Flames' failures with Jarome Iginla were a crime

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Jarome Iginla's 17 years in Calgary were very much a story of what might have been.

Jarome Iginla's 17 years in Calgary were very much a story of what might have been.

It's a sad, sad day in Calgary, and for more reasons than one. The greatest Flame of them all is out.

Jarome Iginla, the beating heart of this club, whose smiling face and Hall of Fame-worthy accomplishments defined the franchise -- so much so that one local writer suggested that the winger could legitimately be the face of the city as well as the Flames -- is headed to Pittsburgh.

"Farewell, Iggy" reads the headline of Thursday's Calgary Herald in big type over a photo of Iginla wearing Flames colors at an outdoor rally and waving a cowboy hat to the throng before to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. His Flames sweater has two C's on it, one for the club, one for his captaincy, and his photo dominates the page the way he dominated on the ice.

The fans at the Saddledome on Wednesday night knew Iginla was being shipped out. Word that he would be a healthy scratch for the first time since April, 2007 -- 441 games ago -- had spread like an Alberta prairie fire long before the pregame warmup. He apparently wasn't even in the building. But the fans didn't care. They chanted "Iggy! Iggy!" as soon the anthem singer ended and continued after the first puck was dropped.

"Even Harvey the Hound, the Flames beloved mascot, yanked on his tongue in disapproval when someone asked in an elevator about trading the marquee winger," The Herald reported. "Evidence of No. 12 was scattered everywhere in the arena with jersey-clad supporters ruminating on his legacy in casual conversation on the concourse, in lineups for Pocket Dawgs and at Dutton's Canadian Lounge."

It's shouldn't have been this way.

One of the hockey crimes of the 21st Century is that Calgary could never secure an elite center to partner with Iginla. Sure, he had some good linemates over the years, but never a bona fide big guy in the middle who truly complemented his abilities. In fact, the best center in Flames history, Joe Nieuwendyk, was traded to Dallas to acquire Iginla, who had been selected by the Stars in the first round (11th overall) in the 1995 entry draft. What a partnership that might have been.

It's no accident that some of Iginla's best hockey was for Team Canada, playing with other elite players who brought out the best in him. I watched him shine at the 1996 World Junior Championship in Boston, just after his rights had been dealt to the Flames. He was obviously the best player in that tournament, the leading scorer and winner of top forward honors. His Olympic resume includes two goals in the 2002 gold medal game -- his coming out party -- and setting up Sidney Crosby's overtime game winner in 2010 while leading the tourney with five goals.

Yet, even without elite help, Iginla still put up big numbers for the Flames, roughly a point per game during his prime. And he was and is as tough as they come. How many times did commentators bemoan the fact the he wasn't shy about dropping the gloves when necessary? "Aren't his hands too valuable to risk injury?" they'd ask.

Iginla just did what he felt he had to do.

Flames fans loved him for that, but they loved him from the start, as an 18-year-old in the 1996 playoffs. Everything he did deepened that connection, especially when he came to training camp in 1998 without a contract and purchased his own insurance so he could be with the club while negotiations dragged on. He hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in 2001 and never dipped below it.

As for leadership on the ice, in the dressing room, and in the community, no one in the league was more respected. With apologies to Harvey the Hound, no one represented the Flames better. Perhaps only Lanny McDonald comes close as the personification of Calgary's NHL team.

But unlike the mustachioed McDonald, Iginla could never raise the Cup for the local fans, though they still maintain the Flames were cheated out of it in 2004 when Martin Gelinas' apparent goal in Game 6 was not awarded and the Lightning won that contest in overtime before taking Game 7.

So, yeah, it's sad. And just as sad is what the Flames got from the Penguins in exchange for their all-time scoring leader: two collegiate prospects and what may be the 29th or 30th pick in the first round this year should the Penguins make the Stanley Cup Final. The Flames had made noises about wanting more -- a good NHL defenseman, a top prospect and a first-rounder. They didn't get them.

Nor was GM Jay Feaster able to pry away from Pens GM Ray Shero any of Pittsburgh's best stockpiled blueline prospects -- Derrick Pouliot, Olli Matta, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin or Philip Samuelsson. Feaster did get a big, skilled forward in Ben Hanowski, whose skating is considered questionable, and a good left wing in Kenneth Agostino, who has played well at Yale, but is projected as a good complementary forward. In fact, Shero has surrendered no one from his current roster and perhaps very little from what would be his future roster for Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray.

Of course, the Jarome Iginla we've seen during the last few seasons is not quite the same player who twice topped the 50-goal mark, won the scoring title, and made crucial plays in both the NHL and for Team Canada in the Olympics.

Iginla is now 35, but he's also still pretty good, and playing the wing for Crosby or Evgeni Malkin could very well rejuvenate him.

It seems that the chance to rejoin Crosby might have been the deciding factor in this whole deal. If Calgary is sad today, others around hockey are shocked that Iginla won't be dressing as a Bruin. The rumor mill churned out item after item on Wednesday night that Boston was Iginla's destination -- and while hockey's gossipers often base their chatter on slim-to-no evidence, this time there were plenty of reasons to think he was headed for Beantown. The Bruins prospects thought to be coming back the other way -- defenseman Matt Bartkowski and center Alexander Khokhlachev -- were both healthy scratches in their games, and the Calgary beat writers had proclaimed a done deal. TSN panelists were reporting the trade and Twitter was abuzz with what fans were sure would be Boston's line combinations with Iggy wearing the spoked B.

Even the Bruins themselves, apparently, believed they were getting Iginla. NBC's Pierre McGuire, who was in Boston last night to work the Bruins-Canadiens game, said during his regular segment on Ottawa's Team 1200 radio on Thursday morning, "There was not a person affiliated down below in the locker room area with the Bruins that did not think they were getting Jarome Iginla last night."

MUIR: What now for the Bruins?

But something changed and seems to have been due to Iginla, who had veto power over any deal. He wants to win the Cup somewhere and, he believes he has the best chance to do so with the Penguins.

"If I was going to leave here, I wanted the best opportunity to try to win," he told a Calgary farewell press conference on Thursday. "So it came down, I guess I had some choice in Pittsburgh and I think that, you know, you get an opportunity as a player to go and play on a team with the two best players in the world and a team on a roll like they're on and the success they've had and, as a player, I wanted that opportunity and I'm thrilled and I'm thankful they've given me that opportunity."

They're not happy in Boston and a lot of reporters and tweeps are astonished that things turned out as they did, but if Iginla wanted things this way, it's because he couldn't have them his way.

In a perfect world --- which this isn't, never was and never will be --- Iginla would finish his career with the Flames while playing in front of fans who adore him, the kid from enemy territory in Edmonton who they adopted as their own. The feeling was mutual. He never wanted to leave.

In the real world, however, the Flames' continued failings -- no playoff games for three seasons and probably now a fourth, no series wins since 2004, no Cup since 1989 -- demand changes. In fact, the trading of Iginla should have been done a few years ago when there would be no question about how valuable the return would have been.

But he didn't want to go and ownership didn't want to move him, always believing that the team on the ice could turn things around and Captain Iggy would get the chance to hoist the Cup one time for the Sea of Red.

It never happened. That was an illusion, maybe even delusion. And now he's gone.

Jarome Iginla press conference (part 1)

Part 2