Jarome Iginla is the best player in the NHL who has never experienced what it's like to lift the Stanley Cup, and winning a championship for him is serving as a powerful motivator for a Pittsburgh Penguins team that is favored by many to win its first title in four years.
For Iginla, it's all about hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2013, and anything less would be a disappointing failure. There is one mission for Pittsburgh this season: Win one for Jarome.
There are 12 players on this year's roster that also played on the Penguins' championship team four years ago, and oftentimes, the most effective way to motivate these types of players who aren't starving for a championship as much as Iginla is to add a player like the former Calgary Flames captain to the group.
After a spending 16 remarkable seasons as a member of the Flames, where he built a resume that will one day be showcased at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, time was running out for Iginla to pursue the one thing that has eluded him in his NHL career, a Stanley Cup ring.
Jarome Iginla on chasing the Cup. “Each year that goes by you definitely feel a bit more urgency, and it is a dream for sure.” #NHLTrade3/28/2013, 5:20:03 PM
Iginla was traded to the Penguins on March 28 in a deal that sent a 2013 first-round draft pick and two NCAA prospects to Calgary, thus beginning a new era for the superstar winger.
With a no-trade clause in his contract, Iginla had the power to choose which team he wanted to go to if he was moved before the deadline, and given his history with Penguins star Sidney Crosby from their time spent on Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Pittsburgh was the best fit for him.
At his press conference following the trade, Iginla explained the decision to start the next chapter of his storied career.
If I was going to leave [Calgary], I'd love the best opportunity to try to win...Getting an opportunity as a player to go and play on a team with the two best players in the world, and a team on a roll like they're on, and the success they've had, as a player I wanted that opportunity.
I do really want to win a Stanley Cup.
The comparisons between Iginla and former Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ray Bourque were made at the time of the trade, and they will continue to be mentioned throughout the 2013 NHL playoffs. Both superstars were dealt from struggling teams to star-studded Cup contenders with hopes of finally winning a championship.
But for these two players to share a common memory of lifting the Stanley Cup for a new team in the last part of their careers, the Penguins must show the same drive and determination to win for Iginla that the Avalanche showed for Bourque during the 2000-01 season.
The Avalanche displayed incredible character, resiliency and effort during the 2001 playoffs, which culminated in a Game 7 victory to win the Stanley Cup over the defending champion New Jersey Devils.
Many fans assume that Bourque won the Cup in the same season he was traded (1999-00) from Boston to Colorado, but he actually had to play an additional year in Denver to have his lifelong dream come true.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, they may not have the luxury of another season to win for Iginla because keeping the 2013 edition of their team will be a significant challenge due to the salary cap going down about $6 million for the 2013-14 season, in addition to star players such as Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Brenden Morrow and Iginla having contracts that expire this summer or next year (via Capgeek).
There's a very real possibility that this year's playoff run will be the best chance that Iginla has to win a Stanley Cup for the remainder of his career, especially since it's rare in the salary cap era (2005-present) for a team to be as loaded with talent up-and-down its roster as this year's Penguins squad.
With that said, there is a strong sense of urgency to finish the job this postseason and help Iginla climb to the summit of professional hockey.
When Iginla's teammates see him playing every single shift like it's his last, it's contagious for the rest of the group.
Going into Game 5 of the team's first-round series with the New York Islanders tied 2-2, Iginla stepped up as a leader with an important assist and strong defensive play. When a veteran player of his pedigree takes control like that, everyone else on the team follows and gives 100 percent effort in support of that player, and this will continue throughout the postseason as long as the Penguins keep winning games.
The veteran forward has set a great example for his teammates during this year's postseason with a point in all of the Penguins' seven games (which is a new personal record for most consecutive playoff games with a point). His 10 points rank second on the team in scoring and third among all players. His eight assists are tied with Bruins center David Krejci for the second-most in the playoffs.
He's well on his way to having the most productive playoffs of his career.
Jarome Iginla’s 8 assists this postseason are one shy of his career high, which he set in 26 games in the 2004 playoffs. #BecauseItsTheCup5/15/2013, 1:45:08 PM
Iginla has made a smooth transition to the Penguins lineup, and his willingness to play in any role to help the team win speaks to the character and hard work that he displays on the ice each game. Even though the obvious desire to win a Cup impacts his performance every night, just being back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 is a motivational factor in itself.
It's tough being out of the playoffs. This last year was pretty tough because we were hoping for a lot better there in Calgary. It's hard when you see it slipping way and you that changes changes are going to be coming and ultimately I knew I was probably [going to be moving].
So it was a little bit different. But it's been a great experience being here. To be back in the playoffs, the team here right from day one you can tell it has been winning and having fun and enjoying playing together...Now definitely this time is the best time of the year and we want to keep it going.
Iginla is the finest example of what every coach wants his player to be like. He's one of the best players of his generation, he plays the game the right way and his motivation to win a Stanley Cup as a 35-year-old veteran is greater than at any other point in his career.
The Penguins' No. 1 goal before acquiring Iginla was to win a championship, especially when you consider that they haven't reached the Eastern Conference Finals in the three years since their 2008-09 title-winning campaign.
But with Iginla in the fold and focused on lifting the Stanley Cup to cap off an all-time career, his desire and determination will fuel Pittsburgh's hunger for success to a level higher than anything we have seen since Bourque's dream came true 12 years ago in Colorado.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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