Penguins' pursuit of Iginla was months in the making

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It all began, as Penguins general manager Ray Shero recalls, with a casual mention at a staff meeting in the summer.

Veteran winger Jarome Iginla was entering the final year of his contract with the Calgary Flames, and thus was on a list of players Penguins scouts and front-office personnel would keep an eye on during the coming season.

No one knew then whether Mr. Iginla would re-sign with the Flames, the only team for which he had played since entering the National Hockey League in 1996.

Shero, Bylsma discuss how Iginla will fit in with Penguins

The Penguins stunned the hockey world this morning by acquiring veteran winger Jarome Iginla. He was the biggest name among "rental players" who had been widely expected to go to the Boston Bruins. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/28/2013)

Or whether Calgary would be inclined to trade one of the most popular figures in franchise history.

Or whether Mr. Iginla, who would have to waive the no-movement clause in his contract before any deal was possible, would be interested in relocating to Pittsburgh.

Well, they know now. In order:

He didn't.

The Flames were.

And Mr. Iginla was.

Which is why, deep into Wednesday night, Mr. Shero was able to finalize a trade that brought Mr. Iginla to the Penguins in exchange for their first-round choice in the 2013 NHL draft and two forward prospects, Ben Hanowski of St. Cloud State and Kenneth Agostino of Yale.

Mr. Iginla, whose full name is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla, did not participate in the Penguins' game against Winnipeg on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center and cannot join the team until some immigration issues are resolved.

Indications are that he likely will travel to Pittsburgh over the weekend and make his Penguins debut Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins seem certain that he will be worth the wait.

"There's only one Jarome Iginla," Mr. Shero said. "This guy's a future Hall of Famer."

Mr. Iginla, 35, is the fifth-leading scorer among active NHL players, with 525 goals and 570 assists in 1,219 games. He was the Flames captain, and his intangibles were at least as appealing to the Penguins as his talents.

"Talking to a couple of the [Penguins] players who have played with him about the character of the player, there was no doubt in my mind that if there was a chance to try to have this guy, we were going to try to have him," Mr. Shero said.

That the Penguins would like to graft a player with Mr. Iginla's pedigree onto their roster never was the issue; whether doing so was feasible was another matter.

When his name came up for the first time among Mr. Shero's staff, the NHL's collective bargaining agreement was about to expire and teams had no sense of what the salary cap might be for this season.

Turns out, it was set at $70.2 million after the four-month lockout, easily high enough to handle Mr. Iginla's $7 million cap hit.

That was the easy part. Convincing Calgary to send him here was a lot more challenging.

About a month into the season, Mr. Shero touched base with his Calgary counterpart, Jay Feaster, to let him know that if the Flames decided to trade Mr. Iginla, the Penguins would be interested in talking about it.

"You try to get on their radar," Mr. Shero said. "Say, 'By the way, if you ever do move this player, we'd certainly have interest, and can you keep us in mind?' And it just kind of goes from there."

He spoke to Mr. Feaster again at the general managers meeting in Toronto earlier this month, and said "it became more and more apparent that they were going" to look into dealing Mr. Iginla.

Because of his no-movement clause, Mr. Iginla had to approve any trade. That became critical after Boston -- according to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli -- worked out a deal around midday Wednesday for Mr. Iginla.

Mr. Feaster disputed that, but the bottom line was that Mr. Iginla got to decide for whom he would play, and he chose the Penguins.

"[For Mr. Iginla] to come here says a lot about the team we have here," Mr. Shero said.

Negotiations that eventually led to the trade began in earnest about 10 days ago, although it wasn't until earlier this week that Mr. Shero began to believe the Penguins had a real chance to land Mr. Iginla.

"I texted [Mr. Feaster] after our game on Tuesday and said, 'These are the guys I'm proposing,' " Mr. Shero said. "He called me Wednesday morning and said, 'I need to talk to our group, our ownership. We need to go through these things and the offers we have, and I'll get back to you.'

"He called in the afternoon, at about 3 or 3:30, and proposed something, so we started working off of that. Still, it was obviously not a deal or anything. We were still going through things, and he was working with other teams."

Before Mr. Feaster and Mr. Shero finally settled, there were some wild swings in the Penguins' perception of where things stood.

"At 5 o'clock, it's, 'I don't think we're having a deal,' " Mr. Shero said. "At 8 o'clock, 'Well, maybe it's back on.' At 9 o'clock, 'I don't think we're getting a deal.' "

Eventually, though, one was made after some late-night give-and-take about precisely who would be included in the Penguins package.

Two solid prospects and a first-round draft choice were bound for Calgary, and the third major acquisition of the week was headed to the Penguins.

All of the team's Stanley Cup runs have been preceded by major personnel moves.

In 1991, then-general manager Craig Patrick brought in Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from Hartford at the deadline, and a year later orchestrated a three-team deal that added Rick Tocchet, Ken Wregget, Kjell Samuelsson and Jeff Chychrun to the Penguins lineup.

In 2009, Mr. Shero traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin as the deadline approached, and claimed Craig Adams off waivers.

Even epic trades, however, come with no guarantees. The biggest trade Mr. Shero has swung to date came at the trade deadline in 2008, when he acquired Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for a first-round draft choice, forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen and prospect Angelo Esposito.

The Penguins came up two victories shy of a championship in the Stanley Cup final against Detroit that year.

Mr. Shero realizes, probably more than most, that collecting quality personnel pieces is not necessarily synonymous with assembling those players into a title-winning team.

"It certainly is not a guarantee of anything," he said. "It's a nice team on paper. That doesn't mean anything."


Dave Molinari: or Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published March 29, 2013 4:00 AM


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