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Netcrashing: Time for Flames to think of trading Iginla?

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Jamie Bell, TSN.ca Staff
11/17/2010 3:15:37 PM
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The New York Yankees face a very interesting dilemma this off-season. Team captain Derek Jeter has hit the free-agent market and now the Bronx Bombers must decide if they want to overpay to keep around a diminishing asset or cut ties and risk a fan revolt by walking away from a player that is so clearly tied to the past successes of the franchise.

Whatever they decide to do, it may be a good idea for the Calgary Flames to watch closely. After all, they face a somewhat similar situation with their own captain and face of the franchise in Jarome Iginla.

While the player affectionately known as Iggy is not up for a contract renewal (he remains signed for two more seasons at $7 million per), there have been rumblings in the blogosphere that the Flames might be better off in the long run without Iginla.

With the team off to a bad start that has them sitting 14th in the Western Conference heading into Wednesday's action - and with Iginla netting only three goals - rumours of a possible separation have been growing.

On Tuesday, Dean Millard of Edmonton-based hockey blog and radio program The Pipeline Show sent out the following on the Pipeline's Twitter account (@ThePipeLineShow): "Being told Brayden Schenn is in the AHL as he would part of the package for Iginla. Kings going hard after Flames captain....."

While the Flames told the Calgary Herald on Wednesday that they have talked to no one about a potential trade involving their superstar, the buzzards could still indeed be circling.

Iginla is 33-years-old and in his 14th season in the NHL, with 1,040 regular season games and 54 playoff tilts. His rough-and-tumble style of play means that his body is more likely to break down as he gets older. While Iginla remains one of the truly marketable stars in the league, he is on pace to score just 15 goals this season - his lowest output since the 1997-98 season when he bulged the twine just 13 times. 

Also, Iginla's point production is on the decline for the third straight season. After tallying 98 points in 2007-08, Iginla's point totals dropped off slightly to a still-impressive 89 in 2008-09. More worrisome for Flames fans was last year's total of 69 points and this year's projection of just 50.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Flames are right up against the NHL's $59.4 million salary cap and would be in dire straits if not for long-term injured reserve (which has allowed them to hide the contracts of Daymond Langkow and Ales Kotalik for the time being). While the blame for that certainly doesn't fall on Iginla's shoulders (he was not the one who signed Matt Stajan to a four-year contract extension worth $14 million), his massive deal does not give Flames management much room to maneuver.

Here are a few more facts: Iginla is as beloved in Calgary as any athlete in any city and embodies all the aspects that a team would want in their leader and face of the franchise. He's talented, good looking and an upstanding member of the community who dedicates a great deal of his time and money to various charities. He's also an Olympic hero with a pair of gold medals and in 2004 he took the Flames as close as they have been to a Stanley Cup since winning their last title in 1989. 

Of course, that was seven years ago, and the Flames have come no where near those heights since. 

It is also true that since the lockout, Iginla has for the most part been saddled with linemates that wouldn't be playing on most other teams' top line. Iginla has spent most of this season skating alongside the likes of Stajan and Alex Tanguay. Stajan has one goal this season and has never scored more than 57 points in any of his seven NHL seasons. Tanguay, meanwhile, flourished playing alongside the likes of Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk in Colorado - but that was nearly a decade ago. He has not eclipsed the 20-goal mark since 2007, but is actually enjoying a better season than Iginla with five goals and seven assists in 16 games.

Even when Flames management has gone out of its way to acquire what they consider elite linemates for Iginla, it seems to have backfired. Calgary paid a high price to acquire Olli Jokinen from the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009, sending Matthew Lombardi and a first-round pick back in exchange. The Flames got very little return on their investment as Iginla and Jokinen never seemed to mesh on the ice, and Jokinen was shipped to the New York Rangers the very next season. That's why it was so baffling to many hockey fans when the Flames re-signed the Finn this past July.

Although it would appear that a trade is indeed very plausible, it might be easier said than done. 

While there are 29 other teams that would love to have Iginla, there's only a handful that can afford him. Teams like the New York Islanders, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers have the cap space to add a big ticket item like Iginla, but it would seem to make little sense under their current business models. Iginla's contract also has a no-movement clause, meaning he could veto any potential deal he so chooses. 

At this point in his career and without a Stanley Cup, it seems likely that Iginla would want to play for a contender with a legitimate shot. And that is where the possibility of trading him would become exponentially more difficult. While teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins would salivate at the prospect of adding the rugged winger, their lack of cap space or top-flight prospects would make such a deal unlikely. In order to acquire a player like Iginla, each of these teams would need to shed extensive salary and send one of their onerous contracts back to the Flames. Considering that Calgary would more or less be in full rebuild mode without Iginla, the idea of adding a less-than-desirable long-term deal seems unlikely to appeal to Flames' brass.

Perhaps this is why the Braydon Schenn rumour was able to gain so much steam - on the surface it would appear to be an ideal fit. The Kings have nearly $6 million in available cap space are a young team with championship aspirations and are the top team in the Western Conference. The Kings were in the market this past summer for an elite scoring threat, as they aggressively pursued Ilya Kovalchuk. They have the necessary prospects available in the likes of Schenn, Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Maxim Kitsyn, Andrei Loktionov and Thomas Hickey.  It would seem the two sides are a match made in heaven, but as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Flames management has been under fire for what many fans and pundits consider questionable moves and signings over the past few seasons. Trading away Iginla now would only add further fuel to that fire unless they were able to acquire enough elite young prospects to appease the Flames' faithful. In other words, it would be an very bold move by GM Darryl Sutter.

That said, the Flames do have history on their side. Think back to December 19, 1995, when local hero Joe Nieuwendyk was shipped to Dallas for an exciting, raw prospect out of Kamloops. His name? Jarome Iginla. It would be fair to say that deal worked out pretty well in the Flames favour. Could the time be right to do it again?

Our question to you in the latest edition of Netcrashing is this: "Is it time for the Flames to think about trading Jarome Iginla?"

Let your opinions be known in our 'Your Call' feature below.

Jarome Iginla and the Flames bench (Photo: Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)
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