CHICAGO -- If it’s possible to have a perfect press box storm, this might have been it.
Not that a clash between two of the best teams in the Western Conference, both of whom have definite Stanley Cup plans, wouldn't provide enough drama on its own.
And to be sure, Monday’s seesaw contest between the Chicago Blackhawks and the defending Cup champion Los Angeles Kings didn’t fail to deliver on the drama, with the Kings tying the game 3-3 with 0.5 seconds left in the second period and then scoring the winner with 1:27 left in the game to earn a 5-4 victory.
But thanks to the NHL’s schedule makers, the game was but a backdrop to the real drama percolating high above the United Center ice.
With the Calgary Flames flying into town Monday afternoon for a Tuesday night game, the night provided an unusual confluence of hockey figures and myriad storylines as the trade deadline looms in just over a week.
Both the Kings and the Blackhawks are believed to have significant interest in Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, who has given Flames GM Jay Feaster a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded. It’s believed Chicago and Los Angeles, along with Pittsburgh and Boston, are on that list.
So, in some ways Monday’s game served as a kind of audition for Iginla for both teams, a chance to prove that they would be a good destination for the highly respected veteran winger.
Likewise, watching the Kings, who had lost two in a row and four of seven, it’s not hard to see why GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter -- who has a long, shared past with Iginla dating back to Sutter’s days as coach and GM in Calgary -- would covet the hard-nosed winger, even if his goal production isn’t what it once was.
Monday’s emotional affair also illustrated what is at stake in the days leading up to the April 3 trade deadline. A year ago, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi, who was also in attendance Monday night along with assistant GM Ron Hextall, boldly added Jeff Carter from Columbus and ended up winning a Stanley Cup (and the Kings will visit the White House on Tuesday).
Does Iginla represent that kind of missing piece for either of these teams?
Certainly, the Kings can use the offensive help, having been shut out in their two games before Monday’s win. And while the Kings’ attack is significantly improved over last season, Iginla remains a viable scoring threat even if his totals this season (9 goals, 22 assists in 30 games) are off his normal production.
Although the Kings figure to settle into the fourth, fifth or sixth spot in the Western Conference standings when the regular season concludes on April 27, it’s hard to imagine that Sutter’s squad won’t be an absolute handful when the tournament starts a few days later.
So for the Chicago Blackhawks -- who figure to start the postseason as no worse than the No. 2 seed in the conference and thus might face a second-round meeting with the Kings or a possible Western Conference final clash with the defending champs -- is it almost as important to keep Iginla out of the Kings’ clutches as it is to add him to their own roster?
And the same logic goes for the Kings, knowing that the Blackhawks, already jam-packed with talent when healthy, might add yet another brick to the pile.
The same thinking holds regarding a possible Iginla trade to an Eastern Conference team. Pittsburgh has already added Dallas captain Brenden Morrow and San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray in the past two days. Although the Bruins squeaked past Toronto in a shootout Monday night, how much pressure does GM Peter Chiarelli feel to ensure that he matches the Penguins’ moves by bringing in a player like Iginla?
As for the six degrees of separation theme that was rolling Monday night, former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell was also on hand scouting for the Penguins. Waddell has seen a lot of Iginla in recent weeks -- and by extension, that means Waddell has seen a lot of his former coach in Atlanta, Bob Hartley, who is now the coach of the Flames. Along with members of the Flames' coaching and scouting staff, Hartley was also in the press box Monday.
The only key participant in this fluid drama not in the Windy City on Monday was Feaster, who remained in Calgary, no doubt poring over rosters and depth charts as he tries to figure the best way to leverage the storm of interest that swirls around his captain.