NASHVILLE — It’s one of those situations that tugs at the heart strings of sports fans.
In Calgary, captain Jarome Iginla is an iconic figure. A native of Calgary’s archrival Edmonton, he has earned a place in the city’s sports history and imagination like few others, holding the franchise records for games played (1,215), points (1,093) and goals scored (523).
But now, at age 35, he is in the final year of a contract that pays him $7 million this season, and he and the organization reportedly are not talking about an extension. The Flames entered Thursday’s game against the Predators 14th in the Western Conference standings, although only six points out of the final playoff spot with 21 games left in the season.
Many teams in that situation with such a player would begin to cut their losses, realizing the demand he would bring in the trade market to a contender and give him a fond farewell.
But not every team is Calgary and not every such player is Iginla. How the situation plays out is the dominant sports story in Calgary right now and one that also could potentially swing the balance of power for the contending team that might be lucky enough to land him when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
To an extent, his relationship with the city is akin to that of the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning. The images of the tearful Manning parting ways with the Colts so the franchise could start anew no doubt are etched the memory of the team’s fans.
Will Iginla get a similar sendoff? In his 16th season, the right wing has seven goals and 20 points, just two off the team lead in the latter category. He might not be able to produce at the rate that allowed him to lead the league in goals in 2001-02 and 2003-04 or as recently as 2007-08, when he hit the 50 mark for the second time in his career. But he remains on a respectable 21-goal pace over an 82-game season and with the leadership and character he brings, he makes a very attractive target for teams that think they can win it all – something Iginla has never done, although he got as close as Game 7 of the Cup Final back in ’04.
In many ways, his situation also resembles that of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque. Bourque played his first 20 seasons with the Boston Bruins, but at the end of his 21st, he was traded to Colorado, where he finally won the Cup in 2001. (He played one more season with the Avalanche before retiring.)
Bourque’s coach in Colorado was Bob Hartley, the same man who is now Iginla’s coach.
“The parallel I draw between Ray and Jarome is that they’re two unbelievable leaders and two great persons,” Hartley said. “To deal on a daily basis with Jarome Iginla is just a thrill. It’s easy. He’s a pro. He’s on the job. He wants to do good. He takes care of everyone around him.
“For me, he’s in the situation as Ray Bourque, but as a person, him and (Hall of Famer) Joe Sakic are carbon copies. In Colorado, we had ordinary Joe, and we could say the same thing over here. We have ordinary Jarome. He goes on with his business. He loves this game. He’s just fun to be around.”
Iginla has reportedly — begrudgingly — given the Flames a list of teams to which he will go. Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Boston are said to be among them. Los Angeles and Detroit are possibilities.
Iginla has given up talking about the subject and on Thursday he did not address the media.
“As far as speculation, I said at the beginning of the year, I don’t want anything to be a distraction, and I’m not going to talk about any of that speculation,” Iginla told reporters in Calgary on March 13.
The trade deadline looms a mere 13 days away. Perhaps only 13 more days for Iginla to wear the Flames sweater that he wore for the first time on Oct. 5, 1996.
That’s a lot of history for him and general manager Jay Feaster to put in the rearview mirror as Feaster attempts to chart a future course for the club. One final parallel is that of Toronto with Mats Sundin, an all-time franchise great who never wanted to leave bad teams to chase Stanley Cup silver.
“For sure,” agreed Hartley of the dilemma. “I’m the head coach of this organization, and I’m glad that’s not on my desk. I mind my own business. The organization will do what’s best for everyone.”