DENVER — Jarome Iginla wants it made clear: He's not looking to leave the Colorado Avalanche. He wants to finish out the third year of his contract with the team, and he believes it can make the playoffs this spring.
But unlike last season around this time, when Iginla told Bleacher Report he would not waive his no-trade clause under any circumstances, the 39-year-old right wing would not rule out waiving it this season, should the Avs want to move him.
"I want to play in the playoffs. I think it will be here, that we have the ability to get there," Iginla said.
But when asked if he would exercise his right to veto a trade, Iginla was noncommittal.
"I'm really not thinking about that. It's too soon in the season," he said.
Normally, teams don't even think about making trades until at least the 20-game mark, and right now the Avs have only played 15 entering Thursday's contest in Dallas. Yet their 7-8-0 mark has them last in the Central Division, and if the playoffs again look unlikely for a third straight year, it would be surprising if the Avs didn't become a seller close to the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline.
Despite his age and declining production, Iginla could still be an attractive rental option for a contender. He is in the final year of a three-year contract that carries a $5.3 million cap hit. In his first season with the Avs, he led the team in goals (29) and scored 22 last season. He has scored at least 20 goals in the last 16 non-lockout seasons, and his 613 career goals is second among active players and 16th all time.
Still, getting to 20 goals for a 17th straight season might be a tough challenge. He has just two goals and one assist so far and has been playing of late on the bottom two lines for rookie coach Jared Bednar. Entering Wednesday, the Avalanche were the league's second-lowest scoring team, with 31 goals, one more than the Buffalo Sabres.
Iginla has been a notoriously slow starter for most of his career, though, and he still possesses a booming one-timer and is as physical as ever around the net. Though he is a combined minus-26 dating to the start of last season, his Corsi percentage this season is a strong 56.9, per Hockey-Refernece.com.
Despite the overall record, there are signs the Avalanche may be a slowly improving team over last year's outfit, the last one coached by Patrick Roy before resigning. According to Corsica Hockey (h/t TSN's Scott Cullen), the Avs currently are the league's third-most improved team in Corsi percentage from last season (44.10 to 47.17), and they have cut down on shots against from last season (30 per game, down from 32.3).
Under Bednar, the Avs are trying to play a system in which players can make shorter, simpler passes out of their own end. Instead of standing at the red line or at their own blue line, as often was the case under Roy, forwards under Bednar are stationed around the hash marks or the half-wall to accept passes.
It may be hurting the offensive side of things for now, as forwards have longer to travel to bring the puck down the ice, but the defensive aspect of Colorado's game has been steadier.
"Even in the games where we gave up a lot of chances, where we were poor up ice and gave up some odd-man rushes, our shots weren't high (against)," Bednar said. "I think it's been because, in the D-zone, we've been pretty good. We're not spending an extended amount of time in there. I use the term 'quick-to-contact.' We're on pucks, we're in coverage quickly. If you look at the chances that I consider scoring chances that I go through every game, not a whole bunch of them come off the D-zone coverage."
Still, nobody around the Avs is happy with the overall record or about the offense.
"Our production is among the worst in the league, and it's something we've got to get better at," said Avs forward Matt Duchene, whose 11 points in 13 games leads the team. "We've got to bear down."
Playing in a defense-first system probably won't do Iginla any favors offensively. He has struggled at times in playing Bednar's quick-to-contact style, as his foot speed has gotten a bit slower with age, and his 27 penalty minutes in 15 games is only 14 fewer than he had in all 82 last season. Several penalties have stick fouls where referees caught Iginla reaching. Going to a more open offensive team could prove mutually beneficial.
Iginla, who has yet to win a Cup in his 20 seasons but went to a seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final with the Calgary Flames in 2003-04, acknowledged he'd love to go out like former Avs defenseman Ray Bourque did in 2001.
"I think everyone would like to go out like that," Iginla said.
Still, Iginla said he may try to play beyond this season. There have been a lot of scouts at Avs games of late, so if they do become a seller, there seems to have been plenty of homework done on their players so far. Could the future Hall of Famer be one of them?
Unlike last season, it seems like a possibility.
Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.