Yes, the Flames waited too long to trade Jarome Iginla – but it’s easy to see why

Yes, the Calgary Flames should have traded franchise legend years ago. But as Iginla prepares for his return to Alberta Tuesday night, it’s easy to look back and see why fans and management wanted him around for so long.

Jarome Iginla is back in Calgary for a game tomorrow between his new Boston Bruins team and the Flames franchise with which he’ll be associated now and forever.

When the game goes down, it will be a bittersweet moment for the legion of fans who adored him during his 17 years in Alberta and many people will ask (a) whether the Flames should have traded him; and (b) whether they waited to long to do so.

The answer to both: (a) yes; and (b) of course. All you have to do to arrive at that conclusion is look at what Calgary got in return for the greatest player in team history. People had been pleading with Flames ownership and management for years to make the tough decision and trade Iginla while his market value was at its peak, but they took the safe route and the team’s well-being took a long-term hit because of it.

That said, I fully understand why Flames brass fell into that trap. If there ever was a better fit for the Flames than Iginla – if ever there were a more decent, thoughtful athlete and person to represent that city – they played in a parallel universe in which I have no media accreditation.

Iginla did everything right from the moment he arrived in Joe Nieuwendyk’s sizeable shadow to the second he departed for a brief, uncomfortable-looking stint in Pittsburgh. That he left an even bigger legacy than the man he was traded for despite not winning a Stanley Cup is a testament to Iginla’s unendingly kind, proud nature. He possessed the skill and will needed to win at the NHL level and his ruggedness endeared him to Calgarians, but he never played the game the wrong way. He never sulked or pouted. If you type the words “Jarome” and “Iginla” and “contract dispute” into Google search, Google will point at you and laugh.

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So although I think it’s more than fair to say Flames management didn’t do the right thing with Iginla and would’ve commanded far more by trading him in 2009 or 2010, part of me forgives them for it. They know what they had in him. They want to get the most out of natural resources in Calgary.

In the end, the well ran dry around Iginla. But he will be raucously cheered Tuesday and deservedly treasured always, because he gave everything he had to the people of his city and never once let them down.

When you have a genuine idol like that, you can’t blame a team and a town for the cling and clutch that follows.