The face of the Calgary Flames is still all smiles despite the trade talk surrounding his fate with the National Hockey League team.
“Oh, it’s fine. It really doesn’t bother me. It’s part of the game,” said a grinning Jarome Iginla during Saturday’s post-game interview following Calgary’s 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
The rumour mill was working overtime over the status of the Flames’ captain after Darryl Sutter was replaced by Jay Feaster as general manager recently with the Flames mired in 14th place in the western conference.
“I’m used to the trade talk. It’s gone on for a long time now; even over the summer and during the first game of the year,” said the St. Albert Olympian, who assisted on Sidney Crosby’s dramatic golden goal in overtime at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games as Canada beat the United States 3-2.
Earlier in the season, when it looked like the season was slipping away from the Flames, management reassured the 14-year NHL veteran he wouldn’t be asked to sign off on a deal. The team is loaded with players like Iginla with no movement or no trade clauses in their contracts.
“People say that’s a downside because you don’t have as many options, or easier options, if a team is trying to make moves but for a room it’s good. We’re not all walking on eggshells. Guys are comfortable and they can focus on the task at hand,” said Iginla, who led all scorers at the Olympics with five goals in seven games. “As a player [those clauses] give you the heads-up that they’re interested in trading you and the best way to eliminate the amount of moves and the amount of trade talk is to get ourselves back in the playoffs.”
Iginla, 33, is the franchise leader in games played (1,064), goals (457) and points (955), and is second in assists (498, behind Al MacInnis’ 609).
In 2009/10 the all-star right winger scored 32 goals, marking the ninth straight season he surpassed 30 or more goals. He was also the Flames’ biggest offensive contributor for the ninth year in a row, with 69 points in 82 games.
The streaky scorer struggled early in the season, but got back on track to lead the Flames in goals (16) and points (35) after 40 games.
“I had a slow start, there is no question about that, but probably after 15 games I felt a lot better and I’ve been able to find ways to be better and contribute,” said the winner of the 2002 Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top point producer (96 in 82 games). “It’s going to be a great second half for our team and I look forward to it personally too.”
Monday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders at the Saddledome halted a four-game winning streak by the Flames (18-19-1-2). They are six points out of a playoff spot, and eight in front of the last-place Oilers (12-18-1-6).
“We have been pushing it for awhile to go back to .500,” said the recipient of the 2009 Messier Leadership Award, which recognizes an individual as a superior leader within their sport and as a contributing member of society. “We’ve dug ourselves a hole and now we’re just starting to climb out of it. We’re not there yet. There is still a lot of work to do.”
Iginla said the Flames started to get their act together prior to Sutter’s departure.
“It feels like we’re playing a lot better hockey over our last 10 games. We’ve been outchancing and outshooting teams and playing well defensively but not always getting the results we wanted,” said the co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer in 2002 (52) and 2004 (shared with Rich Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk at 41 apiece). “On different nights it’s been different guys leading the way and that’s what winning teams do. It’s not just one special thing; it’s all the different ways you win games and we’re finding ways to do that.
“As for the atmosphere [surrounding the team], we’ve really worked on it as a group. We’re in the NHL, we’ve got to work hard and we’ve got to come to play every night but at the same time we’ve got to enjoy it. We’ve been working on that all year and I think we’ve found that balance between too loose and too tense about 10 games ago.”
Saturday’s result marked the 10th win by Calgary in 11 games against their provincial rivals. The Flames had played the night before while the Oilers were resting. The score flattered the Oilers, as the Flames outshot the home team 19-3 in the first period and 30-17 overall.
“They’re always big games against these guys,” said Iginla, who was held off the scoresheet. “We were trying to play a good road game on a back-to-back night. Their goalie [Nikolai Khabibulin] played well but we felt we could’ve had more than two. In the first couple of periods we outshot them and outchanced them and it was still such a tight game but we found a way to stay with it and win a close one.”