Iginla Glad to be Just Another Penguin
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The smile on Jarome Iginla's face as he surveys his new teammates says more than words ever could about how happy he is just to be one of the guys on a team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
For more than a decade, Iginla was the face of the Calgary Flames. He became captain in 2003, topped the NHL in points once and goals twice, led the Flames within a goal of the Stanley Cup in 2004, set franchise records for career goals and point, and was everything a team could ask of a player – on and off the ice.
But with the Flames on their way to a fourth consecutive non-playoff season and Iginla's contract due to expire this summer, both sides decided it was time for No. 12 to move on. He nearly wound up with the Boston Bruins before landing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where instead of being the leader of a team going nowhere he's just another star in a galaxy of talent.
He's fit in with his new team like a hand in a black-and-gold glove -- and he couldn't be happier.
"I don't think it's been an adjustment at all," Iginla said after Monday's practice at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Penguins will try to take a stranglehold on their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders by winning Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS). "In terms of doing interviews, it's probably meant doing a few less, which isn't necessarily a bad thing," he added with a laugh.
The Penguins have one of the most star-studded rosters in any team sport. Evgeni Malkin has won the Hart Trophy as regular-season MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and two Art Ross trophies as the NHL scoring leader – and he's not even the Penguins' No. 1 center. That honor belongs to Sidney Crosby, who captained the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup and remains their leader.
They also have one of the NHL's top defensemen (Kris Letang), a Cup-winning goaltender (Marc-Andre Fleury), a First-Team All-Star wing (James Neal), and the NHL's top two finishers in this season's plus/minus standings (Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz).
While Iginla is a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame when his career ends, there's no need for him to be anything more than a solid contributor with his new team – and that's quite all right with him.
"I can just kind of focus on getting myself prepared and ready for the games, just keep trying to get better and add that to the group," Iginla said. "There's a lot of different guys – we do a lot of different things as a group, and that's what makes up a good team. We want to keep getting better at that.
"It's great when you're on the bench and you're watching Sid fly around, and [Kunitz] and [Dupuis] – and then you get to go out on the ice and join Malkin. [Along] with the talent, we have a real nice balance. It's fun to be part of it."
Iginla appeared to be slowing down a bit in Calgary, where he had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games. But wearing Pittsburgh black and gold appears to have revived his offensive touch; Iginla had 11 points in 13 games after the deal, and he's had a goal and four assists for five points in Pittsburgh's first three playoff games.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Iginla has been a perfect fit on and off the ice.
"He's brought a quiet confidence to the room right off the hop," Bylsma said. "He's not a guy who stepped right in and started yelling, rah-rah. We had some injuries and some new faces in the lineup and we went on the road, and he really developed into a go-to guy – a guy on the power play who was a weapon, and I think he's continued to be that."
Iginla "gives our team a different dimension that maybe we didn't have before. He plays with an edge. He's got a fierce edge that he plays the game with, and he's brought that to our team."
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about being in Pittsburgh for Iginla is that he's still playing hockey in May. The Flames haven't made the playoffs since 2009, and Iginla was looking at a fourth consecutive early summer before ending up with the Penguins.
"It's fun to be part of it, and being in the playoffs again is great," he said. "It's why you play the regular season. It's a whole other level of enjoyment. This has been a great experience for me."
The only thing better than being back in the playoffs for Iginla would be to get the Stanley Cup he just missed nine years ago.