SUN Hockey Pool

Iginla a shoo-in for Hall of Fame

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 PM ET

Jarome Iginla is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Even if he quit tomorrow, the mere suggestion that his status as a first ballot cinch is even up for debate is laughable. A weak time-filler.

But as great a Hall-of-Famer as he’s been, imagine if he had a centre.

Just imagine how much more prolific the Flames captain would have been over the last decade had the organization been able to find a consistent, puck-distributing centre to feed Iginla.

Just as the Philadelphia Flyers have been devoid of a goaltender since Pelle Lindbergh died, the hue and cry from Flames fans and observers league-wide has long revolved around just how deficient the Flames have been up the middle.

Darryl Sutter said as much for years.

Yet, there was Iginla potting goal No. 30 Sunday night for the tenth-straight season, making him the NHL’s star of the week and putting him in an elite group of 10 NHLers.

Of those ten only one — Jaromir Jagr — is not in the Hall of Fame, an honour sure to be bestowed on the Czech star the first chance voters get.

With that should stop the fabricated “debate” over whether Iginla’s body of work to date would get the Calgary icon into the Front Street Hall. (Besides, doesn’t a debate infer someone out there disagrees?)

Although one game short (one video review, depending on your viewpoint) of a Stanley Cup ring, his impact on both Olympic gold medal games alone helps make up for the fact he hasn’t won an NHL crown. Add to that a World Championship, a World Cup, two world junior crowns and two Memorial Cups and he’s arguably the most decorated hockey player of an entire era.

And that’s not a coincidence given his leadership and skill.

Never mind how close he is to hockey’s gold standards of 500 goals and 1,000 points, he’s a man of impeccable character, doing wonders to help grow the game amongst minorities and hockey fans, in general, who see him as one of the most complete players around.

No athlete I’ve ever covered, save for Wayne Gretzky, come even close to being as complete a package as the Flames captain both on and off the ice.

With apologies to Sid Crosby, hockey has no greater ambassador.

Add to his mystique the fact he’s scored more goals than anyone else over the last decade, scoring at a clip more in tune with the previous era of suspect goaltending, invisible defence and 7-6 games.

Did we mention the fact he has won two Rocket Richard trophies and was jobbed out of the Hart Trophy by a tied vote that should rightfully have anointed him the league’s best in 2001/02?

He’s managed to remain the epitome of goal-scoring consistency despite playing for eight coaches in Calgary (six during his 30-goal binge), massive rule changes in 2005 and playing on a team that has never boasted much in the way of offensive depth.

Teams face the Flames with one goal in mind — shut down Iginla: A mission obviously proven to be far easier said than done. Yet, still he scores.

Heck, even before this string of 30-goal seasons he pieced together 28 and 29-goal seasons.

Scrutinized like no other player in town, the ever-durable and dependable winger always seems to find a way make up for scoreless strings with streaks that instantly remind naysayers he’s still amongst the league’s elite.

Happens every year.

Eclipsing Lanny McDonald as the most popular Flame of all time, he’s also established the fact he’s the franchise’s very best player ever. Period.

Yet, somehow it takes milestones like the one he hit so dramatically via a penalty shot on Sunday for many people in Calgary to remember a man like Iginla should never be taken for granted.

It was just two months earlier a growing number of understandably frustrated fans suggested Iginla be the first to go as the franchise contemplated a restructuring of sorts. What a tragic mistake that would have been.

But just when whispers of his magic disappearing turn into headlines, he reinforces his greatness again.

Just imagine if he’d had a centre.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada


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