I’ve long believed, like many, that Jarome Iginla will retire as a member of the Calgary Flames. In fact, my gut still says he’ll finish his career with the only NHL team he’s ever known if all things were even. However, that’s not the case right now. We don’t know when an NHL season is going to start, or if one is going to start at all. Unfortunately, with his contract expiring in July, the current labour impasse may very well affect his future with the team. It would be burying your head in the sand to not at least acknowledge the possibility.
The captain of the Flames since 2003, Iginla has long had a very good relationship with ownership, as he should. Iginla is arguably the best player to ever suit up for the team and has been the unquestioned face of the franchise for more than a decade. For the longest time, it was in the best interests of the team on the ice to have Iginla on the roster. We’ve started to understand more and more in recent years that it’s also in their best interests off the ice as well.
So how does CBA uncertainty affect the future of Iginla in Calgary? Why isn’t it simply automatic that he’ll extend his contract? Two factors make it less than a shoo-in in my eyes.
First off, Jarome Iginla has been rather outspoken as negotations between the league and Players’ Association have continued. We’ve seen plenty of outspoken players throughout this saga, but it’s particularly noteworthy when it comes from him. Typically, Iginla is fairly hesitant to stray from the accepted hockey vernacular. That’s why his conversation with the Calgary Sun in September made me sit up and take notice.
“Gary (Bettman) said last time, it was a deal that would work for everyone, be a win-win,” Iginla told the paper. “If you had asked him, ‘forecast the revenues and will it work?’ He’d have said, ‘absolutely, this is perfect.’ So how can we trust him next time? Even though I didn’t agree with it last time, you could see their point. This time, I don’t. It’s like Gary enjoys battling, enjoys the argument.”
Here’s where things get interesting. It’s not a reach to say by questioning trust in Bettman, Iginla was also questioning the owners the Commissioner represents. When you take into account how involved Flames majority owner Murray Edwards has been in negotiations, it makes you ponder a little bit.
If Iginla has trust issues towards the other side of the dispute right now, could there be hard feelings towards Edwards when it’s to work on a new contract?
I don’t ask the question in a leading fashion, but I do know it’s been a question posed to me by many throughout this saga. Much more often than not in situations like this, bygones become bygones when players are back playing and any hard feelings that did exist dissipate fairly quickly. That’s very likely what would happen in this case, but it doesn’t mean the question should be posed.
Second, how much does Iginla want to stick around? I’ve always felt that he would like to end his time here, and I still do. At what point, though, does a 35-year-old player put winning a championship above all else? Iginla has scored 30 goals or more in 12 straight seasons with the Flames. He reached the 500 goal mark last season. He’s scored 50 goals twice in his career with the Flames. He’s also won a pair of Olympic gold medals, World Junior and World Championship golds, and a Memorial Cup. Missing from that resume is a Stanley Cup.
Calgary has missed the playoffs for three straight years. Depending on who you talk to, the team is either ahead or behind of the group that finished five points back of eighth place last season. Regardless of what you think of the coming edition of the team, the Flames did make some significant additions during the off-season. They traded for and subsequently signed defenceman Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.25 million deal. Forward Jiri Hudler was signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 2. The team brought in Czech forward Roman Cervenka on a one year deal and have high hopes he may fill a top six role with the team.
So how will this all pan out? If you’re Iginla, this season could very well be a chance to evaluate a number of things. Beyond those additions, the Flames will also have Mike Cammalleri to start the season while top prospect Sven Baertschi is expected to be on the big squad as well. Over a full campaign, Iginla would have a very good chance to get a good read on the team which could very well factor into a new contract.
But, at best, only a partial season is going to get played? We don’t know if that will play in the favour of the Flames, the same way we don’t know if it could count against them. Worse yet, if the unthinkable happens and the season gets axed, Iginla will have had no opportunity to play with new teammates and evaluate a different looking squad.
Iginla didn’t sign an extension with Calgary prior to Sept. 15 and can’t negotiate for a new one until a new CBA is ratified. Even with the factors outlined above, I would be shocked if he went elsewhere because my gut says he’s staying in Calgary. However, what you can’t deny is how a quick and amicable solution to this lockout could help my gut come in line with reality.