CALGARY – The Calgary Flames have traded away the face of the franchise.
In his 16th NHL season in a Flames uniform, captain Jarome Iginla was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday for college forwards Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski and Pittsburgh’s first-round pick at the 2013 draft.
Iginla is scheduled to address Calgary media about his trade Thursday morning.
He made history with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Iginla assisted on Crosby’s overtime winner versus the United States that gave Canada the gold medal in men’s hockey.
Iginla’s departure from Calgary felt anti-climactic, despite his stature in the NHL. The Flames (13-15-4) quickly played themselves into a position of seller this lockout-shortened this season.
Currently 14th in the Western Conference, they face a fourth straight season of playoff-free hockey.
With the 35-year-old Iginla in the final year of his contract and the playoffs slipping away for the Flames, it seemed inevitable that Calgary would have to move their all-time leading scorer and get what return they could.
“We as an organization owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jarome, not only for what he did for the franchise during his tenure as a player here and as our captain, but also for the fact that now as we recognize that despite our best efforts, and despite the work we’ve put in, we’ve fallen short of the goals we set for ourselves as an organization,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said.
Both Agostino, a junior at Yale, and Hanowski, a senior at St. Cloud, are both playing in the NCAA’s Frozen Four later this week.
“In these two players we’ve gotten two players we believe are going to play in the National Hockey League and are going to contribute and will play for us for a long time,” Feaster said. “We add size up front, which is something that we as an organization need. We don’t have a lot of it in the system right now.”
Iginla signed a five-year contract extension worth US$35 million in 2007. He’s eligible for unrestricted free agency on his 36th birthday July 1.
After years of saying he wanted to stay in Calgary and win, Iginla facilitated his departure by softening the no-movement clause in his contract. Lately, the Edmonton native conceded he didn’t have the patience to be part of a re-build of the Flames.
When approached by Feaster about a possible trade, Iginla provided a select list of teams he would consent to join.
“We respect very, very much the fact that Jarome worked with us to enable this to come about,” Feaster said.
The deal was consummated during Calgary’s 4-3 win over Colorado on Wednesday night. To protect their asset, the Flames scratched Iginla from the lineup prior to the game while Feaster negotiated. The GM said three teams made offers.
The Flames beat the Avalanche 4-3 in their first game without Iginla. Fans could be heard speculating as they walked into the Saddledome before the game on possible destinations for him. There were a few cheers during the game of “Iggy, Iggy, Iggy, Oi, Oi, Oi.”
Calgary’s current ownership group has been unwilling to strip the team down after recent failures to get into the playoffs. The franchise is now at a crossroads without the man with whom the team has been so identified for so many years.
Iginla was one of the NHL’s premiere power forwards during his years in Calgary. The six-foot-one, 210-pound winger is one of just seven players in league history to post 11 straight seasons of 30 goals or more.
Iginla was twice a 50-goal scorer for Calgary and a winner of the Art Ross (2002) and Maurice (Rocket) Richard trophies (2002, 2004).
He’s off his usual pace this season with nine goals and 13 assists in 31 games. Iginla was held off the scoresheet in his final game as a Flame on Tuesday in Chicago, but he scored the game winner Sunday at the Saddledome in a 3-2 victory against St. Louis.
As was evident when he assisted on Crosby’s golden goal, Iginla is an effective foil for a talented centreman. The Flames rotated, and traded for, centres in recent years to find that fit for Iginla, but never managed a combination that stuck for very long.
Yet Iginla’s body of work with Calgary is impressive. His 525 goals ranks 32nd all time in the NHL. His record 1,095 points in 1,219 games as a Flame may never be matched.
But with the exception of a run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, playoff success came seldom for Iginla in Calgary. Of his 54 post-season games, almost half are from 2004 when the Flames lost the Cup final in seven games to Tampa Bay.
It was first-round-and-out the other five seasons Iginla saw playoff action with the Flames. Given his loyalty to Calgary, his regret and that of the Flames and their fans will be that Iginla wasn’t able to win a Stanley Cup here.
“It’s sad,” teammate Alex Tanguay said. “He’s a Hall-of-Famer.
“In the position we’re in right now, nobody would call ideal. If we’re standing in fourth, I don’t think we’re unloading a player of his abilities. So obviously it’s caused by the team, but that’s part of hockey.”
Iginla was a junior star with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers and the 11th overall pick in the 1995 draft by the Dallas Stars.
Iginla never donned a Stars jersey as the Flames acquired his rights later that year along with Corey Millen in a deal that sent forward Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas.
He was named Calgary’s captain to start the 2003-04 season. He’s represented Canada at the Winter Olympics three times and won gold twice, as well as married his wife Kara and had three children during his long tenure wearing the flaming ‘C’.
Iginla’s talent and consistent contribution to the success the Flames did have, plus his amiable off-ice demeanour, made him a beloved player in Calgary. His leaving marks the end of an era for the Flames.
“He’s played a lot of years here and played as hard as he could,” Flames forward Mike Cammalleri said. “I’ll tell you one thing about Jarome. Every day he tried his best to win hockey games with his teammates.”