Savor the moments...
The Flames have had a tough year in not meeting expectations. A frustrated fan base feels misled by management. Change is slow and the team is not where anyone wants them to be. Injuries have been steady throughout the season and trepidation of the future is everywhere.
Star players have been recently traded in previous years for paltry returns. The team is on tilt and fans are outraged at the deconstruction of their team, now clearly on the decline. The year is 1996.
The Flames will finish 21st in the NHL overall with a mere 73 points. The first goal of the Flames dismal season was scored by a young rookie named Jarome Iginla. It wasn't his first ever NHL goal. That came in the 1995-96 playoffs against the Blackhawks when he was called up for 2 games.
It would be 7 long years before Jarome and the Flames saw the playoffs again.
1996-97 was a season of decline and a fresh faced rookie changes his jersey number from #24 to #12 on January 2, 1997. He is destined to be the last player in the Flaming C to ever wear #12, but he doesn't know that yet. The kid is the runner-up in the Calder to Bryan Berard and leads all rookies with 50 points.
A solitary bright spot on a team that missed the playoffs for only the second time in 17 seasons in Calgary. A franchise that missed for only the 2nd time in 22 years if you calibrate the Atlanta years in as well.
500 goals later and in a time machine we flash forward to the 2011-12 season. As Jarome's rookie atmosphere was with the Flames it is amazingly similar to the current season as well. The more things change the more they stay the same.
But the Flames and Flames fans whether they realize it or not have the most valuable and rarest commodity in professional sports. They have a true franchise player, elite and exclusive. A personification of more than a hockey team but an ambassador of a city.
What is a franchise player ?
They have never worn any other jersey. This is one of the rarest things in professional sports. Not just hockey. A player who sticks through the ups and downs of a team over their career, commits to them unconditionally.
It says as much about the player's loyalty as it does the team's commitment to them. Hence Jarome's rightly earned No Movement Clause.
Trade speculation regarding Jarome is a constant jabber that has existed for almost as long as I can recall. But franchise players do not move. If they get run out of town or they abandon the team they cease to be franchise players.
They cease to be absolutely exclusive.
Without a doubt Jarome is elite. Only the 10th player in NHL history to achieve 30 goals in 10 straight seasons. He is consistent and resilient. Gold medals, All-star accolades, the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies - the list goes on.
The caveat that will always be Jarome's silent legacy is that he did it all on the Flames and never with a elite line-mate at his side. He did it on a team that missed the playoffs for 9 of his 14 seasons so far.
Where Gretzky had Kurri, Bossy had Trottier, Lemieux had Jagr, Sedin had Sedin who did Jarome ever have? Imagine Jarome instead of Jagr on the RW with Lemieux and tell me what you think his numbers would be today.
Keep in mind that between 1998 and 2008 only Jagr had more NHL goals than Iginla and of course only one of these players had the benefit of Super Mario at his side.
Only the best of the best can perform at an elite level with whoever they play with and hockey fans will have to content themselves with the brief flashes of the Olympics and international play when Jarome did line up with other elite players.
Scoring two goals in the 2002 Olympic gold medal game and in 2010 finishing the tournament as the tournament leader with 5 goals and doing the heavy lifting for the golden assist to Crosby for another Olympic Gold medal.
Jarome had several nail biting contract negotiations with the Flames. Nail biting for fans anyway. He could have left and the thought of that was terrifying for fans. Fans who had seen great players like Al MacInnis, Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Theo Fleury all leave a cash strapped small market team.
As a 25 year old RFA in 2002 and Jarome coming off his best season of all time he was looking for a raise. Calgary was offering 5.5 million a season for two years, Jarome wanted 7.5 million. They settled on 13 million for two years.
The process would repeat itself and both sides appeared happy with the 7 million a season number. A salary Jarome has earned each season since the lockout and one most consider good value. It goes without saying that if Jarome had gone to market in 2004 or 2007 he would have gotten more in the usual Free Agent frenzy.
The man is not about just the money.
The conduct of players off-ice goes to the heart of a franchise player because they become personifications of the team. Ambassadors of the city in which they play, whether they want it or not, it slowly happens.
In this area Jarome excels above all else. In what must be thousands of instances of fans asking for a picture, in every one and no matter what the circumstances you see that famous Jarome smile. His pause for autographs and positive disposition is well known.
He knows it is an important moment for a hockey fan to have a picture taken with him, even if he feels down.
Stories of him off-ice are the stuff of feel good legend. Meeting by accident some Calgarians who were sleeping in their car outside the hotel because they could not find accommodations at the Salt Lake City Olympics, he booked a room for them at the same hotel his family was staying at.
His contributions to charities are numerous and extensive. Jarome received a request from the Prime Minister to accompany him on a visit to Canadian troops in Afghanistan in 2011, of course he complied.
In 14 long years search your internet for a shirtless picture of Jarome in a limo with two girls. Search for a story with him throwing change at a cab driver. Search for rumors of wife swapping or drinking problems or even just coming out of a Starbucks and storming past a fan who says "Hi Jarome".
You won't find anything. Jarome's character is impeccable and that is as much a part of a franchise player as elite play and exclusive loyalty to a team.
Respect from your Opposition
Lots of fans of other teams will hate on the Flames but most of them draw the line at Iginla. He has enormous respect in the NHL, it is the mark of a fool to throw mud at him.
Jarome is not a dirty player, he does not dive, he plays the game hard and honest. Everyone has seen it over the last 14 years.
The respect is not exclusive to just fans of other teams either. One of the high class moments of the Vancouver Canucks was a comment made by Trevor Linden in his final game. One in which the Flames stayed on ice to shake his hand in the final game.
Linden spoke glowingly of Iginla afterwards.
"I think it was a very classy thing to do. I think Jarome is one of the most classy players in the league, not only that, he’s probably the best player in the league. When you have a captain like that, it was certainly a very classy move on their part, no doubt." - Trevor Linden
Jarome will compete, he will fight and he will play intense but it is part of the game. Respect is earned and given still in what is probably the last golden era hockey player of the modern NHL.
So few have witnessed hockey and how it was played in the 1970s. Players in this era had no enforcers to call upon. They were expected to stand up for themselves and defend themselves. No one bothered Bobby Orr because he fought and beat down players who tried to intimidate him. Same with Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Rocket Richard, Bobby Clarke, Gordie Howe and all the greats of old school hockey.
Jarome is a throw back to that golden era. A player that stands alone today shoulder to shoulder to the original- six era greats. He would have been great in any era of the game of hockey. Think about the point leaders today, the great players of today, ask yourself how many of them could have survived original six hockey?
Savor the games you watch Jarome play, you are seeing a player who is capable of doing it all in the spirit of the game in any era.
Other Franchise Players?
Steve Yzerman for sure.
Joe Sakic pretty much but you have the Nordiques in there, so two jerseys.
Shane Doan to a degree but again that one year on the Jets (1979).
Rick Nash is on his way and so is Patrick Marleau.
Daniel Alfredsson is one for the Senators and so is Mike Bossy as well as Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
I am sure there are more, list off the players who you think are franchise players and remember Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr don't make the cut because again, exclusivity...
Few teams even have a player in their history who meets the definition of a franchise player.
A final word to the trade Iggy to a Cup team crowd
I do not advocate trading Jarome Iginla.
In fact I hope he resigns in 2013. Many do want to trade Iginla and one can understand the cold hockey logic of it. Often they fail to see the intangibles of him as a person and a player. What he means not just to the Flames but to the City of Calgary.
Jarome has spent his entire career in a small NHL market, one that teetered on being moved, he didn't have to do that. It was hard enough to keep butts in seats during that era but those that did come, came to watch #12. So often he took the sting away for a moment or two in disappointing season after disappointing season. Just like he did last night with his 500th goal.
Over and over he delivered that to everyone at the start of his career and he is doing it again now at a frustrating transition time for the organization.
The thought of him in another jersey is just flat out offensive to me.
He was the sole light during a very dark era for the Flames. To turn him out now when he was the only joy the team's fans had for many years is flat out low class. It may be hockey smart but it is still low brow. Jarome had several opportunities to leave the Flames and he did not.
He could have left for better teams and more pay on two occasions but he stayed loyal. His treatment by the organization at this point should be the same as he has shown them. Loyal and transcending cold hockey calculations.
If he wants to go, I wish him only the best but that decision is his and his alone.
Ray Bourque will remain the success story of a player who left his long time team to chase a Cup and got the Holy Grail. But word to the wise, other great players are run out of town and their careers end shamefully.
Players like Mats Sundin whose once proud career ended on a sour note in Vancouver after being run out of Toronto.
The Calgary Flames organization should stand tall like the Detroit Red Wings did with Steve Yzerman. Prove they are not a team that will trade a franchise player or let them slip away over a mere 500k in 2013 nor one that will remove a esteemed leader from a team that has youth coming in. A player like Jarome will always have value in some way.
There is only one thing that can break me as a fan. Only one thing that will have me stop being a fan of the Flames, which I have been since they arrived and that is in their treatment in the coming years of Jarome Iginla. If he is run out of town, if I hear even a whisper of the decision not being 100% his to be moved, that is it for the Flames.
I haven't even lived in Calgary for the last 8 years but if Jarome gets shipped without clear indication publicly that he initiated it and wanted the move I am going to be a newly minted fan of the Edmonton Oilers. No joke.
I saw Jarome's first regular season goal. I don't even remember who won the game but I remember the goal. This young rookie who came within a whisker of the Calder and I still think he should have won it, was hope personified for the Flames in a time similar to the one we have now.
One of my personal issues is that I think I am subconsciously expecting Mikael Backlund to be the same thing but he isn't even close, perhaps I am a little too critical of Backs because I want an Iginla 2.0 and that isn't going to happen. Jarome is one of a kind.
Some things in life are more important than the Stanley Cup. Some players transcend the game, not just because of their skill but because of who they are. When you watch this highlight post-game on-ice interview you see it in Jarome as he thanks the fans. Thanks the crowd in a clearly emotional moment for him.
He loves Calgary and Calgary and Flames fans love him and rightly so. They love him as much for who he is, as for what he has accomplished. He is who you want to represent your city. Some things transcend even the Cup. Some players transcend even the game and Iginla in another jersey is something I hope he never wants.