No hoopla, just hockey for Iginla

Gary Bettman has to be Lin-sanely jealous. And I am not just saying that because I am trying to win the intra-office pun pool.

In a year the NBA’s image was supposed to be napalmed by a prolonged lockout, the league instead salvaged a decent chunk of this season and then stumbled ass-backwards into Linsanity. Knicks guard Jeremy Lin is more than a good underdog basketball story. He has become a cultural phenomenon.

Hockey desperately needs that kind of buzz infusion, and will not get it.

I am going to make a glaring geographical stereotype now as I try to explain why. Hockey is too bleeping Canadian. And Canadians are too bleeping nice.

No, really, they are nice to the point of almost being boring.

There is a reason you do not see "Real Housewives of Montreal" and why hockey players for the most part remain virtually anonymous. Do not bother emailing me about how I am generalizing and how you are offended. I recognize not all of y’all are nice. I am sure there are some real jerkholes up there. Although, off the top of my head, all I can come up with is Nickelback (and their biggest crime is against music) and Sean Avery (of course).

The NHL, to its great detriment, plucks extensively from this frozen tundra of nice — which helps in finding Lady Byng candidates and kills them when trying to sell hockey down here. This is partially why there is no Igin-love.

Actually there are a couple of reasons, none having to do with Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla not producing Linsanity.

1. Iginla plays in Calgary, not New York.

2. He plays hockey, not basketball.

3. His name does not lend itself to countless puns.

4. He was never an underdog; his talent always predicted.

5. And even if he had been a New York-living, underdog-y, pun-worthy hockey player, the old-school portion of the league still very much frowns upon even the faintest hint of self-promotion. The NHL is still very much a front-of-the-jersey league, again, to its own detriment.

Sid the Kid was the exception. Iginla is the rule.

Here is the Flames all-time leader in goals, points and games played, a guy who led them to a Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 and played a huge role in Team Canada winning gold in 2002 and 2010, one of only 42 NHL players to score 500 goals and only 15 to do so with the same team, and the first black captain in the history of the league.

He is sensationally talented and intensely nice and, yes, Canadian.

“I hope I have appreciated all the different years I had scoring goals and stuff,” Iginla said when Calgary came through Dallas recently. “Sometimes I do have to catch myself and remind myself I scored 500 because when I started I did not think ‘I am going to score 500.’ You know what I mean? It’s something, when I am done, I will appreciate more.”

Not only did he score 500 but he did so in just 1,149 games, or quicker than Hall of Famers like Ron Francis and Stan Mikita. And yet listening to him is to be reminded that he feels like he has just done his job and, in fact, in the process of talking about 500, talks about the disappointment that so many goals do not always guarantee playoffs.

I regret to inform you I am not saving the juicy quotes for later. There is no part where Iginla says the Flames either need to put a playoff contender around him or he wants out — even though another team has been suggested as the only fair next step for him. There is nothing but respect for the team he plays for now.

“I have had the privilege of staying in Calgary. It is close to home,” Iginla said. “Even over my career there have been times when I was supposed to be traded.”

Which is funny because now is one of those times.

Now, just as Iginla is being celebrated for reaching 500 goals with a single team, there is talk that he deserves a chance to win a Stanley Cup and thus needs to go to Detroit or elsewhere.

“I think we have a good team. I think we are headed in the right direction. We have had some good things happen,” Iginla said. “The parity, especially in the West. I can’t speak so much about the East because I don’t see them as much. But the parity means you have a shot, and if you tweak it here or there, I think our team has as good of shot as anybody else.

“I’m not trying to …” his voice trails off and he never finishes. If I were guessing, he was saying that he was not trying to pump sunshine because he immediately fills the pause with how much he wants to win.

“I want to win. I don’t want to just stay because I am comfortable. I believe we can win. I like to believe that can be in Calgary. I don’t believe we are rebuilding. So that’s where it is. I do not believe in staying because it is easy or comfortable.”

I’d love to see Iginla stay in Calgary, a throwback to when players stayed in one place for a while and because of how much he means to that organization and country. Part of me, though, a little part, would love to see him in New York or Detroit because the NHL needs a little of its own Linsanity, or Igin-love.

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