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Really, it never made any sense to me. As if you needed to mention the star players for both teams to get me or anyone else engaged in a Wings/Flyers game. If you’re a fan of either team, you’ll watch because those are your guys. If you’re a general hockey fan, that’s a game you watch because that’s pretty much guaranteed a good hockey game. If you’re a casual fan who they’re hoping to draw in, you don’t know who Datsyuk and Giroux are anyway.
No one on Earth is sitting there going, “Oh jeez, I wasn’t interested in this one but that Datsyuk guy is the one with the shootout moves, right?”
But last night I went to see Jarome Iginla and the Flames take on the Boston Bruins, and that actually seemed appropriate. Not just because Iginla is about the only recognizable name on the Calgary Flames roster to 90 percent of hockey fans, and not only because it’s been that way since Theo Fleury got traded in February 1999 (or to be a little more generous, when Val Bure left in the 2001 offseason). But either way you slice it, this has been Jarome Iginla’s team for more than a decade.
There have been significant enough secondary players in the last several years. Dion Phaneuf as a precocious rookie and then under-performing veteran; Miikka Kiprusoff when he spent about two-and-a-half seasons as the best goalie on earth. But the number of great forwards that Iginla has played with since the turn of the century or so can be counted on one hand. Mike Cammalleri had his best season ever with the Flames. Daymond Langkow was always steady but never eye-popping. Two separate go-rounds with Alex Tanguay have been somewhat productive. Olli Jokinen is underrated, though only because he’s viewed as a punchline by most hockey fans for reasons beyond his control, and not because he is some sort of offensive force like he was with Florida.
But through it all, Iginla was a game-changer and a guy who scored with or without support. His best season ever — in which he led the league with 52 goals and 96 points — came with Craig Conroy and Dean McAmmond on his line.
And then, standing on the precipice of his milestone 500th career goal, less than a year after he surpassed 1,000 career points, Iginla and the Flames entered the TD Garden for a road date with the Boston Bruins, who had just played the night before in New Jersey.
So I very much went to see Jarome Iginla (and the Calgary Flames.) (I guess.)
I went hoping to see history, and history I received.
Iginla did not score his 500th career goal in the Flames’ 9-0 loss. In fact, he was largely a perimeter player, and only registered one shot on goal in the game, and attempted just two. Despite watching him closely for every one of his shifts, I couldn’t tell you when that shot came, though NHL.com says it came midway through the second period. A nine-foot backhander. Sounds innocuous enough, so I’ll take their word for it.
The historic stat of the evening came courtesy of Flames defenseman Chris Butler, who tied an all-time NHL record by going — get this — minus-7 in 23:19 of ice time.
There’s no context to that. Just a savage beating by a very, very good team against one that’s rather poor and playing in the final game of a World Juniors-induced seven-game road trip. Not that the score would have ever been anything less than, say, 6-0 under the best of circumstances.
Iginla will get his 500th goal one day, and probably one day soon. The Flames have been trying to force-feed him the puck for at least a week now as he pursues the milestone only 41 other player have ever reached. His next goal will tie him with another iconic Flame, Lanny MacDonald. And in a way, I’m almost glad I didn’t see it last night. The Bruins were up 2-0 only 3:17 into the game and never once even threatened to put one past Tuukka Rask. For Iginla to have scored there in TD Garden in the midst of a mind-bending rout would have been crass and hollow, but it would have at least underscored something meaningful.
Jarome Iginla is an all-time great. Soon he will have scored 500 goals and 1,000 points on mostly awful teams and playing the majority of his career in the Dead Puck Era.
It’s only ever been Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames. I don’t know why I expected different this time around.
On the inevitable extinction of the enforcer role
Maybe it’s for the worse. Indeed, respect for one’s opponents seems to have dropped off a cliff, especially with a certain segment of the playing population (*cough* dancarcillo *cough* raffitorres *cough*) doing the lion’s share of the damage, mostly to other players’ brains. A lack of enforcers, Burke notes, could very well cause the injurious hits to spike even more than they already have, leaving only poor, put-upon Brendan Shanahan there to dole out the punishment as he sees fit — a whole other discussion for another time — days after the fact.
There was always a certain menace to seeing guys like Orr or Shawn Thornton or George Parros come over the boards for a faceoff, skating slowly by the opposition bench, staring down every guy in the other sweater who didn’t suddenly notice a problem with their skates or stick tape.
That message was, “Hit my guys the wrong way and you’ll be spitting chicklets.”
There’s a certain romance to it, too. How many hockey movies are about ultra-skilled stars? And how many are about largely unskilled, heavily-muscled brawlers?
The “goon” is going away because of the salary cap. If you pay Colton Orr $1 million you’re essentially depriving a talented rookie or useful defensive player of a spot on the roster or bench in favor of a guy who plays, what, six shifts a night? Doesn’t make economic sense.
Opponents of fighting will consider this sea change a win, but where does the elimination of the enforcer get us, really? Some people think that star players are the ones that are going to have to fight on their own behalf if they want to be protected, and that simply isn’t the case.
Burke’s right in saying that the lack of enforcers playing every night has led to guys getting targeted — does Rene Bourque go out of his way to elbow the Caps’ best forward this season in the face if DJ King’s on the bench cracking his knuckles? — and with very few exceptions, guys that are enforcers in the league now also have to be able to play a bit.
Perfect case in point: Brandon Prust. Tied for the league lead in fights at 11 and had 29 points last year. Not setting the world on fire offensively, but he chips in and is willing to back up his teammates.
That kind of player — the 10-10-20 guy Shawn Thornton, the 4-13-17 Derek Dorsett, the 10-13-23 Tim Jackman, is the new enforcer. He’ll beat the hell out of you, but he’ll also play 20 shifts a night, 78 times a year or more. You don’t need to scratch him if there’s no one to go with. You don’t need to waste a roster spot.
The problem right now is that there aren’t enough of those guys, and if hockey wants to protect its players and itself, it will cultivate more of them.
Pearls of Biz-dom
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