I've always liked Jarome Iginla. I'm not sure I know anyone who doesn't. Even if he never played for your favorite team, he's one of those guys that you have to at the very least respect, if not outright admire. He'd be on pretty much any list of my favorite players of the last few decades.
And so, it goes without saying, Saturday night made me sad.
That was the night that Iginla celebrated his 1,500th regular season game. It's a major milestone, one that only 15 other players have reached. And Iginla got to spend that historic game getting pummeled in a 10-1 loss to the Canadiens.
The Avalanche are awful this year, and while a struggling Iginla hasn't helped much, he deserves better. So let's figure out a way to set him free. It seems like a good day for it — Iginla and the Avs are in action tonight, and two of his former teams, the Penguins and Bruins, are facing each other. And the team he started his NHL career with is even in action too, as the Flames face the Lightning. Maybe they'll even count all the goals this time.
So it's pretty much Jarome Iginla night in the NHL. In his honor, let's run down the five best destinations for when he inevitably waives his no-trade clause in the leadup to this year's trade deadline.
To be fair, these aren't necessarily the best destinations for Iginla himself, but rather the ones that would be the most entertaining for us, the fans. Still, he'd go into this year's playoffs as perhaps the best Old Guy Without A Cup story since Ray Bourque, so it's important that we get this right.
Let's begin, fittingly, where it all began.
5. Dallas Stars
The irresistible narrative: The team that drafted Iginla and then traded him away before his first game all those years ago brings him back into the fold just in time to win a Cup.
Could it happen? OK, there's a glaring problem with this idea that I'm sure you're already muttering about: The Stars don't need offense. They're struggling this year because their goaltending is shaky and their blueline misses Alex Goligoski more than anyone thought. The forwards are banged up, sure, but once everyone is healthy the Stars will be fine when it comes to scoring. It's keeping the puck out that's been the problem.
And yet… hockey is a game of outscoring your opponent, right? Sure, ideally Jim Nill would be able to go out and get a Ben Bishop or a Kevin Shattenkirk instead. But if those deals don't materialize, there's always plan B. A 6-5 win is still a win, after all, even in the playoffs. And it's not like Iginla is some flashy perimeter guy who'll wilt from the post-season grind.
The last time the Dallas Stars made a Jarome Iginla trade, it led to a Stanley Cup. It could happen again.
4. Montreal Canadiens
The irresistible narrative: Years after helping Team Canada end a decades-long gold medal drought in 2002, Iginla returns to help one of the country's favorite teams end the national Cup drought.
Could it happen? First of all: Yes, this would work better if it were the Maple Leafs instead of the Habs. You'd even have the 50-year symmetry with that gold medal win. But the Leafs just aren't there yet, so we work with what we have.
And what we have are the Canadiens, who are getting dangerously close to a quarter-century drought of their own. With Carey Price and Shea Weber already there, Montreal is one piece away from a Team Canada hat trick. And more importantly, they're a Cup-worthy team that shouldn't want to waste Price's prime years without really loading up for a big run or two.
Sure, it might not be a universally popular move. Let's face it, for a certain segment of Canadian hockey fans, seeing Iginla in Montreal would be as close as he could come to a full-fledged heel turn. But that doesn't mean it couldn't work. And Habs fans know all about the impact that an inspiring veteran — even one at the tail end of his effective career — can have on a contender. Remember Denis Savard?
3. Los Angeles Kings
The irresistible narrative: Iginla chases his first Stanley Cup with Darryl Sutter, the coach he should have won it with back in 2004.
Could it happen? The Kings are up tight against the cap, so we'd probably have to get into retained salary and/or a bad contract coming back to Colorado. And the Kings are an aging team without much of a farm system, so they may be reluctant to part with any future assets to get a deal done.
But even given those hurdles, this does seem like a Dean Lombardi sort of move, doesn't it? And it's hard to think of a more predictable storyline than this Kings team limping down the stretch as a wildcard team, getting Jonathan Quick back late and then going on a playoff tear on their way to a Cup.
Nobody's been better at making Cup-winning midseason trades than Lombardi over the years. Granted, we may need to get Iginla to do a quick stop in Columbus first, but that should be doable.
2. Edmonton Oilers
The irresistible narrative: [sound of every Calgary Flames' fan's head exploding]
Could it happen? I mean, it makes sense, right? The Oilers are a good young team that want to at least make the playoffs this year. They're a young team that doesn't need to pull the trigger and go for it all right now, but a solid playoff run would be nice after a decade of misery for Oilers fans. And if you want Connor McDavid to learn what it takes to be a leader in this league, what better role model than Iginla?
What's more, Peter Chiarelli already went out and traded for Iginla at the deadline once before, kind of, and later signed him as a free agent.
And yeah, it would also drive Flames fans insane. I mean, if you're in Calgary and you see this trade go down, what do you even do? Do you cheer for Iginla to get his first Cup, even if you knew your greatest rival would never let you hear the end of it?
It's a real dilemma. Only one way to prevent it...
1. Calgary Flames
The irresistible narrative: This has to happen.
Could it happen? Probably not. Let's face it, it would be fun and this is the NHL, so something will come along and screw this up. The Flames will cool off, or their cap situation will be too tight, or Brian Burke will turn out to have some weird personal "no trading for guys with more than four middle names" policy that he never told us about. This won't happen.
But if it did… man. Trading Iginla in 2013 was the sign that the Flames were well and truly in rebuild mode, and that process has led to a good young team that's close to being ready to take the next step. Their recent hot streak has pushed them into the mix for not just a playoff spot, but maybe even a division title in a weak Pacific. They've got a ton of young talent, but plenty of room for a little veteran help in the middle-six. It could work.
Imagine Iginla's first game back in Calgary. Better yet, imagine if they could make a deep run with him in the lineup. The beloved hero returning to avenge a wrong is a classic trope, and we'd be seeing it play out in real life.
It would be good. Too good. But we're still far enough away from the deadline that we can dream.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.