While listening to WGR550 after the Sabres most recent loss, the host brought up the thought of trading for Jarome Iginla.  Jarome Iginla is an elite hockey player; a player that anyone would want on their hockey team.  The first question is why would Calgary trade him? The second question is what would your team (The Sabres) be willing to give up in order to gain the power forward? 

Let’s start out with, Why Calgary would trade Jarome Iginla?  Much like the Sabres, the Flames are struggling this season.  Iginla makes $7M/season and has scored only two goals in twelve games.  An article in the Rumor Roundup section of The Hockey News on 11-3-10 brought up the possibility of Iginla being traded as part of a rebuilding or restructuring process.  The Flames are 6-6-0 which isn’t terrible, but a recent 7-2 home loss has fans ready for change.  When any organization fails, the leaders get the heaviest blame.  GM Darryl Sutter is the hot candidate to be sacked if the Flames continue to flounder.  Upon arrival a new GM would presumably want to make changes.  After a GM change the next obvious finger points to the teams on ice leader and highest paid player, Jarome Iginla.

Assuming the Flames will want to trade Iginla is leaping to conclusions.  If the Flames rebound and Iginla’s goal scoring increases no trade will happen.  If the Flames are still outside of the playoff race around the trade deadline (Feb 28, 2011) then a trade is a distinct possibility.  Even if the Flames look to trade their captain, he'd have to approve any such trade.  There's a good chance Buffalo wouldn't be his first choice.  There’s nothing more we can do at this point other than guess, so let’s stop guessing and get to the fun part.

Why would the Sabres want Jarome Iginla? 

Jarome Iginla is a proven leader.  He led the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 before losing to Tampa Bay in 7 games.  Iginla has served as the Flames team captain since the 2003-04 season.    

Iginla is a scorer.  He has scored an average of 34 goals over his 13 year career, and has twice scored 50 or more.  His two most recent seasons have seen 35 and 32 goal performances.  Iginla’s production remains consistent during the playoffs.  He has 49 points in 54 playoff games. 

Iginla is tough.  The 6’1”, 207lb Right Wing plays a physical brand of hockey.  He is a prototypical power forward.  Despite being a star Iginla regularly drops the gloves in defense of teammates.  He averages about four fights per season and once famously fought Vinny Lecavalier in the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals.  There is not a defenseman in the league who is afraid of Tim Connolly, Derek Roy or Jason Pominville.  The threat of having to answer for your actions keeps players from taking cheap shots at star players.  Dirty hits such as the one Niklas Hjalmarsson laid on Pominville would be deterred if there were someone on the first line who had the guts and the size to do something about it.

Iginla is humble and has exhibited great character off the ice.  As far as character, I’ll refer you to this article published in 2007.  Here is an excerpt from the article that was particularly telling, ’In 2002, while in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympic Games, Iginla struck up a conversation with four Calgarians sitting next to his table, and found out they were sleeping in their car outside of the hotel. He excused himself from the conversation, and booked them accommodations at his own expense at the hotel his family was staying in.’  Buffalo appreciates character as much as goals, and after reading that short article, I have to say, this guy has character and he’s got it in spades.

So you’re saying that there’s a guy available who scores as much as Thomas Vanek, could instantly be the team captain, performs in the playoffs, brings toughness to the Sabres top lines, and is a great person off the ice?  Where do I sign up?

…Wait a minute, if this guy is so awesome, why do the Flames want to trade him?  The Flames will only trade their captain if they are doing poorly and believe that Jarome Iginla cannot lead them to The Stanley Cup.  His $7M in salary is also a large consideration in any decision.  In my opinion, any team with Jarome Iginla needs to look elsewhere when searching for reasons they’re not winning.  Teams tend to get sick of their own players; sort of like the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence type philosophy.  And sometimes it’s the player himself that needs and can benefit from a change of scenery.  Some of the reasons that Calgary would want to trade Iginla overlap with the reasons that Buffalo might NOT want to trade for #12.

Why would the Sabres NOT want Jarome Iginla?

Jarome Iginla is 33 years old.  He’s played thirteen NHL seasons and has employed a tough gritty style throughout his career.  His body is sure to have some wear & tear.  That being said, it’s tough to question his durability as Iginla has played 82 games 4 of the past 5 seasons. 

Iginla’s production has fallen from 50 goals three years ago to 35 & 32 in the past two seasons.  If you have Iginla on your squad, you’re going to have to deal with diminished skills.  You’re not getting a 50 goal scorer, you’re getting a guy who has scored 50 goals and will probably score at least 30 each of the next three seasons.  Three seasons is the remainder on Iginla’s contract. 

Iginla makes $7M per season.  The Sabres won’t spend nor do they have the space to simply add him to the current roster.  The Sabres haven’t had good luck in signing Thomas Vanek to that level of salary.  That experience might deter them from making a similar investment in a single player.  Also, with the addition of Iginla you’re going to have to dump some salary.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Sabres could just pick which underperforming and overpaid players to discard in anticipation of needing $7M in cap space?  I’d vote for Jochen Hecht (3.5M cap hit) and Tim Connolly ($4.5M) to be voted off the Island.  Unfortunately the NHL just doesn’t work that way.  The Flames are going to want quality players in return.  I’ll show an example below of a reasonable package that a team might expect in return for Jarome Iginla. 

Another negative to the trade is that the Flames are under no pressure and have all the leverage.  Iginla has three more years on his contract.  Normally, players are traded near the end of contracts and when the team does not intend to re-sign.  Calgary has all the time in the world.  They can wait until the perfect offer comes to them.  The only pressure on Calgary is to win, and Iginla isn’t exactly hurting that cause, he’s just been accused of not helping enough.       

 

With all the positives and negatives considered, should the Sabres still trade for Jarome Iginla?  YES.  And here’s why.

Discussion/Opinion Section

In Iginla, the Sabres get a replacement at captain.  The Sabres current captain, Craig Rivet, is barely hanging onto his roster spot and will be gone next year as his contract expires.  The Sabres have no strong candidate to replace Rivet as captain and without a strong captain, this team is going nowhere. 

Iginla brings physicality to the top lines.  The Sabres top two lines of forwards consist of the names, Pominville, Roy, Vanek, Connolly, Ennis, Hecht, Stafford.  There’s some size among them, but not too much toughness and grit.  Iginla instantly gives your top two lines more toughness on the ice. 

The Sabres are not a team in need of a complete rebuild.  They are a team that needs a jolt.  The Sabres are not all that young either.  It’s not like they’re waiting for young talent to develop.  Many of their players have had 3-5 years in the league.  The Sabres record is awful but I don’t believe they’re as bad as the Islanders, or Edmonton.  Just as Chris Drury raised the level of play of those around him, I believe Iginla could inspire the Sabres existing players to perform.  Lastly, Ryan Miller is an elite goalie, and if the Sabres wait too long to do something, they’ll waste the prime of his career. 

Organizationally, the Sabres would sell a boatload of Iginla jerseys.  I’d love to buy a Sabres jersey, but other than Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller there’s nobody worth spending $150 to have his name on my back.  Iginla will also help sell tickets.  Fans love to see stars, even if they’re past their prime.  Iginla’s been in the Western Conference for his entire career and being in Buffalo would draw fans of all teams to HSBC Arena.  Fans that’ve seen him on TV but never had the chance to see him live.

As far as addressing the drawbacks, his age is a concern.  At 33, he can’t be expected to score 35 goals each year forever.  Iginla has three more years left on his contract, so if he isn’t spectacular, you’ll have him for 2.5 seasons and then start over.  The risk that Jarome Iginla gets hurt or stops scoring goals is minimal.  He’s just been too consistent in both categories to warrant such a worry.

Who would the Sabres need to give up?  Teams usually want the opposite of what they’re trading away.  So if the Flames see Iginla as old, expensive, and diminishing in talent, they’ll probably want young, cheap, and talented players in return.  The Flames much like the Sabres are not in a complete rebuild mode so they’ll want at least one proven commodity to replace the scoring void left by losing Iginla. 

Here’s the reality check.  The Flames don’t want our garbage.  Nobody wants Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht or Drew Stafford.  I think the Sabres should trade Tim Connolly too, but he’s not going to be the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade.  The Sabres organization could most afford to spare young defenseman and still not hurt their immediate chances at success.  But again, this isn't about what we're willing to give up, it's about what Calgary wants.  To get an accurate picture of what the Sabres need to give up, fast forward 4 or 5 years and imagine for some reason the Sabres were trading Ryan Miller.  What would be reasonable? 

An example of what I think it would take to get Iginla:

Scenario A) Proven goal scorer: Derek Roy, Prospect: Chris Butler, Draft pick: 1st rd draft pick in 2011.

Scenario B) Goal scoring prospect: Tyler Ennis, Veteran Center: Tim Connolly, Draft Picks: 2nd rd picks in 2011 and 2012 

Both scenarios are merely an educated guess of what it would take to pry Iginla away from Calgary.  It might even take another young prospect or two.  Of course Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers are out of the question.  But if you want to make this trade a reality, Thomas Vanek has to be in contention.  That’d be a tough decision to make, but if I had to, I think I’d say yes to trading Vanek in exchange for Iginla.  I think the subtraction of Vanek’s salary counts for something.  Whereas Roy’s cap hit is $4M, Vanek costs $6.4M towards the cap.  The $2M extra could be used to upgrade the defense or elsewhere.  Vanek’s youth also counts for something.  In Vanek, the Flames would be getting a 26 year old potential 40 goal scorer.  Over the next three seasons are we more likely to win The Cup with a 34 year old Jarome Iginla or a 27 year old Thomas Vanek?  Obviously Vanek will still be playing long after Iginla retires; however, I believe that over the next three seasons Iginla gives your team a better shot at the Cup.

Scenario C) Thomas Vanek & a prospect such as Mike Weber or a 2nd round draft pick.

But enough with hypotheticals. 

The bottom line is that if he is available (and that’s a big IF) the Sabres should trade for Jarome Iginla.  They should do whatever it takes to do so; even if it means trading away Thomas Vanek.