Jarome Iginla spent 15 and a half season with the Calgary Flames, scoring 525 goals and finishing with 1095 total points in 1219 games. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2013 trade deadline, and at the end of the year, signed a one-year contract with the Boston Bruins.
While in Boston, Iginla’s career had a a bit of a revival, as the veteran winger picked up 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) while playing with Milan Lucic and David Krejci on the team’s second line. At the end of the year, Boston lacked the cap space to resign Iginla, and the power forward signed a three year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
The first year went as expected, with Iginla totaling 59 points and finishing just one goal short of hitting the 30 goal mark for the third straight season. This season, however, has not gone very well for the 38-year-old, who only has 25 points in 52 games, and is on pace to finish with less than 40 points on the season for the first time since his sophomore campaign (1997-98).
Iginla is struggling, and though a reasonable assumption would be that age is finally catching up to him, a deeper look into his play over the past couple of seasons points to a different conclusion.
Sportsnet took a look at Iginla after he signed his contract with the Avalanche during the 2014 free agency period, and had this to say.
As players who are gifted with the ball—typically midfielders—age in soccer, soccer people sometimes talk about another midfielder serving as their legs. The idea is that, while the player might still have his touch on the ball, he’s not able to chase opponents to the extent that he once did. A younger player, less gifted with the ball, can do that work for him, enabling the team to keep the more skilled guy in the lineup, kicking the ball to other people.
Jarome Iginla is at the point in his career where he needs someone else to serve as his legs.
(Note: Here’s Iginla’s HERO Chart to demonstrate the lack of strong possession play coming from the veteran).
On a great possession team, you can find guys to, in effect, serve as Iginla’s legs. He doesn’t drive possession anymore, but the hands are still there. In the right place—on a great possession team—you can incorporate him and expect to do well with others doing the possession work for him. Your possession numbers won’t be as high as they might be with another player but Iginla’s still a pretty gifted finisher.
It’s important to note that Iginla hasn’t been a possession driver for quite some time now; here’s his HERO Chart from 2009-2012. His performance has changed very little since then.
This is the case of a skater who can still help teams by raising on-ice shooting percentage, and scoring on a higher proportion of his shots than the average NHL skater. In order to get those shots off, however, Iginla needs other players to get him the puck.
While in Boston, Iginla played with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and those two were more than capable of “being his legs”, and getting him the puck in space.
During his first year in Colorado, he spent the majority of his time with Matt Duchene, a playmaking center capable of carrying the load offensively and freeing up space for Iginla. The two didn’t dominate possession, but both are known for elevating shooting percentage (24th and 25th among forwards with 2000 minutes played in 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage over the past four seasons), and together, they managed a 55 percent Goals For percentage.
In both years, Iginla racked up points, ending with an average of 60 points on the two seasons.
So what’s different this year?
For starters, the Colorado Avalanche traded Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres at the 2015 NHL Draft, and have been missing the 24-year-old’s strong two-way play all season. With O’Reilly gone, Duchene has been moved up to the number one center position (alongside Landeskog and MacKinnon), and Carl Soderberg has taken over the second line center role.
Without a strong center to carry play for him, Iginla has been pushed down to the third line, and has spent most of his time playing with Alex Tanguay and Mikhail Grigorenko. Neither are strong possession players, and they definitely don’t come close to matching Duchene’s level of play.
Jarome Iginla hasn’t been a strong possession player for quite some time now; his last positive possession season was back in 2008. However, he’s stayed an effective force in this league because of his finishing ability, and as we’ve seen, the 38-year-old can use that skill to rack up points when he’s given the right linemates.
This isn’t the case of a player declining suddenly; Iginla has essentially been the same player from 2008-2016. He’s lost a step in his skating, but has managed to use his hands and his shot to put the puck in the back of the net. Without linemates to get him the puck, however, Iginla’s value to a team is incredibly limited.
Seeing as the Avalanche have Iginla under contract until the end of the 2016-17 season, they might want to find a way to get Iginla those linemates. As of right now, he isn’t playing with teammates who can get him the puck, and his results are hurting because of it.