Monday, August 30, 2010

Player Spotlight: Jarome Iginla

Remember the first time you beat your Dad at a sport? Remember how weird that was? It’s something that inevitably will happen to all fathers in sports, they get beaten by their sons. I grew up idolizing my Dad, and his ability to seemingly be good at all sports, especially hockey. So the day I realized I could skate a bit faster than him, and probably had softer hands was a sad one (he still shoots the puck harder than me). The inevitability of the transition of male dominance from father to son does not make it any less weird.

I recently had one of those “weird” feelings dawn on me when reading about Jarome Iginla – he is 33 years old. The young-upstart-warrior-captain-Calgary-fantasy-stud-muffin is 33 years old. Wow. For years Iginla has been absolutely bankable in fantasy hockey. A winger that will give your between 35-50 goals, 80-95 points, 300 plus shots, and close to 100 PIMs. At 33 he enters a precarious phase for a superstar. No longer possessing the physical gifts of his 20s, Iginla is still relied upon to lead the Flames offence. It’s weird and discomforting to think of new breed of young hockey players supplanting Iggy among the fantasy elite.

I never thought Iggy would get old.  Watching him all these years you kind of just assumed he’d always be there, fighting anyone and everyone from Derain Hatcher to Vinny Lecavalier. He always seemed to have something to prove. I’ve never seen a star player engage the other team so much verbally and physically. Iginla has never backed down from anyone, and has remarkably managed to avoid serious injury despite his courageous style of play.

Looking at his potential fantasy production for 2010 and beyond we have to consider 2 factors: His age and his team. Based on a 3 year outlook (years 33, 34, 35 for Iggy) his physical skill set will most certainly diminish. His ability to win battles along the boards and that always important “first step” will continue to erode. The one thing, however, that may remain constant over the next 3 years is his elite quick release. Is there a better snapshot in the NHL? Iginla has always been a pure goal scorer, able to pick his spots and bury his chances. Something that will likely remain over the next 3 years – this will keep his goal totals over 30 per season.

Looking at the other factor, and possibly the most important of the two – his team. Calgary has what can only be described as a team marred in mediocrity. They will battle for the 7th and 8th seed in the West, and if they are lucky maybe sneak in. They will not be great on the powerplay (hurting Iginla’s PP and overall points). Hovering around the .500 mark as a team will also prevent Iginla from having the plus 15-20 plus/minus ranking that can be the difference between a good and great fantasy player. In all likelihood he will hover around even for the season. With the lack of quality prospects in the Flames system, and with limited trade bait to truly upgrade the team – the Flames will remain, at best, mediocre for the next 3 seasons.

From what I’ve said above you can see that Jarome in Calgary is bad for not only him, but his fantasy owners. In Alberta, I project his next 3 seasons at 80, 71, 65 points. Ok numbers, especially this season, but a far cry from the 90+ we had all grown accustomed to in his prime.

BUT, alas, there is hope! If the Flames struggle out of the gate, which most assume they will, the cries in Calgary to trade Iginla while he still has value will grow louder and louder. If the team is completely out of the playoff race come deadline day whomever is running the team (let’s pray Sutter has been canned by this point) will be forced to make the hard decision on Iginla’s future.

There are a few teams that come to mind, places where Iginla could flourish. Maybe he gets dealt back to Dallas to help mentor their young forward corps? Would he be a nice fit with Jason Spezza in Ottawa? What about with the Bruins re-united with Savard? Or, dare I even say it, lining up beside Sid the Kid in Pittsburgh.

If Iginla is dealt to a better team, with a quality center I move his projections to 85-88-81. Very respectable, and making him worthy of “elite” winger status for the next 3 seasons.

If , by some sort of fantasy miracle he ends up in Pittsburgh playing with his Olympic buddy Crosby (it’s not crazy by the way, they have shown a willingness to pay for a top winger to line up with Sid, see Hossa, Marian) I would adjust my projections to 88-95-91. With a great plus minus and bloated PP numbers Iginla would once again become a top 3-4 winger, and worthy of a first round pick in all formats.

My Mom always said if you’re going to dream, dream big. And if you own Jarome Iginla in your fantasy hockey league then dream of greener pastures - somewhere other than Calgary.

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