CALGARY - The daily Jarome Iginla update crowd grew bigger Monday.
Concern might be growing, too.
Considering this team hasn’t had to do without its biggest star for any real length of time since he joined the Flames full-time in 1996, it’s hard to imagine them without him.
It’s unlikely his minor bout with back spasms that has kept him off the ice for two straight days — and possibly a couple more to come — is a signal the 34-year-old is breaking down physically.
Rumour has it he claimed the title of Fittest Flame once again this year.
But there’s a reason the group waiting for word from Iginla on his current status multiplied.
One day, his time in the NHL will come to a close. And it could be something that starts as a simple as back spasm that triggers it.
“I’m not that concerned. But I mean, I can understand — backs are a sensitive thing,” Iginla said when reminded these types of injuries have, in the past, turned from day-to-day to week-to-week issues. “When you get a stiff back — everyone’s had one — putting socks on are hard on certain days.
“Personally, I think it’s gonna be fine. I feel way better (Monday) than I did (Sunday), which I take as a positive.
“I don’t think it will be a lingering issue. I hope not.”
He’s not alone there.
Despite rumours of Iginla’s descent into mediocrity on the ice becoming as rampant as rumblings of his inevitable trade early last season, the veteran winger put forward one of his best campaigns as an individual while helping the team turn around its fortunes to become one of the most potent squads during the second half of the NHL schedule.
Thanks in part to the return of playmaker Alex Tanguay, Iginla scored 43 times and accumulated 86 points in 82 games — not a single one missed due to injury for the fourth straight season.
Even with promising prospects showing their potential over the last week at the tournament in Penticton and training camp in Calgary, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like without Iginla wearing the Flaming C on his chest, with the smaller version of the logo on the upper section of his jersey representing his status.
The captain leads as much by example on the ice as he does with his words or actions off it.
Every one of the kids that are fighting to one day replace Iginla in the lineup put his name forward as the one they’re most eager to hit the ice with in camp.
So far, they’ve had just 20 minutes of opportunity before the lower left side of his back forced him to call an early end to his practice Saturday.
“It wasn’t any one thing that I can put my finger on, or a certain lift or anything like that,” Iginla said, adding that if it was the regular season, he might be in a bit more of a hurry to return. “You can get it picking up keys after maybe a hard training session. It can be just an innocent play on the ice of just turning, and it catches wrong and just pinches a little bit and gets aggravated and you get a bit of inflammation.
“It’s kind of like when you get a stiff neck. Have you ever had that when you wake up? It’s just in a different part, in my back.
“It was a little sore and a little stiffer than I thought it would be (Sunday). It was improved (Monday), which is a good step. I’m not far off.”
Hopefully, the eventual end of his career — however it comes to pass — is a long way off.