Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Iginla Factor

There is some argument as to who is the quintessential “Cam Neely” power forward: Vinny Lecavalier or Jarome Iginla. You could say Lecavalier is more finesse, while Iginla is grit and grind. Cam Neely was both.

They can both fight their own battles. They’re both media darlings. They both have scored enough to challenge for the NHL scoring lead. They both have faced adversity in that their teams have struggled to make the playoffs over the years.

Which player gets the nod depends on which conference you reside in. I happen to reside in the west, so Iginla is my choice on the matter. While it’s doubtful any team would turn down a chance at Lecavalier, if they had a choice, I think Iginla would have the edge due to the extra grit factor.

He might have been an afterthought for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. (He was called in by Wayne Gretzky after the September 2001 evaluation camp had already started.) That was before he took ownership of the 2001-02 NHL season, when he won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading point getter, the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy for leading goal scorer, and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the Players’ Association most valuable player. He missed out on the league MVP – the Hart Trophy – by an eastern conference media vote.

And still, he faced trade rumors.

In 2003-04, there was no question of Iginla’s leadership. His team traveled the unlikely journey straight to the Stanley Cup final and pushed for a seventh game in the series, only to come out on the short end. He won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership qualities on and off the ice plus humanitarian contribution. He tied Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash for the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy.

With all this history, it’s hard to believe there was a time when the Calgary Flames’ acquisition of Jarome Iginla had people thinking “bust,” where he didn’t fulfill immediate expectations. He was touted as the next coming of Theoren Fleury when he arrived at the Pengrowth Saddledome in time for the 1995-96 playoffs – the last time the club would see the post-season until 2003-04.

During his tenure thus far, Iginla has gone through seven head coaches, three team presidents, and three general managers. The team traded an icon in Joe Nieuwendyk (along with Corey Millen) to acquire Iginla December 1995, which is likely why he’s faced so much criticism. But you could say they ultimately traded one icon for another.

This season, 2007-08, marks another milestone year for Iginla. He was named captain of the Western Conference All-Star Team, netted 50 goals on the season, and became the franchise all-time goal scoring leader. He received the team’s J. R. McCaig Memorial Award for extolling the virtues of respect, courtesy, and compassion for all individuals he encounters in both his professional and every day life.

With yet another chapter to go to finish the season, there is no doubt Jarome Iginla has proved his worth, and the naysayers have been noticeably silenced.


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