Russo's NHL Insider: Iginla lights a new fire in Pittsburgh

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2013 - 9:25 AM

Jarome Iginla wished his longtime team good luck as he departed the Flames to join the Penguins.

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Former Calgary Flames captain and six-time All-Star Jarome Iginla made his debut Saturday with the team of his choice: the already loaded Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Classy to the very end.

In a fitting conclusion to what we assume is his Calgary Flames career, Jarome Iginla stood in front of the media Thursday and answered question after question.

And, he did so with a smile — just like the NHL’s accommodating spokesman did for the past 16 years.

“I wish the Flames the absolute best” were Iginla’s parting words after scoring 525 goals and 1,095 points and guiding Calgary to a near-Stanley Cup in 2004.

But it was time for the 36-year-old captain to move on, not only for himself, but for the dragging-in-mud organization he long represented with dignity and pride.

Jay Feaster arrived in Calgary in 2011 to maybe the NHL’s worst prospect pool. The Flames GM is trying to build through the draft while adding young assets. Time will tell if what was fetched from the Pittsburgh Penguins — St. Cloud State’s Ben Hanowski, Yale’s Kenneth Agostino and a very low first-round pick in June’s draft — will amount to anything.

The two prospects weren’t considered high-enders by Pittsburgh. But if you’re trying to rebuild and you’re about to miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, Feaster had to trade Iginla. The problem is Iginla had the hammer — a no-trade clause. Even though Feaster might have gotten more from Boston or Los Angeles, Iginla got to decide his destination.

Most folks went to sleep Wednesday thinking Iginla was going to Boston. But in a “Stop the Presses!” moment, Iginla was dealt to Pittsburgh.

Make no mistake, the Bruins thought they were getting Iginla. That’s what they were told, GM Peter Chiarelli said, at noon Wednesday. So was Penguins GM Ray Shero until he got another call late Wednesday night.

“The first people I called were my kids to tell them we got Jarome Iginla,” Shero said. “They said, ‘No you didn’t. We saw it on TV.’  ”

But the lure of playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was too enticing for Iginla. It offers him the best chance at his first Stanley Cup, meaning Shero had all the leverage.

If I’m a GM and see Ray Shero’s name light up on my Caller I.D., I send it to voice mail. The Penguins GM normally gets what he wants, and in a fleece job. Look at James Neal. Heck, he somehow landed Brandon Sutter, another prospect and a first-rounder from Carolina for Jordan Staal when everybody knew Staal would have simply signed to play with brother, Eric, this summer anyway.

Now, in four days, Shero gets Iginla, Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray. With oodles of salary cap space left, he may not even be done before Wednesday’s trade deadline.

The Penguins are loading up.

Now, Morrow has a lot of mileage under his hood. Murray is glacially slow. And as great as Iginla once was, we in Minnesota have seen first hand how the all-time leading scorer against the Wild has gradually slowed with his foot speed and hands. In 25 of the past 32 meetings with Minnesota, Iginla didn’t score.

Nevertheless, he had no supporting cast in Calgary and should be resurrected alongside the talent in Pittsburgh.

Shero believes in windows of opportunity. Crosby is having a Hart Trophy-like season and has been healthy, at least until having his teeth rearranged by a puck to the mouth against the Islanders on Saturday. Shero mans an organization with a deep pool of prospects that will never see the light of Pittsburgh day because of the established core, so he can afford to trade young assets.

In the end though, this is hockey. There are no guarantees in the playoffs. Anybody can beat anybody, especially if goalie Marc-Andre Fleury becomes the Marc-Andre Fleury of last year’s postseason.

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