It is time to liberate Jarome Iginla. With trade talk bound to grow louder after last week's All-Star break, the Flames' captain remains the most desirable player who could potentially be moved by the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Granted, midseason deals often fizzle faster than you can say Ilya Kovalchuk, and it would take some cap-dancing to move Iginla, who has another two seasons on his contract at $7 million per, but the future Hall of Famer is the only player available with the potential to make a Cup winner out of a Cup contender.
With 47 points through the break, Iginla is Calgary's leading scorer, as he has been for the last nine seasons. His 463 goals, all for the Flames, are fourth best among active players. The three men ahead of him (the Ducks' Teemu Selanne, the Bruins' Mark Recchi and the Red Wings' Mike Modano) are all in their 40s. Iginla won't turn 34 until next summer.
Two other players who could attract significant attention in the next four weeks are Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun and Senators defenseman Chris Phillips. The 34-year-old Vokoun, tied for third in the league in shutouts, has been called the NHL's most underrated goalie by one G.M. Phillips, 32, is a steady, stay-at-home defenseman, whose decline this year (three points,--23) could be explained by the team's collective malaise and the loss of blue line partner Anton Volchenkov. Phillips will be a free agent next summer. But neither player is of Iginla's quality.
With a no-movement clause in his contract, Iginla would need to approve any deal. And both he and acting G.M. Jay Feaster have publicly bristled at the mention of trade rumors. But the fact is that moribund Calgary is 12th in the 15-team Western Conference—with one of the oldest rosters in the NHL—and desperately needs the faster, younger players that a trade of Iginla could bring. The Flames came within a goal of winning a title in 2004 but otherwise have not won a playoff series since hoisting the Cup in 1989. The Kings were reportedly in the mix for Iginla early in the season, and the surprising Stars would still have ample cap space available to get something done, as would the Lightning.
Iginla has built his résumé while playing with linemates who have ranged from stellar (gifted passer Marc Savard) to selfish (puck-hogging Olli Jokinen), while others such as Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy and Matt Stajan were not in his class. In a rare chance to play with elite players, the three-time Olympian won his second gold medal last year, scoring five goals for Canada at the Vancouver Games.
Iginla's historic parallel is Ray Bourque, who was dealt from the slumping Bruins in 2000 to the streaking Avalanche and won his first Cup in '01. After 14 years of loyalty and distinction, Iginla has earned the right to the same consideration.
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