Jarome Iginla was traded to the Boston Bruins. Until he wasn’t.
Late Wednesday night, the Calgary Flames dealt the face of their franchise to the Pittsburgh Penguins, giving the top team in the Eastern Conference even more firepower.
“Obviously you know they have a good team,” Washington Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom said. “You know the team’s going to try to get better.”
Trading two nondescript prospects and a first-round pick to get a six-time All-Star, even at the age of 35, is a coup for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is on a winning streak already and was expected to get Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup Thursday night.
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are strong, but adding Iginla makes the Penguins the clear front-runners in the East.
“You want to see a guy like that succeed,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who got to know Iginla during informal lockout skates in Calgary. “It’s nice to see him go to a good team like Pittsburgh. I hope that they finish second in the Eastern Conference next to us. If we don’t win, I’d like to see them win.”
Alzner played for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. He got to see Iginla in his prime.
“I grew up watching the guy and idolizing him, just seeing how dynamic he was,” Alzner said. “He’s not your typical All-Star, I guess. He’s not just out there all flashy. He’s so gritty and he likes to throw the mitts every now and then. He’s a great player to watch play, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him a lot more than a lot of people have. It’s good for him that he’s moving on and getting an opportunity.”
Iginla appeared to be beaming Thursday at his final press conference in Calgary. The winger put up 525 goals and 570 assists in 15-plus seasons with the Flames.
“To see him in any jersey besides a Flames jersey is going to be weird for everybody, I think,” said Alzner, who makes his offseason home in Calgary. “He’s the most popular guy in that city, the face of that city. It’s just very strange that he’s not going to be a Flame anymore.”
That’s on the ice. Off the ice, the 24-year-old Alzner got to know Iginla when they skated together during the lockout. Iginla and Flames defenseman Corey Sarich ran the drills, but it was in the locker room that the ex-Calgary captain made an impact on Alzner.
“I never knew him personally until this summer, but as soon as I sat down and put my gear in my stall and we were getting dressed, he was talking lockout with [Alex] Tanguay, [Mark] Giordano,” Alzner recalled.” And then mid-conversation he turns to me like I’ve been in the conversation the entire time and he’s explaining, looking at me and talking to me about it. I’m just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, exactly. I agree.’ Like, thanks for including me in the conversation.
“He makes you feel like you’re one of the guys, and that’s something that’s important. That’s hard to do to be that approachable and make people feel at-ease. It’s no secret why he’s been talked as highly as he’s been talked about.”
Iginla was being courted by the Penguins, Bruins and a few other contenders. Washington coach Adam Oates called it a “unique situation” because the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer had a list of teams and the control that came with it.
The Penguins won the Iginla sweepstakes.
“They’re obviously making some moves,” Oates said. “Maybe they’re not happy with their lineup, deep down. Who knows? Maybe they’re trying to get them for another reason.”
The Penguins didn’t have to give up anything from their roster to acquire Iginla from the Flames, left wing Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars or Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks.
“They’ve got a pretty deep team over there with a lot of good players,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “To not give up an actual roster player means that they’re making a push for it as everyone can see to try and win.”