(Wanted to write a column on how Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames should handle the next couple of weeks. This kind of article's been written 1,000 times by 1,000 people, so the challenge is to come up with something different. For better or worse, here's the result.)
MAIN CAST OF CHARACTERS
Jarome Iginla: Calgary Flames captain. The franchise's all-time leading scorer. Hugely popular in the community. Reluctant to leave.
Jay Feaster: Calgary Flames general manager. With at least six expiring contracts, has his first real opportunity to bring new energy into the organization.
Murray Edwards: A self-made success; one of the Flames' six owners. He is chairman and director of the team.
Craig Conroy: Close friend of Iginla's who moved into the team's front-office after retiring. Initially wasn't happy with being traded from St. Louis to Calgary.
Don Meehan: Iginla's agent. His firm - Newport Sports - has the NHL's largest client list.
Ray Bourque: Hockey Hall of Famer who, after much soul-searching, agreed to be traded from his NHL home of 21 years, Boston. He would win that elusive Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
It is Monday, April 9 in Calgary. We are at the Pengrowth Saddledome as the hometown Flames prepare to break up for the summer. They haven't made the playoffs in three years and haven't won a round since 2004.
Jarome Iginla is packing up the last of his stuff. Following a season-ending 5-2 win over Anaheim two days earlier, he wearily discusses his future. "I don't know what next year holds," he tells reporters. "Do I want to be on a team where we're going to fully rebuild? I don't know that I do ... I think Calgary is a very good organization. I think they treat us all well as players, and I do think there's a lot of good things going."
Tired, frustrated and heartbroken this will be another Cup-less summer, he just wants to go home to his family. But there's one final duty, his end-of-season-meeting with general manager Jay Feaster.
[Scene: Feaster's Office]
Iginla knocks on the door.
FEASTER: Come in...
IGINLA: Jay, I'm here for my meeting.
The two men sit down and exchange brief pleasantries.
FEASTER: Jarome, we're not going to meet today.
Iginla is surprised, but listens.
Last week, the Columbus Blue Jackets told Rick Nash to take a few weeks off, de-compress a little. They're going to meet with him around the beginning of May to talk about the future. I thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing. We're all disappointed right now, emotional and stressed. No one - not me, not you, not ownership - should be making decisions under those circumstances.
So, I'm proposing that we meet in a few weeks. You decide where. You can bring anyone you want, but they have to keep quiet about it. It will be me, you, Murray Edwards and whoever else you choose.
IGINLA: I'm not sure I want this whole situation hanging over me for another month.
FEASTER: Understood, but, remember, you control this process. We can't do anything without your permission. And, we know the fans are on your side. If we treat you badly, they'll kill us. They may want changes, but they also want to see you treated right.
IGINLA: So I have your word that nothing will happen until this conversation?
FEASTER: I'll be presenting a plan to ownership this week. We may make other moves, but nothing that affects you directly. Until we speak to you face-to-face, we won't discuss your future with any other team.
Iginla is skeptical, but agrees. He will contact the Flames at the end of April to set up this "summit."
ACT I, SCENE I
It is a beautiful spring day, and Iginla is out on the golf course. As usual, he is losing money to good friend and ex-teammate Chuck Kobasew. Iginla is still upset. He can barely watch the playoffs, but golf is at least a decent distraction.
On his phone he notices two missed calls from a trusted friend in the organization: Peter Hanlon, the team's vice-president of communications. Iginla is immediately concerned, because Hanlon wouldn't bother him unless something "newsy" was going on.
He is wondering if the organization has broken its promise. But that's not the case.
HANLON: Sorry to bother you, Jarome, but someone is looking for your number. Normally, I'd just put him off, but this is a person I think you'll want to talk to.
IGINLA: Who is it?
Iginla's eyes widen as Hanlon tells him.
Did he say why?
HANLON: He said he doesn't want to interfere, but, if you want, he thinks he can offer advice.
IGINLA: Give him my number. Tell him to call me in 15 minutes.
Iginla tells Kobasew he has to go and heads back to his car. As he starts to drive home, the bluetooth rings. It's an unfamiliar number from the 978 area code, which means Ray Bourque is calling.
BOURQUE: It's Ray Bourque. Is this a good time?
IGINLA: Sure. This is surprising ...
BOURQUE: Someone suggested I give you a call.
BOURQUE (smiling): I'd rather not say, but it's someone who thought I might be able to help. I really understand and sympathize with where you are. You feel torn, caught between loyalty to a franchise you spilled blood for and the understanding you're going to have to leave to win the Cup. It's a hard place to be.
Iginla is silent, listening.
I loved Boston, the same way you feel about Calgary. That's where I started and that's where I expected, wanted, to finish. We were close a couple of times, a consistent contender. My buddy Garry Galley can tell you how crushed we were in 1990. We thought we were going to win.
Suddenly, I was 39 years old and we'd won one playoff series in five years. And we were about to miss the playoffs again. Understand that the Boston Bruins were in the playoffs 29 years in a row before that first miss. That's still the NHL record.
The idea that we weren't good enough ... well, it was impossible to believe.
Still, I didn't want to go.
I thought it was almost traitorous to leave the team that I devoted two decades of my life to. People I really trust were telling me it was okay to go, because I'd done everything I could there.
I reached a point where my brain said, "It's time to go." But my heart said, "No way."
Brief silence. Then ...
You know what?
BOURQUE: The truth is, leaving at that time was the right decision. If there is one thing I want to say it's that. You must understand it. You are four years younger than I was when I was traded. Don't waste those years. You can still make a difference.
Iginla is silent, sitting in his car, in his driveway, thinking. Finally, he speaks up.
IGINLA: My legacy here is important to me. I don't want to ruin it.
BOURQUE: You won't, because you will go out with class. Fans will understand. They appreciate what you've done for them. They know. They want you to win. When we won in Colorado, we had a parade - in Boston! Ask the people of Manitoba who they were cheering for when the Ducks played Ottawa in the 2007 Final. They were cheering for Anaheim, because they wanted Teemu Selanne to win.
In hockey, we're always told, "Team-first." There are times you have to do what's right for yourself. This is one of those times. Flames fans recognize that.
IGINLA: What happens, though, if I go somewhere and don't win? What a waste that would be.
BOURQUE: You know there are no guarantees. Everybody remembers I won in Colorado. What they forget is Dallas beat us in the Western Final the first year I was there. We lost in Game 7, and I could have tied the game in the final seconds, but hit the post.
But when reporters asked me if I regretted the trade because we lost, I told them I'd do it again, "In a heartbeat." (Credit: Boston Globe.) And that was the truth. I couldn't believe how rejuvenated I was in a happier situation. Joe Sakic offered to give up the captaincy, which was ridiculous. I always liked to be first on-ice after the goalie, and Adam Deadmarsh changed his routine so I could keep that.
Even when we didn't win, I just felt better. We were in the race.
Jarome, you can get back to how you felt when Calgary was in the final. You can have that again. And the good thing is you control the process.
They can't send you anywhere you don't want to go. So, do your research, watch the playoffs and select a few teams. Give them options.
My first choice was Philadelphia. That's where I wanted to go. Initially, I was disappointed, but, obviously, it worked out well.
It's your time to go, Jarome. Just as it was my time in 2000. And, everyone who really matters totally understands.
The conversation comes to end, with an appreciative Iginla saying that Bourque's given him a lot to think about. He drives away.
ACT I, SCENE II
At home, Iginla sits on the couch to think for a few minutes. Then, he grabs the phone and calls Craig Conroy. They are good friends, but there is some awkwardness. Conroy is now Special Assistant to Feaster. He's undoubtedly heard private conversations he can't share with his buddy.
IGINLA: Craig, we need to talk, but it's just between us.
CONROY: Look, one thing you have to understand is our friendship is bigger than this. I'm not going to tell you anything you don't need to know, but I will be honest with you. And I won't betray your trust.
Iginla tells him about the conversation with Bourque.
CONROY: He's giving you great advice. And, don't forget how I felt when I first got to Calgary. I didn't want to come. But, once I gave it a chance, I loved every second. It's not like I had a choice in where I was going. You will.
IGINLA: Honestly ... do you think it's time for me to go?
CONROY: Why did you call me?
Iginla is surprised by the question.
IGINLA: I don't get where you're going here.
CONROY: Jarome, you called me because there's really no teammate for you to talk to about something like this. "Your guys" -- the guys you grew up with and grew close with -- are gone. I'm retired. Robyn Regehr and Steve Montador are in Buffalo and Chicago.
It's going to change even more: Sven Baertschi. Akim Aliu. Johnny Gaudreau. From our Stanley Cup finalist group it's just you and Miikka. And how much longer will he be around? Imagine how it was for Theo and Gary to look around 16 years ago and realize they were the only ones left.
Imagine yourself in Detroit or Pittsburgh - for argument's sake. Don't you think you'd be happy? Every year, you'd have a chance. If I was you, I'd go for it.
Iginla is appreciative of the advice. It's time for one more phone call. This one is to his agent.
IGINLA: Donnie, tell the Flames we'll meet next week.
This Act is just the one scene. Iginla sets up the meeting at his summer home in British Columbia. His family remains in Calgary, as the school year is not yet over. This gives the four men present - Iginla, Meehan, Feaster and Edwards - privacy and focus.
It is the first week of May.
EDWARDS: Thank you for agreeing to see us, Jarome. Do you want to start?
IGINLA: Actually, I'd like to hear what you have to say first.
EDWARDS: Jay presented a plan to us a couple of days after the season. There are a couple of different possibilities ... I'll let him explain them to you.
FEASTER: Jarome, we are going to rebuild. The way we fell short of the playoffs convinced us that the Calgary Flames, as currently built, can't win. We're going to make major changes.
The free-agent market is very weak and we don't have a ton of prospects. A lot of people look at a team like Ottawa and say you can turn it around quickly, but they had a lot more coming up through the system than we do. The honest truth is that it could take a few years.
It is your decision. You can stay in Calgary if you want. But you have to understand you will likely never get close to the Stanley Cup. The majority of the teams that have won since the lockout (Carolina, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Chicago) did it with entry-level players making a huge impact.
We don't have enough of those players.
It's kind of a catch-22. If you agree to be traded, we probably speed up our rebuild with what we can get. If you stay, things move slower because it makes it harder to get necessary pieces.
Feaster stops. There is a pause, as Iginla thinks about what he's heard.
MEEHAN: I don't like this for my client. What I'm hearing is, "We'd like to trade you. Of course, you can stay ... but, if you do, it hurts the organization." That's not right and it's not the way your all-time leading scorer should be treated.
EDWARDS: Look, Jarome, this really isn't easy for me and the other owners. We don't want a public showdown. We like you and appreciate what you've done for us. Look at what happened with Mats Sundin in Toronto. It's ok now, but he was so angry he wouldn't talk to them for a few years.
We don't want that. Picking a fight with Jarome Iginla is a worst-case scenario.
IGINLA: Do both of you want to trade me?
Feaster and Edwards hesitate. They look at each other.
FEASTER: This was my proposal to ownership, so I've got to be honest. Yes, I do want to see what we can get for you. With your cap hit ($7 million), we have a better chance of trading you in the summer. Teams will have more flexibility at this time.
EDWARDS: Do we "want" to trade you? No. Never. But I think the time has come... I've been thinking about next summer. You will be an unrestricted free agent, about to turn 36, coming off a five-year, $35 million contract.
We're concerned about the public fallout of trading you. We're even more worried about the possibility of an ugly contract dispute ... especially if you walk away next summer. And that's something you should be thinking about, too. What's the new CBA going to look like? What will the rules be? Chances are your next contract will look nothing like the current one. Are you ready for that?
What if it goes badly, and the fans turn on you? We don't want that, but it could happen.
Meehan is the only other person in the room who knows that Iginla has already made his decision. But both men want to hear what Edwards and Feaster have to say. Again, the agent doesn't like how this sounds for his client. Edwards sees this.
Look, Jarome, whatever happens, when you retire, there will be a place for you in this organization. Your number is going to be retired. And I promise you, we will make it very clear that we asked you to waive your no-move clause.
We also need you to make it clear that we treated you in a first-class manner, because that's what we're going to do. You will not be traded anywhere you don't want to go.
The conversation stops, again. Everyone looks at Iginla. After a few seconds ...
IGINLA: Okay. I'm willing to go.
He stops for a few seconds.
But, there are some conditions.
FEASTER & EDWARDS: Understood.
IGINLA: I want to go to Edmonton.
The colour drains from the faces of the Flames' owner and GM. This is unexpected, and quite frankly, impossible. Suddenly, Iginla smiles and laughs.
IGINLA: Just wanted to see how you'd react.
The two men start breathing again. They laugh nervously, but don't find it very funny.
IGINLA: Thought about it a lot in the last few weeks. I suspected this is what you wanted. I'm willing to go. With a few conditions.
You've addressed the first one, saying publicly that this is the team's request. Mr. Edwards, I do not want to do anything to hurt the Calgary Flames. If you treat me right through this process, I will absolutely make sure everyone understands how good you were to me.
Second, you can only talk to the teams on the list I'm about to give you.
FEASTER: That might be problematic.
MEEHAN: We don't want a situation where Jarome's made out to be the bad guy by vetoing a trade with a team you know he won't be interested in.
FEASTER: All I'm saying is, what if a team not on your list has some playoff success, or makes an off-season move that really impresses you? Don't limit yourself. We've targeted a few situations we'd like to explore. What if one of them eventually appeals to you?
IGINLA: I've spent a lot of time thinking about this ... and there aren't many places I want to go.
EDWARDS: Jarome, we're going to treat you right. Maybe we'll explore a team not on your list ... but we won't consider a bad situation.
FEASTER: Ask Chris Kelly. Last season, Bryan Murray approached him with a trade to Boston, only because he thought it was a great spot for Kelly. Three months later, he won a Cup.
IGINLA: Well, I'll think about it ... but there's one final condition. You have to trade me. You have to follow-through with this, even if, at the end of the day, I choose to go to a team that doesn't give you the deal you want.
I don't want to do this...but, I can see the writing on the wall. We've gone too far to turn back. Agreed?
FEASTER: Yes, I agree too.
Basically, the meeting is over. Everyone in the room knows that their next get-together will be at a farewell media conference. But Iginla has one final question.
IGINLA: Which one of you got Ray Bourque to call me?
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