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Monday, April 8
Updated: April 9, 10:53 AM ET
 
Why Iggy has more pop

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

He is everything that the NBA and NFL are not.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
TOONS ON ICE Hockey (www.toonsonice.com)
On the surface and in his depths are qualities and values that should be trumpeted continuously by the NHL. The league should buy advertising space on the stomach of Shakira and the forehead of Fabio. They should buy a 60-second spot during next year's Super Bowl and advertise and showcase his strength, power, grace, humility, and smile. I mean, really, why wouldn't the NHL do that? About 87 million people watched the Super Bowl last February in the U.S., and 130 million worldwide. 130 million! What better way to put a face and a voice on a league.

Jarome Iginla needs to be showcased.

On the ice, he has been the NHL's most productive player. When the week began he had 51 goals. More than 20 percent more than the next closest goal scorer, Boston's Bill Guerin. He will lead the league in scoring. The fact he is achieving this on a bad team ADDS to his value. He has been hovering around a plus-30 rating all year. His center, 30-year-old Craig Conroy, will end up roughly doubling his career highs in goals, assists and points. His other linemate for much of the year, Dean McAmmond, will set career highs in goals, assists and points. Iginla makes those around him better.

The MVP argument could end here.

Off the ice, he is the NHL's most gracious superstar. Iginla called my cell phone to do our interview Sunday morning. Because of a late night NHL 2Night and daylight savings time, it was about 4:05 a.m. ET when I got to sleep. I didn't hear the first call. Later in the day, a day of a game, he called back again. And this is a player who gets bombarded with interview requests. Imagine Allen Iverson calling back NBA 2Night host Jason Jackson after failing to get through the first time.

He should be bitter, right? ANGRY. Black dad, white mom, and raised by his maternal grandparents. A childhood sprinkled with racial taunts and constant reminders that his skin isn't white. But, he always had that smile and that enthusiasm. A smile, humility, and enthusiasm will go along way in disarming hate or discomfort. The best artillery for fighting obstacles are patience, enthusiasm and grace.

And so he signs every autograph. He gives $1,000 to charity FOR EVERY GOAL HE SCORES. He makes people comfortable. He calls people back. Whether linemates or charities, he makes people around him better.

All this and he's NOT the MVP?

Mats Sundin, Brendan Shanahan, Markus Nasland and Todd Bertuzzi all have had great years. They are all elite players. But, they are on better teams and play with better players. Iginla's production still, relatively speaking, dwarfs theirs. Patrick Roy? No. David Aebischer has started 18 games for Colorado, a pretty good chunk, and has a .930 save percentage. Better than Roy. Colorado is a great defensive team with excellent defensemen. Roy has had a Vezina-winning year, but it is not an MVP year. Jose Theodore? Great goalie. Great player. Against Minnesota, Columbus, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, Theodore is 12-0-1. Against everyone else he is 17-23-9. Nitpicking? Probably. But, those are facts and these are my rules.

Jarome Iginla is the MVP.

He has performed at a level higher than anyone and has done it on a consistent basis. As the week started he had 26 goals at home and 25 on the road. He has three goals against Chicago, three against Detroit, seven against Los Angeles, three against Colorado and two against St. Louis. He's only played against the Bruins, Flyers, Carolina, and Senators once, and the Maple Leafs just twice, but he has scored a goal against all of them. Additionally, he will likely finish with 50 non-empty net goals.

Ballots are going out this week to the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, the group that votes on most awards, such as the MVP. Because of all the grinding and mucking NHL writers do to provide us with great insight to the game and its players, they don't get to see a lot of games. They rely a lot on the handful of games they see a player play and word of mouth and e-mails from other writers. There is too much travel, writing, and catching up with their lives to watch hundreds of games. My job has enabled me to watch hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of games on television and I've seen games in person as well. I don't have a vote for NHL awards, but if I did, it wouldn't even be a two-second debate on MVP. I've seen portions of just about every game, and seen every player. We can debate on who the best player in the game is. Joe Sakic, Mike Modano, Joe Thornton, Roy, Sundin or Bertuzzi. However, WITHOUT question, the BEST player this year who has had the BEST YEAR and has been the most valuable to his team -- and sport -- was JAROME IGINLA.

It's really not even close.

With Iginla...

No. 1: What part of your performance this year pleases you the most?
Iginla:
I think my consistency. I played with Theo Fleury and got to see how he battles night in and night out. And I really have a lot of respect for Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman and how consistent they are year in and year out. A goal of mine this year was just to try and not have any long scoring droughts. This year has been my best year in that area.

Jarome was an Edmonton Oiler fan growing up.

Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla could be the first player from a Canadian-based team to win the Hart since Mark Messier in 1990.
No. 2: Did you sense a breakout year this season?
Iginla:
I really wanted to improve on my previous years, and last year was my first 30-goal season. So, this year I wanted to take the next step and get to 40. I always watch the leaderboard for scoring, and I always wanted to be somewhere on it. The first time I saw my name on top I actually had to cut it out of the newspaper and save it because I was pretty excited about it.

Jarome is getting married next summer. He got engaged at Christmas.

No. 3: Why do wear No. 12?
Iginla:
I don't have any superstitions. I'm not superstitious. But, I was given No. 12 in juniors when I played for Kamloops. We didn't really have a choice. When I came up to Calgary to play I was given No. 24 my first year. Then 12 came available and I took that for the next year.

Jarome wears CCM skates and uses an Easton Synergy stick.

No. 4: How will you feel if you don't win the MVP?
Iginla:
I'm absolutely thrilled to be somewhat considered for it. I would LOVE to win it, and if I'm in the final three and at the awards show and didn't win it after being so close, sure it would be disappointing. At the same time, I truly feel blessed to be in the running.

No. 5: What do you do in the summer?
Iginla:
I play golf. I really enjoy that. I train for the upcoming season. I like to travel a little bit.

No. 6: With restricted free agency coming up, do you ponder if a big market team will make you an offer sheet that is heavily front loaded, which Calgary may find too hefty to match? Will you let your agent Don Meehan steer the ship or will you be proactive in your future?
Iginla:
I really enjoy playing in Calgary. I think we are going in the right direction and getting better. I would like to be a part of it. From my position, I think I'm going to negotiate with Calgary and try to get things worked out, which I believe we can. So, that's my thought.

No. 7: Is being a hockey player of color something you want to use as a vehicle, or would you prefer to blend in with your teammates and just be one of the guys?
Iginla:
I think I'm comfortable using it in a positive way. When I was younger, I started hockey at age 7 and I always wanted to be in the NHL, and some kids would say there's not very many black players or none in the NHL. It meant a lot to me to be able to say, "Yes, there are." Grant Fuhr was in Edmonton winning Stanley Cups. I really followed the black players in the NHL, and it did mean a lot to me in my dream of thinking I could make it. It would be a real honor to be a role model to other young black kids, like those guys were to me.

I conducted this interview with Jarome on Sunday. He and the Flames were in Chicago for a game against the Blackhawks that night. Jarome was sitting on 49 goals.

No. 8: When you score your 50th goal tonight, what will you do with the puck?
Iginla:
I'm not exactly sure. I'm definitely hoping that I score and keep it. I'll probably see what other people do with them. Maybe some sort of plaque or something. It will would be very special because I watched a lot of my favorite players growing up like Messier and Gretzky score 50 goals. When I was younger, I dreamed of being in the NHL, then winning a Stanley Cup and then be able to score 50 goals. It would mean a lot to me and I would definitely do something with it.

Jarome scored two goals in Chicago that night.

This is one of the more hotly contested Vezina races in a long time. Good goaltenders are not difficult to find these days and choosing the best and a top five is extremely difficult.

Patrick Roy
Roy
1. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche: He hasn't won the Vezina in 10 years. This will be the first year in his career he finishes with a goals-against average under 2.00. He has set a career high in shutouts, although two were against Columbus, one against Minnesota and one against Atlanta. His save percentage has never been this high. Yes, he has better defensemen than Jose Theodore. Yes, he sees fewer shots. Yes, Colorado has Joe Sakic and Montreal does not. However, like Theodore, his team has had problems scoring goals this year. He WINS games, as does Theodore. It's VERY close, but Roy deserves the Vezina -- and I have no problem using his tougher conference, his rings, his Conn Smythe's and overall stature as a tie-breaker.

2. Jose Theodore, Montreal Canadiens: Only Washington's Olaf Kolzig has seen more shots. Montreal appears to be in the playoffs. Yes, they can thank him. Doug Gilmour's leadership is also a big factor. It will be fun to watch him in the playoffs. If the Canadiens meet the Bruins in the first round, it will be very interesting. The Bruins have among the best group of forwards in the league and have a HUGE advantage over Montreal in that area. However, the blue line is even and Montreal has a pretty good edge in net. Theodore has seen over 400 more shots than Byron Dafoe and yet has allowed fewer goals. Is Theodore Team Canada's goalie in the 2006 Olympics?

3. Nikolai Khabibulin, Tampa Bay Lightning: This man deserves to be in Toronto for the awards show. He has seen all kinds of shots, his team didn't score for him, and he somehow had seven shutouts when the week began. No goalie on this list felt more pressure to STOP EVERY SHOT like this man. His team had one 20-goal scorer when the week began and it was 65-year-old Dave Andreychuk, who entertains fellow Lightning players with his stories about playing with Bobby Baun in the late 50s.

4. Sean Burke, Phoenix Coyotes: Another guy who's always under pressure to have a good game. Although, Daymond Langkow and Daniel Briere's career years cannot be overlooked when figuring the success of this team. That -- and the better D-men in front of him -- is why I went with Khabibulin third. Burke has just 29 games of playoff experience.

5. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: This guy is very good. His NHL career began last season and he has averaged one shutout every 10 games. He is very well coached and apparently very coachable. Great technique on a very good team. He's sees a lot of shots and receives most of them with cool and calm. I get one of those unexplained senses that he will win a Stanley Cup some year.

Let's face it, this last week of the season is going to be insane in the membrane. What happens if two teams tie in points? What's the tie-breaker? For the love of Cypress Hill, here you go.

The tie-breaking procedure...
If two or more teams are tied in points at the end of the regular season, the standing of the teams in each conference will be determined in the following order:

1. The greater number of games won.

2. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any odd games, shall be used to determine the standing.

3. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.

...and other relevent stuff

  • The Red Wings have won the Presidents' Trophy (most points in a season) for the third time in eight years. The award was first awarded in 1986. Although only five teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, two of the last three accomplished the feat -- Colorado last year and Dallas in 1999.

  • The NHL's television ratings on ABC have jumped 29 percent from last season. The largest demographic increase this year were represented in teens (+39%) and men 18-34 (+24%). The following markets showed significant audience increases: Albuquerque (+160%), New York (+133%), Chicago (+78%), Tampa Bay (+78%), Raleigh (+71%) and Los Angeles (+50%). The NHL on ABC will resume Saturday, April 20 with coverage of the Stanley Cup conference quarterfinals.

  • Please watch our one-hour playoff preview special on NHL 2Night this Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET.

  • Mark Messier needs 47 points to pass Gordie Howe on the the NHL's all-time scoring list. He would then be in second place and trail Wayne by 1,006 points. We should all know Wayne's numbers by heart -- 894-1963-2,857.

  • Some key dates: April 26-May 11, 2002 World Championships in Sweden; June 4, latest possible start date for Stanley Cup finals; June 20, NHL awards show; June 22-23, NHL draft in Toronto.

  • There were 229 NHL games in March and they were attended by an average of 17,144 people. It marked the first time in league history that average per-game attendance in the regular season exceeded 17,000 for a calendar month. The NHL is on pace to establish total and average attendance records for the fourth consecutive season.

    John,
    Man, I am hotter than a pot of butter beans at Sports Illustrated for calling Patrick Roy the most important goalie of all time. The greatest maybe. Probably. But the most important? Roy's innovations save goalies' GAAs and save percentages. Jacques Plante's chief innovation -- the mask -- saves eyes and lives. I've been watching goalies since 1955. My top five? Roy, Hall, Sawchuk, Plante and Dryden.
    Jack Falla
    Massachusetts


    Hey Bucci, check this,
    A completely healthy 36-year-old Mario Lemieux or a completely healthy 28-year-old Eric Lindros.
    a) Who would you want on your team during the regular season?
    b) Who would you want on your team in a seven-game series?
    c) Who would you want by your side in a bar fight?
    Matt


    a) Mario
    b) Mario
    c) Jack Daniels

    John,
    I guess it wasn't your fault, but I was disappointed with the Bettman interview. He's wishy-washy and won't take a hard line on anything. Every NHL fan knows the truth and Bettman won't admit it. The league has way too many crappy, talentless teams and the league would kick butt if there were only 20 teams and not 30. This sport needs contraction, badly, and he won't admit it.
    Bob


    John,
    I'm 17. I don't know what to do with my life. I don't know what to go to college for. All I know is that I love hockey.
    Steve
    New York


    College is a great place to drink and sleep. That's the whole point. It's also a great case study: Yes, you can live on pizza, burgers, and Starburst and survive. Yes, you can change the sheets on your bed just once a semester and not contract leprosy. Yes, you can skip 60 percent of your classes and graduate. Steve, life is simple. Do these five things and you'll be fine: 1) drink lots of water, 2) listen to Lou Gramm's song "Midnight Blue" and use that as your anthem, 3) don't listen to anyone but yourself, 4) have a vision and stick it out, 5) tell the next girl you see either a) "Your hair looks great today," b) "Wow, I like your shoes," or c) "Is your all-time favorite Sabre, Jerry Korab or Gerry Meehan?" However, Steve, when asking these questions don't be a) slobbering, b) naked, or c) wearing your Walt Poddubny Maple Leaf sweater. Good luck.

    John,
    I disagree that we need netting, or anything else, to make hockey safer for the fans. If I want to see bubble hockey, I will go to the ESPN Zone and play it myself.
    Bryce Peterson
    Chicago


    John,
    You always talk about different bands and you haven't mentioned what I feel is one of the best. Radiohead. How about your top five from them?
    Anthony Miller
    Pennsylvania


    1) "Karma Police," 2) "Fake Plastic Trees," 3) "Fitter Happier," 4) "Optimistic," 5) "You."

    John,
    Thanks for using the "Smell the Glove" catchphrase on NHL 2Night. My friends and I enjoy few things beyond Islander hockey and Spinal Tap. You using that phrase for an Osgood save on NHL 2Night may have been my happiest hockey moment.
    Mike C.
    Long Island


    John,
    "Slap Shot 2" was an opportunity to add to something legendary, but instead wound up like "3 Ninja's Kick Back -- The Director's Cut." If anything, they should have made it with an 80s feel. Hold on to the original, folks, there will never be anything like close to it.
    Dave Lawrence
    Barre, Vt.


    John,
    I work at NASA and one of our centers is called NASA Langley Research Center, located in Hampton, Va. Could it possibly make the PANG list as NASA PANGley Research Center?
    Brian Hall
    GIS Analyst
    Goddard Space Flight Center


    Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than a highly intelligent man, who works for one of the highest budgeted arms of the federal government, sitting on his government paid computer and racking his brain to come up with a new entry to the Pang link. God bless you, Brian. God bless me. And God Bless America.

    Check out the page for new Pangerisms.

    John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.







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