Posted: Thursday July 28, 2005 3:21PM; Updated: Thursday July 28, 2005 3:23PM
Jarome Iginla is happy with the new-look NHL under the CBA signed last week.
Jeff Vinnick/WCOH via Getty Images
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Finally, Jarome Iginla can get back to work.
It's been 14 months since the All-Star forward laced 'em up and carried his Calgary Flames to the brink of Stanley Cup ecstasy before losing in the seventh game to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like other NHL players, Iginla knew a greater loss was possible five months later when the collective-bargaining agreement expired. Indeed, the NHL owners locked out the players after the two sides failed to come to terms on and the parties spent the next year-plus slugging it out before agreeing on a new six-year partnership last Thursday. To celebrate, the NHL staged a draft lottery the next day. The league's 30 teams will make their selections Saturday with the first pick -- expected to be Sidney Crosby --going to Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins. Still, that can't take away all the lousy things the lockout did to the sport. Says Iginla, "It was a negative year, no question about it."
Dispatched to British Columbia by Sports Illustrated, I found Iginla in the middle of a soccer field -- in a pair of Nike cross-trainers -- the picture of a man well-rested. Iginla has made the most of an extended respite: He and his wife, Kara, welcomed their first child, daughter, Jade, into the world last November. He watched his mom, Susan, graduate with a degree in education from the University of Alberta. (Iginla paid the tuition.) In between, he's whittled his handicap down to five and escaped to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the winter to decompress.
But today, from the back porch of his summer home in Kelowna, B.C., we spent about an hour going over the new hockey CBA line-by-line. Despite facing a 24 percent decrease in salary from the $7.5 million he earned in 2003-04, he's a fan of the new CBA. He does feel, however, the owners, who secured a desperately needed salary cap, got the better of the deal. The cap is tied to league revenues, ballparked at $1.7 billion for next season. (Payrolls for clubs will range from $21.5 million to $39 million.) The owners also got players to take a smaller piece of the action, down to 54 percent of the revenues from upward of 70 percent. Also working in the owners' favor: No player can earn more than 20 percent of the cap, making stars more affordable. These changes play right into the hands of the Flames, who are one of the small-market teams in the league (some 900,000 people live in and around Calgary). The $39 million cap is about what the team spent on salaries last year, and when the free-agent season kicks off on August 1, the Flames may be in a position to add some needed pieces. The handful of NHL clubs that find themselves over the limit are feverishly trying to buy out contracts they can no longer afford.
"I really like the position of our team," says Iginla. "We're a young team that has a young core that's still intact and now we're one of those teams that's going to benefit from having free agents become available. If a team like ours is missing one piece, now we're able to go out and find that piece that puts us over the top."
In exchange for the cap, the players get more control over their rights and a pension three times larger than the one under the previous deal and easier to attain. "Before, our rights were we came into the league at 18 and didn't have a choice where we were going to play until we were 31," says Iginla, a nine-year vet. "That's a lot of years. Now you can come in at 18 and be 25 or 27. It gives players a chance to choose a city they've always wanted to play for."
For Iginla, that's Calgary. Since he was acquired from Dallas for Joe Nieuwendyk in 1995, he's known no other home. After winning over fans in Calgary and his Flames teammates, Iginla says he is willing to do whatever is asked of him to help the NHL win back the people. He isn't just talking the talk, either. He's taken a seat on the league's newly formed competition committee, collaborating on bevy of changes -- perhaps none more significant than adding a shootout to decide tie games -- to return the advantage to the offense and make the game more exciting. But those aren't the only new wrinkles in the sport. Reebok and Nike join as sponsors, edging out CCM. The sport also has a new home on American television at NBC Universal (although no certain schedule), which secured the broadcast rights without having to pay a fee. (There have even been rumblings of director Jerry Bruckheimer coming on as an advisor.) Behind-the-scenes programming, a la NASCAR Drivers360 (which I have come to love, love, love), is another idea being kicked around. "There are so many good things going on to reboot the game," Iginla says. "It's gonna be fun."
Iginla, too, has been re-energized by the shutdown. The extended time off has allowed him to fully rest joints and aching bones that never get time to completely heal. Me and Iggy could have spent more time talking shop, the two of us gazing out over his backyard at sailboats bobbing up and down in Lake Okanagan. "This is nice," Iginla said of the scene, "But this'll wait."