Jarome Iginla trade could net Flames' next star

If the Calgary Flames don't deal Jarome Iginla before the NHL's trade deadline, they risk breaking a string of wise moves that have landed the franchise its top player of each of the last three generations, writes CBC News' Sean Reynolds.

Calgary star's lineage traces back through Nieuwendyk, Nilsson deals

Jarome Iginla is the Flames' all-time franchise leader in points, goals and games played. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It seems a foregone conclusion that the Calgary Flames will move Jarome Iginla before the NHL’s April 3 trade deadline.

It's a move that makes sense on so many levels. People want to see Iginla succeed. The warrior and fan favourite is as deserving to win the Stanley Cup as any player in the game today.

But armchair GMs will want him moved for an entirely different reason. Iginla represents the culmination of what is very likely the greatest display of asset management the game has ever seen.

The seeds of Iginla's arrival in Calgary were planted more than 30 years ago when the Atlanta (later Calgary) Flames claimed Kent Nilsson out of the World Hockey Association. Nilsson was a star with the WHA's Winnipeg Jets, and his jump to the NHL didn't slow him down.

Nilsson became the Flames’ first true superstar. He notched 93 points in the 1979-80 season in Atlanta, then put up a franchise-record 131 points the following season, the Flames’ first in Calgary, finishing third in NHL scoring behind Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne. His most impressive number is the 1.32 points-per-game mark he posted as a Flame. To this day he remains the team's all-time leader in that category.

So, understandably, it was a kick in the gut to Flames fans when Nilsson was traded to the Minnesota North Stars in 1985. Part of the return on that trade was a second-round draft pick the Flames used to select a lanky prospect by the name of Joe Nieuwendyk.

Fans were furious. The media were skeptical. The Calgary Herald ran the headline "Joe Who?" the following day. But it didn't take long for the prospect to become a household name in Calgary.

Nieuwendyk paid immediate dividends, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year for 1987-88. With him on the ice, goals came in bunches. The team got better and better, culminating in the Flames’ first and only Stanley Cup victory in 1989.

Nieuwendyk didn't stop there, continuing his torrid scoring pace and compiling a 1.07 points-per-game average with the Flames, good for second behind Nilsson on the team's all-time list.

So it was another heartbreak to fans in 1995 when the Flames brass dealt Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Stars, claiming a young prospect by the name of Jarome Iginla in the process. There haven't been many tears shed since.

Iginla has quite simply gone on to be the Flames’ best player ever. He’s the franchise leader in points, goals and games played, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, a world champion, a World Cup champion, a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal scorer, an Art Ross Trophy winner as the league’s points leader, and one of the most complete hockey players the game has ever seen.

And it all started with a player claimed 33 years and two cities ago. Over that time the Flames have parlayed the Nilsson acquisition into the team's top player of each generation, and arguably the three best players to ever don a Flames jersey.

To let Iginla leave the team in the off-season as a free agent, or even stay with the Flames and retire in a few years, would forever end that. It would be wrong from an asset management standpoint.

But who knows what the future holds if the right move is made.

Sean Reynolds is the host of CBC News Winnipeg at 11 on CBC Television. Follow him on Twitter @cbcseanreynolds.