It's beginning to look nigh impossible for a Western Conference player to garner a Hart Trophy nod this season, what with the remarkable campaigns of Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist, all of whom look deserving of a win, let alone a nomination. There's no denying that, regardless of which Conference you might think is stronger (it's the West, which has long had better teams and better beasts), the standout players this season have come from the East.
But, if the Hart stipulated representation from each Conference, I'd be inclined to select Jarome Iginla.
Is there anybody in the West who means more to his team than Iginla? I don't think so, and if you think the fortune of the Calgary Flames isn't inextricably linked to the play of their captain, consider the run he's on right now.
Iginla has hit the scoresheet in all eight games the Flames have played in the month of March. He's scored a goal in his last six and has 14 points total. During that same stretch, the team has one regulation loss and they've won five straight, suddenly jumping back into playoff contention. After Thursday night's games, they were only one point back of Phoenix and Colorado in 7th and 8th place.
If they can make the dance, it will be because of Iginla.
While if it weren't for Kiprusoff they wouldn't even find them-selves involved in this wild five-team taffy-pull for two spots, but an engaged, prolific Iginla from here to the finish is what could tip the scales in their favour. They go as he goes. Thus it has been for as long as anyone can remember.
A seven-game point streak on the go. Six consecutive with at least a goal, two shy of the franchise record jointly held by Kent Nilsson and Gary Roberts. During the five consecutive Ws, 11 points.
"Yeah, I am feeling better,'' he acknowledged. "But during the course of a year you go through ups and downs. . . . Our whole team is starting to feel better. We've gone through some tough times as a group, but we've battled hard. We had reasons to feel sorry for our-selves, but we just keep going.
Iginla's streak is beginning to look like the remarkable run Corey Perry went on late last season to push the Anaheim Ducks into the final playoff spot. It may not be at that same level, and Iginla's certainly a long shot to pick up a Hart nomination, but if the team result is the same and the Flames find themselves in the postseason, I don't think anyone will mind.
Iginla can be a streaky player, but his trajectory is actually fairly predictable when you think about it. He's started slow every year for the last decade, often leading to questions that he's on the downward slope of his career, but he always manages to finish strong enough to reach 30 goals. At this point, it's inevitable.
In retrospect, the fact that he entered the month of March below the benchmark was a good sign. Calgarians should have known a big streak was coming.
On Tuesday, Iginla reached the 30-goal mark for the 11th straight season, a remarkable accomplishment made even more remarkable when you consider the other names to have done it: Jaromir Jagr, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, and Marcel Dionne.
Here's what Dionne had to say about the Flames' captain after reaching the 30-goal milestone. From the Toronto Sun:
"I think this guy has got two personalities. One is a really nice guy and the other guy has a mean streak in him," Dionne said with a chuckle. "A guy like that comes prepared to play every day. When you're a guy like that, you bear down. You'll have your streaks and you'll have your low points, but obviously he knows how to position himself.
"He's not the most elegant player out there, but he finds a way. He's physical. He gets involved. It's a great tribute to his abilities to be able to do this. It's quite an accomplishment."
Dionne's not wrong. Iginla has two modes, one that's perfect for the ice and one that's perfect off of it. If there's a knock against him, it's that he can confuse the latter for the former. But for right now, Iginla's got it straight, and for the Flames, it couldn't have happened at a more appropriate time.