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Numbers Game: Penguins add veteran sniper Iginla

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Scott Cullen
3/28/2013 10:15:53 AM
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Just when it appeared as though the Boston Bruins might secure the services of Calgary Flames RW Jarome Iginla, the Pittsburgh Penguins swooped in and completed a trade, their third of the week, as they load up for a Stanley Cup run.

Numbers Game examines Pittsburgh's latest deal, adding a proven veteran scorer to what is already the league's highest-scoring team.

The Penguins Get: RW Jarome Iginla.

Iginla, 35, has scored 525 goals and 1095 points in 1218 career games (plus 28 goals and 49 points in 54 career playoff games), but his production is down this year. Through 31 games, Iginla has nine goals and 22 points with 100 shots on goal and a minus-7 rating, playing 19:18 per game.

Iginla's goal total is lower than usual thanks to his shooting percentage (9.0%), his lowest since his second year in the league, 1997-98. While his shots per game (3.23) is down from his peak years, it matches up well with two of the past three seasons and those were years in which Iginla finished with 32 goals, so he's not completely ineffective at the offensive end, even if his numbers aren't measuring up to his typical season.

Advanced stats suggest that Iginla has been relatively unlucky this season, at both ends of the rink. That doesn't mean he's still the same old Iggy but, with his track record of being able to put the puck in the net, even if he's lost a step, he's generating enough shots on a consistent basis to believe that he could still be a valuable scorer for a contender.

In fact, moving to Pittsburgh could very well provide even better opportunities for Iginla. One of the longstanding issues in Calgary has been the lack of a bona fide playmaking centre to take full advantage of Iginla's scoring ability. While his ability has naturally decreased over time, the opportunity to join the Penguins and play with Sidney Crosby could afford Iginla a bounty of quality scoring chances.

How that shakes out the rest of the Penguins lines remains to be seen, particularly while the Penguins wait for Evgeni Malkin to return from injury but, ultimately, if Iginla were to join Crosby and Chris Kunitz (because it seems unlikely to break up that duo), then Pascal Dupuis and Brenden Morrow would be left to vie for a spot on the wing with Malkin and James Neal.

Dupuis' production this year would figure to give him the edge and allow the Penguins to roll Morrow through their bottom six, along with wingers Tyler Kennedy, Beau Bennett and Matt Cooke. That's rare depth for today's NHL.

Iginla comes at a $7-million salary cap hit this season, and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. If all goes well, which means Iginla scores and the Penguins win a Stanley Cup, there may be an appetite to work out a contract extension but, if not, he's free to hit the open market in the summer and the Penguins aren't tied into any long-term commitment.

For the relatively modest assets that they gave up to acquire Iginla, the Penguins are big winners. They were already Cup contenders and just raised the bar for other contenders by landing one of the best available pending free agents on the trade market.

The Flames Get: LW Ken Agostino, LW Ben Hanowski and a first-round pick.

Agostino is a 20-year-old junior at Yale, who has scored 96 points in 97 career games in his collegiate career. He was a fifth-round pick of the Penguins in 2010 and while there may be some offensive upside to his game, he's not an elite prospect. He'll have a chance to be a pro winger, but may never have an impact on the Flames' lineup.

Hanowski, 22, is a winger with good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) who just wrapped up a four-year college career at St. Cloud State, where he scored 39 goals and 72 points in 73 games over his last two seasons. He has some offensive ability, but it may not translate to the pro game. If he can use his size effectively, though, he might be able to earn an NHL role at some point.

The most valuable piece of the puzzle coming to Calgary is the Penguins' first-round pick. Even if it ends up being 30th overall, or thereabouts, there is close to a break-even chance that the player will turn out to be an NHL regular and that's better than can be said for Agostino and Hanowski, whose NHL futures are uncertain.

This isn't to condemn the Flames for their return (Boston's rumoured offer of C Alexander Khokhlachev, D Matt Bartkowski and a first-round pick was more appealing), however. It's a function of a veteran player with a no-movement clause getting to decide where he would like to play. The Penguins had better prospects (including at least a handful of defencemen), but why bother offering them if Iginla selects Pittsburgh (over Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, reportedly) as his preferred destination? Either the Flames play ball and get what they can from the Penguins or end up with Iginla playing out the string until the end of his contract this summer.

With Iginla moving on from the only NHL franchise for which he's ever played, the Flames now have to be prepared to undergo a serious rebuilding effort. Veterans like Mike Cammalleri, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff may not be shed before the trade deadline (or maybe they will), but could be part of the roster overhaul before next season.

The Flames have put off rebuilding for so long that it's going to take some time to turn the franchise around, stockpiling young talent so that they can be a playoff team year after year instead of a team just good enough to miss the postseason, as they have the past three seasons.

In the short-term, wingers Jiri Hudler and Lee Stempniak could see more playing time with Iginla gone from the top of the depth chart and prospect Sven Baertschi could get another look after his latest stint in the American Hockey League.

It's a changing of the guard in Calgary, as they move out one of their franchise icons and while the return is underwhelming, it's the change of direction for the franchise that is more significant. There's plenty of heavy lifting required to improve the Flames for the long haul and the trade of Jarome Iginla to the Penguins begins that process in earnest.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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