Johnson: Flames deal greatest legend in franchise history to Penguins
Face of the franchise going for forwards Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski
He arrived here in the spring of ‘96 for two playoff games, a 19-year-old, largely-unknown, rawboned kid with a weirdly square helmet, a penchant for oversleeping and a name that went on forever (Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla). He inherited Jim Peplinski’s old No. 24, if none of the facewashing acumen, and was entrusted with the daunting task of making fans forget an all-time goal-scoring maestro, Joe Nieuwendyk.
That kid scored 21 his first full season. Only 13 in his second.
Fifteen years later, he departs as the most luminous legend this town has yet seen.
No, Jarome Iginla didn’t win a Stanley Cup here, despite a desperate desire. But he has nothing to prove, no more to give, nowhere to lead a franchise that long ago lost its way and has too late at last acknowledged that it must grope frantically for a new direction.
It was time. Past time, actually.
He did, too.
And from the flat, drained look of him following the 2-0 loss Tuesday in Chicago -- exhausted by the speculation, torn by emotion and loyalty -- this couldn’t have happened soon enough. At least the Flames didn’t dither and let this play out all the way until the April 3rd deadline.
Word broke out of Boston pre-puck-drop at the Scotiabank Saddledome that it was a done deal -- a first-round pick (conditional on Iginla's re-signing in Beantown), defensive prospect Matthew Bartkowski and Providence Bruins’centre Alexander Khokhlachev in exchange for future Hall of Famer. To those locals still living in the rosy hue of 2004, steeped in the lore and in nostalgia, it might not seem enough but for a 35-year-old rental that’s more return than many felt would be coming back this way.
When it turned out to be Pittsburgh, for a pair of forwards, Yale's Kenneth Agostino and St. Cloud State's Ben Hanowski, and a first-round pick.
How well either of the U.S. college prospects and the pick turn out is, naturally, anyone’s guess. Identifying kids and projecting their upside always a crapshoot. But no one could’ve forseen that Joe Nieuwendyk would eclipse Kent Nilsson and Iginla would in turn eclipse Nieuwendyk when those deals were controversially struck, either.
Only time can make those determinations.
When news filtered out that Iginla was to be a healthy scratch against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, no one was buying that "protecting the asset" rhetoric. Something was up.
The destination turned out to be a surprise.
In leaving, Iginla joins a select group of players who’ve graced the jersey - Kent Nilsson, Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Theo Fleury - that transcend it.
With Iginla, as with all lasting heroes, the influence went far beyond the 525 goals and 1,095 points. He became a source of pride to this community. A double Olympic gold medalist. An All Star. A Maurice Richard and Art Ross Trophy winner. Respected and revered league-wide.
Not the community presence McDonald was, maybe. Not the feisty bantamweight underdog to make an emotional investment in, as was Fleury. Not the sublime talent of Nilsson, certainly. He never won a Conn Smythe, as MacInnis did, or was a championship difference-maker, like Doug Gilmour.
But the entirety of the package, the unassuming person who at least outwardly never seemed to change as the millions mounted, the commanding power forward who was indisputably the game’s best player for a spell, the guy who’d still stoop to offering to buy a weasly media mutt a cafe latte at Starbucks rather than flee at the sight of him, made him singular, unique. Add those franchise-busting numbers and his is a legacy that’s impossible to top.
For everyone, including those of us who’ve covered his exploits from the beginning, from the moment he ventured down from his mom’s house in St. Albert, it’s a vastly different Calgary Flames’ landscape today. But that’s change, and change - even for an organization as resistant to it as this one - is inevitable.
With the hard one out of the way, more deals may be in the offing. Jay Boumeester, perhaps? The first, and most important, domino has fallen,
Iginla exited the building Wednesday night. Reportedly said his goodbyes to his peers and left. It would’ve been a gong show had he hung around, he knew, and his teammates, still holding out faint playoff hopes, had a game to try and win.
So everyone expects him to say a proper goodbye, 10:30 a.m. today.
He did well by Calgary. Calgary did well by him. They part on the best of terms. Those are the kinds of relationships you remember.
An era has ended. The scoreboard Iggy Dance is now but a kitschy memory. His iconic No 12 jersey will undoubtedly one day hang up in the rafters of a building he dominated for the better part of two decades in a city that embraced him like no one else.
Jarome Iginla heads to Pittsburgh with the hopes and dreams of that city stuffed somewhere in his checked luggage.
There’s nothing anyone in this town would savour more than seeing him at long last hoist that jug-eared silver chalice aloft in early June. If only to make up for the lingering pain of 2004.
Calgarians will have to live vicariously through him and his exploits this spring. At least now they have a playoff team to cheer for.
After all, it’s the closest anyone around here will get to a Stanley Cup for a long, long time.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
See what people are saying about the trade on Twitter:
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald