Flames preparing for life without Jarome Iginla

CHICAGO -- You watch Jarome Iginla go through his morning skate routine at the United Center in Chicago, a routine he has followed for some 1,218 NHL regular season games in a Calgary Flames jersey, and it’s hard not to think in terms of the end of an era.

Not just the seemingly impending end of an era for one of the game’s classiest players who has in recent days agreed to provide to general manager Jay Feaster a list of teams to which he would agree to be traded before the April 3 trade deadline, but also the end of an era for the Flames themselves.

Head coach Bob Hartley’s first call when he decided he would take the Flames job last summer was to Iginla.

Although Iginla’s offensive numbers are not what they once were, he did score the winning goal in the Flames’ last game a 3-2 win over St. Louis. It was the 83rd game-winner of Iginla’s career.

"The way I look at Jarome Iginla, he’s a very proud athlete. He’s always in the gym, he always works hard and looking at the minutes we’re giving him, we didn’t see any slowing down or anything," Hartley said.

"He’s a very proud man. He’s a franchise player and those guys are very unique individuals. They’re unique players and they’re unique human beings. It’s just lots of fun to work with Jarome."

Still, Hartley would not explore the idea of what it might be like to coach a team that did not have the familiar No. 12 in the lineup.

"Anything is possible. I don’t trade, I coach. I’ll stick to my job and I’m sure that Jay and his group will do what’s best for the Calgary Flames," Hartley said.

Iginla did not speak to the media after the Flames’ morning skate Tuesday, trying to avoid even more discussion about his fate, a discussion he has tried his best to avoid all season.

Teammate Mike Cammalleri said there is no avoiding the speculation that surrounds the team captain and really everyone else in the dressing room.

"As far as the speculation, most of us can read. We’re aware of it," he said.

"The best way to deal with it is to understand it. It’s not that hard to understand. We play in a Canadian market where people love their hockey. Jarome Iginla has been the face of the Calgary Flames franchise for, how long now? There’s going to be a lot of gossip when it comes to this topic.

"As far as us players, he hasn’t been any different in the room."

If there is a sense of nostalgia, if not downright sadness for Calgary fans at the prospect of their beloved captain donning another jersey for the first time since he stepped onto an NHL ice surface for a couple of playoff games in 1996, then it must be balanced with something approaching euphoria that this is the path the team has finally come to terms with charting.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s hard to imagine a more important week in the team’s history. Certainly, this ranks as a defining moment for Feaster and for a team that has stumbled around the dark edges of the NHL since it came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, when the Flames lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.

Since that series, one of the seminal moments in team history, the Flames have not won a single playoff round and appear destined to miss the postseason for a fourth straight season.

In spite of the mediocrity that has defined the Flames for almost a decade, the team has steadfastly refused to follow the time-honored pattern of shedding salary and experience and restocking with high draft picks and young, homegrown players.

Until now, at least. At least that’s the thinking about how this will unfold.

But it just can’t be Iginla who is the most attractive rental player who could be on the move before April 3. What Feaster can see in a return is anyone’s guess, but given what the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up to acquire Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray this week, start with a first-round draft pick, a top prospect and a mid-level prospect and go from there.

But to really effect change with a team that has historically failed to draft and develop its own players properly -- when the Flames take the ice against Chicago Tuesday night, their roster will boast just two Flames draft picks, T.J. Brodie and Mikael Backlund -- Feaster must be working hard to find homes for Jay Bouwmeester, Miikka Kiprusoff, Alex Tanguay, perhaps Cammalleri. As many bodies as Feaster can push over the side and into other teams’ jerseys, that should be his mandate.

It is easier said than done, given the contractual baggage that is attached to many of the Flames’ players.

Although the Flames do not technically occupy the bottom spot in the NHL standings, if you asked 100 hockey people to name the worst organization in the NHL right now, at least 90 would name the Flames. Edmonton, Florida, even misguided Colorado have more reasons for optimism for the future.

But fortunes can change quickly in the NHL.

Philadelphia finished dead last in the NHL in 2007 and three years later went to a sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals and has made the playoffs for five straight years.

But change does not come without a price; it does not come without a certain amount of organizational pain.

In the case of the Calgary Flames, a team that has declined to accept that kind of pain for too many years, that means swallowing hard and allowing the end of an era to come to pass.

Now we’ll see if the anticipation and speculation surrounding the Flames actually yields results.