The captain of the Calgary Flames can still score as his 32 goals this past season will speak to. With 11 consecutive 30 goal seasons, Iginla is still very dangerous from the offensive blueline in. But with his 35th birthday around the corner, there are things that can be done to make him even more of a threat going forward.
So many in this city adore the captain, and this post is not to suggest the Flames should trade him or not. It’s a post written on the assumption Iginla will be a big part of the team next year, and a post written about how he can be used most effectively.
Iginla turns 35 on Canada Day which puts him a ways away from being in the prime of his career. He’s no longer a player that can go head-to-head with the best players on the other side on a nightly basis and be successful on a regular basis. He’s also not a player that is going to help the team all that much defensively and should be protected in terms of where he plays the majority of his minutes.
The Flames will have a new Head Coach for the 2012/2013 season, and I think that new bench boss will have the most success with Iginla if he plays to his strengths. Here are my ideas as to how you can do that effectively.
Give Him the High Ground
Tracking where Jarome started his shifts during this past season, Iginla was actually deployed more defensively than he was offensively when it was all said and done. Iginla started in the defensive zone 50.3% of the time last season, which doesn’t play into where he can help you most.
At this point in his career, Jarome isn’t a player you can expect to throw out there defensively and expect him to effect the play up ice regularly. Iginla has never been the most adept defensive player, which was fine because he was such a factor with the puck, he’d just will it up the ice. Now, opposition players have a less difficult time taking the puck from him, which makes starting him defensively a less attractive thing to do.
When I use the term “give him the high ground” I take examples from what other teams do with their top offensive players. Knowing Iginla still has an elite level shot and high end finishing ability, a coach can use other players in defensive situations to keep Iginla fresh for offensive starts. Vancouver is the most extreme example of this, as Alain Vigneault started his usual top offensive players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin more than 78% of the time. Vigneault was able to do that by burying players like Manny Malhotra, Ryan Kesler, and Sami Pahlsson with defensive zone faceoffs; it’s a big reason why you saw the Sedin’s transform from 70-80 point players into 90-100 point players.
Doing this with Iginla gives the captain a great chance to extend his 30 goal streak to 12 straight seasons, and gives him the best opportunity to help your team. Jarome best helps you when he’s scoring and he’s most engaged during that time as well, so put him in the best even strength spots to do so.
He didn’t play the toughest minutes on the team last year, but Iginla still saw the top players on the other side on a regular basis. Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen saw the toughest minutes overall on the Flames last season, and it helped in keeping Iginla away from some pretty good players on the other side.
There’s no question that when you’re playing against players like Kesler, Backes, Datsyuk, and more on a regular basis, you’re not going to be as successful offensively. These are some of the best even strength players in the league and they spend far more time in the offensive zone than not, regardless of where they start. So where you can, give Iginla cushier minutes.
It’s very dependent on who else you have on your team, but there may be an opportunity to use certain players in tough matchup situations. Blair Jones was utilized in a strict checking role for a good portion of his time with the Flames, which opened other lines up for easier minutes. During that time, you saw guys like Iginla and Tanguay have a lot of success, as Jones was taking some of the tough matchups and the Jokinen-Glencross duo was handling the others. Having a sniper like Jarome out against another team’s third line can’t always happen, but when you can do it, it’s an option you have to explore.
These things may or may not be possible for the coming year, as the roster may not allow it. But Jarome Iginla can still score at a high level, and if he’s the captain of the Calgary Flames next season, I think it’s key you put him in that position to succeed. An NHL coach can do that in a variety of ways, as my above examples are just things that are kicking around my head.
Follow along on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg