CALGARY – Jarome Iginla put a brighter spin on the Calgary Flames’ summer of discontent by giving his approval to the return of former teammates Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen.
Tanguay and Jokinen were Calgary’s prominent acquisitions the day unrestricted free agency opened July 1. The signing of Tanguay, who had his best season in a Flames jersey three years ago, was understandable.
The return of Jokinen five months after he was traded to the New York Rangers wrinkled foreheads everywhere, as the big Finnish centre scored 19 goals in the 75 games he played for the Flames the first time.
Calgary’s captain applauded both moves, however.
“I think we definitely are a better team today than when we finished the season,” Iginla said Wednesday during a break at his annual hockey school in Calgary.
“Both of these guys, their top end is not 50 or 60 points. If they are rolling and have years they’re capable of, the sky is the limit. Could be 90, could be 100.”
The Flames were sixth in the NHL in defence, but the worst on offence with just 204 goals. Calgary missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The strategy of Flames general manager Darryl Sutter for next season is to get those players who have demonstrated an ability to score 20 goals in a season to do so. Iginla’s total of 69 points (32 goals, 37 assists) was his lowest in four seasons.
So Jokinen and Tanguay fit right in as players trying to regain their ‘A’ game.
“We need a bounce-back year,” Iginla said. “Personally, I need to be better. We’re getting two guys that are very hungry. A lot of us have that in common.”
In Calgary’s search for a first-line centre to play with Iginla, the Flames acquired Jokinen from Phoenix at the trade deadline in 2009 for a first-round draft pick in this year’s draft, Matthew Lombardi and Brandon Prust.
The plan now is to reunite Jokinen at centre and Tanguay on the left wing with Iginla on the right. Iginla picks Tanguay as one of the most skilled players he’s ever played with, and adds that Jokinen should be able to shoot more and pass less with Tanguay in the lineup.
“We’ll be able to add two guys who have been big parts of scoring lines and in scoring positions and that’s what we need as a team,” Iginla said. “We were able to add them without giving another 60-point guy away.”
Both players signed for less than the US$5.25-million salary each were making when they left the Flames. Tanguay’s deal is $1.7 million for one year, while Jokinen has a $6-million, two-year contract. Calgary doesn’t have a lot of money to spend under the $59.4-million salary cap.
“Being able to pick up two free agents like that at reasonable prices in the market I think is going to be huge for our team,” Iginla said.
Iginla had 94 points, the third-highest total of his career, when Tanguay had a career-best 81 points in 2006-07. Tanguay dropped to 58 the following season and wanted out of Calgary because Mike Keenan, the head coach at the time, used him in a defensive role and less on the power play.
The 30-year-old had 10 goals and 27 assists last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Alex, the first time around, on the ice I think it worked. He was very effective for us,” Iginla said. “He’s as good and as skilled as anybody I’ve played with, especially when he’s determined and hungry.”
Jokinen, 31, had 19 goals and 31 assists in 75 games with Calgary over parts of two seasons.
“When Olli was here, he had an off-year,” Iginla acknowledged. “Our chemistry maybe wasn’t as good, but I’ve said it before, he’s a huge shooter, a big shooter and I think he felt pressure to be the playmaker on the line.
“You look at the years where Olli’s been the most successful and he’s had (about) 300 shots. His high end, he’s got 90 (points) and close to 40 goals. The chemistry with a pure passer like Alex could be a lot better.”
Iginla believes the return of Jokinen gives Calgary depth up the middle with Matt Stajan, Daymond Langkow and Mikael Backlund at centre.
“Whatever line you are on, you have not just a hopeful offensive guy, you’re going to have an offensive-minded centre,” he explained.
The Flames’ situation contrasts with that of its Albertan rival to the north. The Edmonton Oilers have been parading prospects Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson through the city the last few days, selling the image of a young team on the rise as the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks once were.
The Flames are one of the oldest teams in the league and became no younger by bringing Tanguay and Jokinen back on board. Calgary didn’t have a draft pick in the first or second round of this year’s entry draft because they’d been traded away.
The distinction, Calgary’s captain says, is the Flames are not rebuilding as the Oilers are.
“If I was a fan, I’d probably have a wait-and-see attitude too,” Iginla said. “We have a lot of guys who have been very successful, very good over their careers. I believe you have that many guys for a bounce-back year, it’s not a bad position to be in and I believe we’re going to do that.
“I was very excited about the moves and I know until we go and prove it on the ice as a team, it’s just words.”
The Flames have also announced the signing of Calgary native Ryan Stone. The 25-year-old centre has recorded seven assists in 35 career NHL games for Pittsburgh and Edmonton. He has 49 goals and 115 assists in 250 career games in the American Hockey League.
The six-foot-two, 200-pound forward was a second-round pick (32nd overall) of Pittsburgh in the 2003 NHL entry draft.