Two years ago, Jarome Iginla wanted to ensure his flame was extinguished, so he took a practice twirl with Providence. Confirmed. He was done. He later had a partial hip replacement.
But Iginla, who settled his family in Chestnut Hill after retirement, didn’t stay out of rinks for long. For the last three years, he has coached his kids in Boston-area travel hockey. At some point, a men’s league team might even pick up a free agent winger with 625 goals and 1,300 points on his NHL résumé.
“I’m starting to get the itch,” Iginla, 42, said during a lengthy phone conversation this past week. “For a while there, I thought, ‘I don’t want to be out there in beer-league hockey or whatever.’ But I’m starting to see how that could be fun again. The camaraderie. I’m not there yet, I could see it in another few years.”
He won’t have to wait long for a call from Toronto. Iginla, whose career highlight reel won’t include much of his Bruins stint (2013-14), is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame, class of 2020.
The Hall’s selection committee will hold its annual late-June meeting in a virtual format. As of now, the induction ceremony remains on for Nov. 13-16 in Toronto.
Iginla’s credentials are impeccable: 16th all time in goals, 34th in points, and 14th in games (1,554, one more than Zdeno Chara). A six-time All-Star. The premier power forward of his era. The first Black player to be the face of a franchise. Sixteen years with Calgary, nine as captain. The best player in the game in 2001-02, when he won the Rocket Richard, Art Ross, and Lester B. Pearson Trophies, but missed out on the Hart in one of the closest and most controversial votes in history (Jose Theodore? Really?) Combined with Sidney Crosby for Team Canada’s Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympics.
There is that one big award he never got.
The lack of a Stanley Cup won’t matter to voters. Iginla’s case is by far the best of the first-timers (Marian Hossa will earn his share of votes) and holdovers such as Alexander Mogilny, Daniel Alfredsson, Rod Brind’Amour, Jeremy Roenick, Pierre Turgeon, and Curtis Joseph.
Not that he’d make the case for himself.
“If I am blessed to get the call and get in there, it would be amazing,” Iginla said. “I think back to playing my first game … I never dreamed I’d get to have my jersey retired in Calgary, or get to play for 20 years. It’s all so humbling.
“I remember being 12 years old, going to tournaments on the bus, watching ‘Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Hockey,’ watching Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic and all the best plays, Cam Neely running over guys and scoring goals.
“I’d be excited. I’ll be nervous whenever that time comes around.”
The thought of Iginla’s time in a Bruins uniform returns us to the 2013-14 season, when he signed as a free agent and potted 30 goals skating with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. But first, there was the nerve-racking 2012-13 trade deadline, when Iginla spurned the Bruins.
For those who don’t remember: Then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Calgary’s Jay Feaster told him he had a deal for the longtime Flame (in exchange for Matt Bartkowski, Alex Khokhlachev, and a first-round pick), but by the end of the night, Iginla was a Penguin.
Iginla’s reasoning then, he said, was that he was in his 16th season without a Cup, Pittsburgh had won 12 games in a row without the injured Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins had added a few other deadline pieces. He wishes there had been better communication between his camp and the Flames. He said he and agent Don Meehan told Feaster he’d be open to four teams — Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago — “to see what the market would be and see what the best fit was, and they took it as the teams I would go to,” he said. It seems that when Feaster and Chiarelli spoke at noon — the conversation that had Chiarelli later saying he thought he “won the sweepstakes,” Iginla hadn’t given final approval.
“I had never been through it,” Iginla said, calling it “a very stressful and unique time. It obviously didn’t quite work out the way I was hoping.”
The Bruins had the last laugh, sweeping the Penguins out of the Eastern Conference finals in a series that saw Tuukka Rask allow two goals in four games.
“It was like a nightmare,” Iginla said. “It was hard even playing that series.
“The first game was close, and the second game [the Bruins] beat us, and it’s hard not to be like, ‘What’s happening ... this would be really embarrassing,' you know what I mean?”
By the next year, he was hearing good-natured chirps from Shawn Thornton and Brad Marchand about his decision-making, and marveling at the leadership of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and the rest of the Bruins’ veterans.
“They were a fine-tuned machine,” Iginla said. “They all respected each other and had their roles, led by Z and Bergy and Krejci. Marshy was still pretty young, still working his way up, but man did he work hard. You could tell he was coming. He kept getting better and better and better. He worked so hard off the ice and on the ice. They had characters like [Greg] Campbell and Thornton and Tuukka.
“I’d never been on a team that had the success we had. We won the Presidents’ Trophy and it wasn’t stressful. In Calgary, a lot of the years, you’re trying to make the playoffs, every game matters, if you’re on a two-game losing streak you’re like, ‘We’ve got to end this now or we’ll fall out of a playoff spot.’ It was a different experience.
“I really appreciated it. I really enjoyed getting a chance to play with that group. It’s easy to see why they’ve had so much success over the years. They’re all such professionals and they work so hard. It was neat to see up close.”
He wanted to return, but the Bruins were hamstrung by the cap (one of the reasons Chiarelli was fired the following season). Iginla has since watched this Bruins core remain in the hunt.
“A couple bounces here and there they could have had three Cups, or more,” Iginla said. “They’re right there, and they still have a window, which is pretty cool. The job [Don] Sweeney and Neely have done is very impressive. I don’t know the coach as well, but Bruce Cassidy has obviously done a great job, too. You can see people want to be a part of that.”
In settling in Boston, Jarome and Kara Iginla made a hockey decision. The burgeoning hockey careers of their kids — Jade, 15; Tij, 13; and Joe, 11 — had them on upward of 20 weekend flights a year. They might return West someday — both are from Edmonton — but they love the East for its short travel distances.
Iginla has spent his hockey seasons watching Jade play for Dexter Southfield — where all three kids attend school, and Iginla sits on the board of trustees — and helping coach Tij on the Boston Junior Eagles (Brookline) and Joe on the Junior Terriers (Canton). The drives with Joe, which can be an hour in after-school traffic, are quality bonding time. These days, after online schooling is done, they all shoot and stickhandle in the backyard.
Iginla doesn’t want to overload his weeks until the kids are out of the house, but he sees that day coming. Next year, Jade plans to attend Shattuck St. Mary’s, the Minnesota powerhouse. Iginla’s future could include a job with an NHL team.
“I love being around the rink. I’m pretty much there every day during the winter,” he said. “I enjoy trying to share some of the insights and be around the competitive part. Yeah, maybe. I could see myself seeing what opportunities are available.”
Numerous ideas for a return
As of Sunday, there was no hockey for 67 days. The NHL will finish this season, if Gary Bettman has his way.
“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution,” the commissioner said Tuesday during a town hall hosted by the Sharks. “States are reopening, cities are reopening. And if we do the right things, I think we’ll be able to finish the season.”
By the end of this month, the NHL hopes to drop its self-quarantine recommendation for players and staff and move to “phase 2,” which includes small-group workouts at team facilities.
Though the NHL has not confirmed its working plans, a 24-team playoffs is a possibility, with a play-in round and 16 teams advancing. That would help assuage teams that were on the bubble when the season paused, considering that the NHL’s 31 teams have completed an uneven number of games (from 68 to 71). A traditional 16-team playoffs is also an option.
Other wackier theories have emerged, but Bettman has said several times that maintaining the integrity of the postseason is paramount. Last month, he conceded the league may have to scrap the 189 regular-season games remaining when play was postponed March 12. Now, he seems more resolute.
The view here: If the Stanley Cup is awarded in 2020, it will be a pleasant surprise.
College players may have tough call
Outside of the coronavirus, one of the hot-button issues in college hockey, which is undergoing its biennial rules debates, is 3-on-3 overtime. The NCAA currently recognizes results after 65 minutes, and there is no formula to account for a “loser point” in the rankings. It is popular with fans, and several conferences have adopted it as a way to finish games, but Hockey East and the ECAC have not added it.
The issue conference commissioners don’t want to think about: What happens to the game if schools don’t open this fall.
Leagues are “all over the place with contingency plans,” one longtime league administrator said. “Can we play 20 games in March and call it a season?” The scheduling could be a mess, given restrictions on travel.
Then there’s the idea of top NCAA players jumping to Canadian junior leagues, whose schedules are not at the mercy of colleges being open. Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman, in a recent column, mentioned Bruins first-round pick John Beecher (Michigan) and Montreal first-rounder Cole Caulfield (Wisconsin) as two standouts whose rights are held by the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.
Beecher’s father, threw water on that idea.
“I would say no,” he said. “We’ll let things fall into place and if need be, listen and do some soul-searching and thinking.” His son “absolutely loved all the aspects” of his freshman year, and “has every hope to be back there this fall. Fingers crossed.”
It’s the belief of Beecher’s father, and that of family adviser Cam Stewart, that the Bruins prefer he develop in college.
“If life throws some curveballs, he may have to step back and think outside the box a little bit,” Bill Beecher said. “I’d say that’s the worst-case scenario."
Datsyuk still getting it done
Word out of Russia is Pavel Datsyuk, who turns 42 in July, is nearing a contract extension with his hometown KHL club, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Excellent news.
Slowing down but still effective, Datsyuk chipped in 22 points in 43 games for his club last season, his fourth in the KHL since retiring from the Red Wings in 2016. Few players were more fun to watch in his prime than Datsyuk, an obvious future Hall of Famer with many fans in the game.
When asked this past week about the toughest players he’s had to defend, Zdeno Chara nodded Datsyuk’s way. David Krejci said Datsyuk is the most creative player he’s ever seen. Said the presumptive Art Ross winner, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl: “He’s my absolute hero in hockey."
The New England Senior Hockey League, the oldest and largest adult amateur league in the area, is dead. Cause of death: poor management. On Tuesday, owner Paul Laubenstein shuttered the league, which he began in 1982 and had grown to more than 300 teams. He did that the same day he declared bankruptcy in a Central Florida court. He had more than $1 million in liabilities, according to court documents, and owed $780,000 in ice rentals to 22 area rinks … More offensive pop could turn several Providence prospects into NHL standouts. With a little more punch, smooth-skating Urho Vaakanainen could become a 1-2 defenseman, rather than a 3-4; tough guy Trent Frederic could be more than a 3-4 center down the road; and speedy Zach Senyshyn could land a future top-six job. Offensive creativity and confidence is hockey’s most prized commodity … Jarome Iginla’s paternal grandmother, he said, is 99 and lives in Lagos, Nigeria. She has visited him in North America “a couple of times.” Iginla’s father emigrated to Canada when he was 18, changing his name to Elvis after people he met had trouble pronouncing Adekunle. Jarome’s full name is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tij Junior Elvis Iginla. His surname means “Big Tree” in Yoruba … In his rookie year with the Bruins (1993-94), Stewart (“Stuey”) was roommates in a Peabody house with Bryan “Smoke” Smolinski, Glen “Muzz” Murray, and Jozef “Stumpy” Stumpel. The latter is still playing — at age 47 — in the Slovak third division … From Zoom calls this past week, we learned that brothers Nick and Brett Ritchie are back on their parents’ horse farm in Ontario, working out and doing chores. The Ritchies raise racing ponies … We also learned Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller lives in a Charlestown pad above teammate Brandon Carlo. How do they make dinner plans? “I pound on the floor,” Miller said … Datsyuk is part of the Triple Gold Club, one of 29 players who have won Olympic Gold, a World Championship, and a Stanley Cup. The four Bruins in the club are Patrice Bergeron and short-timers Mats Naslund, Jaromir Jagr, and Jiri Slegr. The most decorated member is Soviet Union and Red Wings defenseman Slava Fetisov, who won two Golds, two Cups, and seven World Championships … Stewart, the director of player development for KO Sports, played 83 of his 202 NHL games with the Bruins (1993-97). A career highlight was assisting on one of Cam Neely’s prettiest goals: In October ‘93; he zipped a cross-ice pass to the right wing before Neely faked a slapper, performed a spin-o-rama, and beat Ottawa netminder Darrin Madeley with a powerful backhand. Stewart still laughs when he sees video of the celebration with Neely, Ray Bourque, Adam Oates, and Don Sweeney. “Hmm,” said Stewart, a third-round pick (63rd overall) out of Michigan in 1990, “who doesn’t belong in this picture?” … Good line from Zoom chat moderator (and 98.5 The Sports Hub radio announcer) Bob Beers, after Miller modestly told the story of his first NHL goal in Toronto. “You’ve got to work on that,” Beers said. “ ‘End to end, top shelf.’ That was your first NHL goal. Not ‘a muffin from the point.’ ” Lesson: Make sure the stories get better with age.