the puck, shrugging off defensemen like annoying flies. That happens to players as they get older- it’s time, and age, and the wear of playing a physical sport as hard as he does. The Flames have counted on Iginla for so much, and he has always delivered. He doesn’t complain, puts the team first, and drops the gloves as well as fills the nets- a perfect Canadian hockey player, and as good a face of the franchise as the Flames could have asked for when they traded for him all those years ago.
The Flames say they won’t trade him. It’s hard to blame the team for that- there’d be a riot in Calgary if it happened, and he’s more valuable as the Flames’ most recognizable face than as a hockey player at this point in his career. Iginla hasn’t asked for a trade, either. This is a little more of a headscratcher, but okay. He’s loyal, probably to a fault. He’s comfortable in the city, having raised his family here. He doesn’t want to be “the guy who asked out”, even if there’s not a single fan who would blame him for it at this point (well, not a single fan with a functioning brain cell).
At this point, an Iginla trade would be similar to what the Boston Bruins did when they traded Ray Bourque in 2000: it might not be what’s best for the team, but it would be a classy thing for the organization to do for a player who has given his best years for them. It’s not strictly a value move- it’s a sentimental one as well. From the Flames’ perspective, they will have to move on from Iginla in the next few years anyway- why not try and get something for Iginla while he still has some value?
The analyst in me says, “Do it, because the team needs to get younger and rebuild.” The Iginla fan in me says, “Do it, because he deserves to play for the Stanley Cup, and he won’t do that here.”
I understand why Feaster doesn’t want to trade Iginla- on the back side of his career, making a large salary, Iginla has more value to the Flames than to other teams. There WOULD be a fan backlash for trading one of the most popular players in team history. You wouldn’t get back near what Iginla is worth (to the Flames, anyway) at this point. If you trade Iginla, you’re giving up on the season. We’ve discussed previously that it doesn’t seem like the Flames want to do that.
But I would implore the Flames front office to look past the bottom line for 2012. They need to do what Iginla won’t. They need to trade Iginla to a contender not for the Flames’ sake, but for Iginla’s. They owe him that much.