Seldom do the careers of professional athletes end gracefully. It's especially difficult when considering the very elite -- players that defined their era and placed their stamp atop the record books. To see these men reduced to marginal contributors elicits some cognitive dissonance that makes evaluation difficult. The Jarome Iginla we see today, after nineteen Hall-of-Fame seasons, is one of these players.
What makes him a liability? Very simply -- foot speed.
Though we're trained to watch hockey through the actions of sticks and pucks, so much of the game is predicated skating -- accelerating past defenders up the ice, beating the other team to the puck in the corner, etc. Iginla was always more of a "powerful" skater, even during his peak, rather than the zippy Matt Duchene variety. And as he's endured going on twenty seasons of slashes and hip checks, that "powerful" and functional speed has been reduced to a glacial pace.
No longer is he contributing on odd-man rushes, no longer is he marking his man on the back check. Iginla is barely escaping the neutral zone on any uptempo sequence of plays.
It's a shame too, because his finishing ability with the puck remains as special as it ever was. Iginla will retire one of the last great goal scorers the NHL will ever see. At 611 career goals, he's currently 16th all-time, and in a pretty good position to pass Avalanche great Joe Sakic (if not the briefly-tenured Dave Andreychuk) before next season is over. Despite all the problems I mentioned above, Iginla still managed 22 goals last year, which was tied for 63rd in the NHL -- nothing to scoff at. All of this despite playing over four minutes less per game than his career average.
How is he doing this? Almost exclusively on the power play.
Iginla scored 13 of those 22 goals last year with the man advantage, almost double that of his next closest teammate. Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon were next on the list at seven a piece. Might another player have picked up some of these goals in his stead? Could the power play in general be more effective if it weren't always trying to set up Iginla from the circle? Perhaps, but there isn't another player on the roster with that monster one-time slap-shot. It's still a real weapon and it puts pucks in the net. There's just no disputing it.
So, he was a power play specialist -- fine. As long as the team sees Iginla as twelve-minute-per-game player that gets a good chunk of 5-on-4 time, he's not going to be the biggest detriment to the team. Unfortunately, last season, it took Colorado 50-plus games to figure out this was his best role. Patrick Roy, perhaps in denial -- or perhaps because he lacked other choices -- was lining Iginla up with his top players entirely too much and it hurt the team's overall production.
MHH Staff Grade: D+
Yes, counting stats do matter, but when you're trying to get your best out of the team's top players, the worst thing you can do is saddle them with a player who can't contribute 5-on-5.