Will Jarome Iginla be the last of a very rare, but talented, breed of hockey player?
Iginla possessed the rare combination of elite skill, ridiculous strength, great vision, ability to deliver a big hit and he could fight.
Hockey, like life, is constantly evolving, and I believe Iginla is the last of the great power forward who fought. The game has evolved, and today’s power forwards, while incredibly skilled, don’t possess the same nastiness as Iginla. It isn’t a bad thing, it just illustrates the change in the game.
Alex Ovechkin is the most dominant power forward in the game today. He is one of the greatest goal scorers of all time, arguably the best, and on top of scoring and making plays he has delivered many thunderous hits. He’s a treat to watch. But Iginla had a few extra ingredients in his game that added to the excitement of watching him. He was tough and mean.
He was in the mold of similar players before him like Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Cam Neely, Brendan Shanahan and Keith Tkachuk.
There were others who maintained the same attributes, but very few could produce at the level of Iginla.
Iginla’s 625 goals are 15th all-time. Howe is second with 801, Messier sits eighth with 694, Shanahan is 13th with 656, while Tkachuk is 32nd with 538 goals and Neely is 10th all-time in goals-per-game among players who played at least 700 games with 395 goals in 726 games.
What made these players so special, and respected among every fanbase, was their unique package of skill and toughness.
According to Hockeyfights.com Gordie Howe only had four fights, but he was vicious competitor who scared many opponents, and crossed the line the odd time.
This picture from Doug Ball/Canadian Press captured Howe at his elbowing best. Curt Brackenbury was on the receiving end.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Hockey (Howe) many years ago and when I asked about his vicious on-ice reputation, he looked me straight in the eye and said. “Maybe there were times I was over-aggressive, but the only players I’ve ever done anything not so nice to were the ones who tried to embarrass me on the ice.” He was 78 or 79 years old when he spoke, and the look in his eye when he answered intimidated me and we were casually sitting at a table. I could only imagine how his opponents felt 30, 40 and 50 years earlier. When he shook my hand to say goodbye, his forearms were still ripped.
Howe set the bar for future power forwards, and with Iginla retiring I’m not sure we will see someone possess the same complete package.
Iginla scored 625 goals and 1300 points and had 72 fighting majors.
Shanahan fought 90 times. Neely fought 76 times while Messier and Tkachuk had 47 and 49 majors respectfully and all of them were great goal scorers and players.
Like Iginla, they all dropped the mitts in the playoffs as well. Shanahan fought four times in 1988, while Iginla had three tilts in the Flames 2004 Cup run, and the most memorable was when he and another few good power forward, Vincent Lecavalier went at it in the Stanley Cup finals.
“That was a legit fight. When the fight started, I didn’t know much about Vinny Lecavalier other than he was a great player, and I thought he was going to get dummied. Jarome is tough. He throws both hands, but it was a great fight,” said former NHL Mike Commodore said when we discussed Iginla on my radio show yesterday.
WASN’T JUST FIGHTING
It wasn’t just the fighting, in fact, that was a small part of the meanness the dominant power forwards possessed. Their ability to intimidate and create space is what separated them from the non-aggressive skilled players. They all had a mean streak, and when they snapped, carnage usually ensued.
Commodore was Iginla’s teammate when the Flames made their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, but he only played 38 games with Iginla. He played against him much more and has the utmost respect for the future Hall of Fame forward.
“The hardest thing about playing him, was that usually you could take advantage of scorers, you chop them once in a while or other things, but with Jarome he was so strong, he could score, he could make plays, he could run you over and he could beat you up. He was the full package coming at you,” he said.
“I thought he was most dangerous when he was pissed off. If you could kind of just let him sleep, and don’t hit him too hard, keep him to the outside, and think ‘okay, he can have that shot there’ you had a chance, but if you started running him and his wires crossed then, look out, you were in one for sure,” continued Commodore.
Even when the game allowed, or encouraged more aggressive play, very few players had the ability to do both at a high level.
With Iginla ready to announce his retirement next Monday in Calgary, I can’t help but think we’ve seen the last of his kind.
Jamie Benn might be the closest active player to the style of Iginla.
Benn has 254 goals in 667 NHL games. Iginla had 266 goals in his first 667 games, but then he scored 323 in his next 725 games.
Benn will be hard pressed to match that. He is very skilled and he’s tough, but today’s game doesn’t allow the mean-spirited plays of the past. Benn can’t deliver a flying elbow like Howe or Messier to send a message without risking a lengthy suspension. He can’t go after a guy to try and ignite his team like Iginla did without being assessed an instigator penalty. Even if he could, I doubt he’d be able to score like Iginla.
Iginla was an amazing player. He was exciting to watch, and he was respected by his peers and opposing fans across the NHL. Diehard Oilers and Canucks fans rarely ripped Iginla. They probably didn’t like him lighting up their favourite team, but smart fans appreciated his unique skill set.
Hockey is changing, and while most of the changes are for the better, I will openly admit I miss watching those mean, sometimes dirty, power forwards who were also incredibly talented. There are some current players have possess some of these attributes, Evander Kane, James Neal, Milan Lucic and others, but none of them are elite high-end scorers.
Thanks for the memories Jarome Iginla. You were a pleasure to watch.
During his career, which began in 1996/1997 and ended with his final game in April 2017, Iginla scored the most goals in the league. Very few were within 200 goals of Iginla from the start of 1996/1997.
Jarome Iginla: 625 in 1554 games.
Alex Ovechkin: 558 in 921 games. **WOW**
Jaromir Jagr: 546 in 1270 games.
Marian Hossa: 525 in 1309 games.
Teemu Selanne: 521 in 1192 games.
Patrick Marleau: 508 in 1493 games.
Vincent Lecavalier: 421 in 1212 games.
—Iginla’s first NHL goal was in the playoffs, in his second game on April 23rd, 1996 v. Chicago. The Calgary Flames recalled Iginla from Kamloops of the WHL after their season ended. He got an assist in his first game on April 21st and scored two nights later against Ed Belfour. It was game three and four of the series which the Blackhawks won 4-0.
—First regular season goal came in his first regular season game on October 5th, 1996. He scored the only goal in a 3-1 loss on the road to the Vancouver Canucks. His NHL fight occurred December 31st, 1996 v. Dody Wood of the San Jose Sharks.
— Final NHL goal also came in Vancouver as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. He scored the first goal, and eventual game winner on March 31st, 2017 in a 2-0 victory.
—Final NHL fight was also as member of the Kings, but it was in Calgary on March 29th, 2017 when he fought Deryk Engelland. Fittingly, in his final game in Calgary Iginla had a Gordie Howe hat-trick with one goal, one assist and the scrap against Engelland.
— Iginla finished his career with 625-675-1300 in 1554 games. He had 1040 penalty minutes. He fired 4,759 shots (13.1SH%).
— He is a lock to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.