Jarome Iginla's first season with the Flames was 1996-97 after he was acquired form the Dallas Stars for Joe Nieuwendyk. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
First things first. Let’s dispense with the notion that the Great Jarome Iginla Trade of 2013 in any way, shape or form resembles the deal that brought him from the Dallas Stars organization to the Calgary Flames more than 17 years ago.
Please. When Iginla joined the Flames roster in 1996, he was an outstanding young prospect, a two-time Memorial Cup winner coming off a 63-goal season in junior hockey. And the player the Stars received in return was a 29-year-old Joe Nieuwendyk coming off a point-per-game season, still with a lot left to give in the NHL.
Seventeen years later, Iginla is a 35-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whose better days are undeniably behind him. And this time around, the Flames are getting Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski - two marginal prospects - and a first-rounder that could end up being as low as 30th overall. The Flames had better hope this year’s draft is as deep as scouts say it is because that first-rounder may very well end up being the most valuable commodity the Flames end up receiving for Iginla.
Which is to say if there were any worse way the Flames could have handled this situation, your trusty correspondent cannot come up with it. The Flames should be embarrassed with how they’ve fumbled the Iginla situation. One of the most vital attributes of any management team is asset valuation and in this case, the Flames blew it. Big-time.
And that’s simply because they waited way too long to get this deal done. I mean, trading him one week before the deadline in the final year of his deal with the team hopelessly out of the playoffs? Anybody could have pulled that one off. And taking the easy way out is a decision that is going to haunt the Flames for years to come. We’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that Agostino and Hanowski, two U.S. college players, are not going to make Flames fans forget about Iginla anytime soon. Neither one of them was among the Penguins top-10 prospects in the recent THN Future Watch. Someone clearly should be checking Penguins GM Ray Shero’s belongings for a mask and a gun, or his master plan that allowed him to get Iginla without giving up any one of his organization’s young defensemen.
If it’s true that Iginla picked the Penguins as his destination, that certainly limited GM Jay Feaster’s ability to make demands. But the fact that it got this far was because the Flames continued to paint themselves into a corner on this file.
The time to trade Iginla was two years ago, when the Flames captain was coming off a 43-goal, 86-point season. The Flames had just finished 10th in the Western Conference and were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in for the second straight season. Everyone, with the exception of those who run the Calgary Flames, knew the organization was mired in salary cap hell and perpetual mediocrity. The Flames were spinning their wheels with the personnel they had and were in that purgatory of being a team not good enough to make the playoffs and not inept enough to earn a top-five draft pick.
Iginla, meanwhile, was 33 years old and had two years left on his contract at a pretty reasonable $7 million per season. With him scoring 86 points the season prior, just imagine the boatload of players, prospects and draft picks the Flames could have reaped if they had only decided to make the more difficult, more forward-thinking decision.
But driven primarily by an ownership group that couldn’t come to that realization or deal with the fallout of trading such a popular player, the Flames did not make that deal, instead trying to sell their fan base on the notion they fancied themselves a legitimate playoff contender. And remember, this isn’t even a case of hindsight being 20-20. Those who have been critical of the Flames unwillingness to tear down and rebuild until now were saying the same things two years ago that they are today.
But it’s more than just blindly staying with Iginla that has hurt the Flames. Perhaps if they had not waited so long to deal Miikka Kiprusoff they might have been able to get him to agree to waive his no-trade clause for years ago before family considerations became important enough to him to basically violate the terms of a contract he willingly signed. Perhaps they would not have traded for Jay Bouwmeester in 2009, a deal that has been nothing but an expensive albatross for them and another contract they’ll try to unload before the trade deadline. They most certainly would not have signed Dennis Wideman to the deal they committed to him last summer. And we haven’t even touched on the near debacle that would have ensued had Ryan O’Reilly accepted the Flames offer sheet last month.
So now an organization that has been stumbling around in the dark for the past three years has finally decided to blow things up and start over. And it only took two years of irrefutable evidence to convince the Flames to finally do it. That is not the kind of creative, proactive thinking that moves teams forward.
There was a time not long ago when the Calgary Flames had the low-Canadian dollar, low-revenue excuse for being a bad team. But over the past eight years, they’ve had those crutches kicked out from underneath them. They are among the most revenue-rich organizations in the league, play in a perennially sold-out building and have the resources to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap every year.
And they’ve squandered most of that away by making bad decisions, or in their case, not making any decisions at all. The result is the good folks of Calgary are in for a long, long dry spell, one that will almost certainly outlast the good memories that Jarome Iginla gave them.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.