More on Iginla

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail

Calgary Flames right wing Jarome Iginla. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)

It sounds as if the fallout from the Calgary Flames' 2009-10 swan dive is going to take some time for everyone to digest. Here are two thoughts about what people are discussing now: What to do with Jarome Iginla and who to trade if the decision is made to honour the team captain's wishes and keep him around.

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The other day, an NHL coach that I know and greatly respect made a casual point about Iginla and the Flames that probably doesn't get discussed enough. He said that whenever they play Calgary, the game plan always revolves around stopping Iginla. They essentially dare Calgary to beat them other ways, by cheating defensively against Iginla. As everybody knows, in a game where there are 10 position players on the ice in a comparatively narrow 200-by-85 foot arena, if the goal is to minimize the effectiveness of just one of them, it can be easily done. Just make sure to take away his time and space by closing in on him whenever he has the puck, essentially smothering him with a full-court defensive press. This strategy naturally leaves a team vulnerable elsewhere because it opens up the ice for other players and other options, if you happen to be skilled enough to take advantage. But if you're not, then the result is a whole bunch of 2-1 losses, in which a former 50-goal scorer just cannot find any open ice to perform his magic.

Iginla didn't have a great goal-scoring year last year either - he was down to 35 from 50. However, he did earn 54 assists and a lot of them came because he was playing on a line with Michael Cammalleri. As teams crowded Iginla last season, that cross-ice pass across the seam opened up frequently. Cammalleri thankfully was skilled enough to take advantage. Eventually, teams found they couldn't cheat quite as much against Iginla because Cammalleri, who ended up with 39 goals, found a way to get open and made them pay. Not fully understanding what they had or even what was working for them, the Flames made a trade with Phoenix to acquire Olli Jokinen in the spring of '09; and pretty much separated Iginla from Cammalleri the rest of the way last season. Cammalleri's offence dried up - he needed someone to play with as well - and eventually, he left as a free agent, Calgary determining to spend the dollars they would need to pay him on Jokinen and free-agent defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.

If the decision is made to keep Iginla, then the Flames need to find someone like Cammalleri, or even like Alex Tanguay, for Iginla to play with. Tanguay, unlike Cammalleri, was more of a playmaker than a scorer (and not a centre either, which would be ideal), but he was someone who could find Iginla in the shooting areas on the ice, with those nice soft seeing-eye passes of his. Sure, Tanguay was soft and quiet and not exactly a player in the Mike Keenan/Darryl Sutter mould. But he also set up 99 goals in his two years with the Flames. For a Calgary team that scored only 200 in its first 80 games this year, that sort of production might have made the difference between making and missing the playoffs this year.

Assuming then that the primary off-season goal iin Calgary is to find a complementary player for Iginla - centre or left winger - the most logical candidate to trade is defenceman Robyn Regehr. Even after dumping Dion Phaneuf, Calgary is still relatively deep on the blue line, with Bouwmeester, Ian White, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich and Steve Staois. It no longer conjures up imagines of Montreal's big three, but it is a serviceable group that could survive the loss of Regehr, its most physical presence. Trading Regehr (and his comparatively modest $4-million annual salary) for a forward of comparable skill and earnings might just be the short-term way to tweak the team, if the decision is made not to go scorched-earth right away. Something to think about anyway.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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