Colorado Rubber

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NHL vet Iginla still a valuable asset to Avalanche as new season underway

 

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 6: Jarome Iginla #12 and Andreas Martinsen #27 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate with Mikhail Grigorenko #25 after his goal against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center on January 6, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jarome Iginla enters his 20th NHL season — third with the Colorado Avalanche — still looking like a prizefighter in his prime.

The right winger’s only body fat is of the essential kind, and his appearance offsets his age, 39, as well as the status of his contract, which expires after this season and could be his last.

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A future first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer, Iginla has big plans for himself and the re-tooled Avalanche, which is now led by first-year head coach Jared Bednar. Colorado went 6-0 in the preseason under Bednar’s new north-south system that the organization hopes will lead to more offensive-zone time for Iginla and the Avs’ young elite forwards.

“I’m excited about it and I know that, at 39, it’s year to year and stuff, but I’m excited as a team,” Iginla said. “I think we can be better. Guys are hungry and everyone has good attitudes. We want to learn, we want to make the playoffs and ultimately win the thing. So yeah, I’m excited – I feel like a little kid.”

Colorado has missed the playoffs in the two years Iginla has played with the team. Iginla said he enjoyed playing for former coach Patrick Roy, but conceded that something had to change.

“There have been some changes and I think you’ve already seen that in the preseason,” Iginla said. “It feels like we’ll be able to play quicker and there’s some things we’ve simplified. We were going to change no matter what. Having a new coach, it’s his style, his system and it’s been giving us some results. Every year it’s fun to start, but some years a lot of people don’t have a lot of expectations outside of our organization, about being a top team, but I think we can move up quickly. I think there’s a lot of talent in here.”

At Joe Sakic’s celebrity golf tournament earlier last month, Iginla repeatedly said that his ability to play physical at this stage of his career will lead him to success — this season and perhaps beyond.

“I want to be better than I was last year,” said Iginla, whose 22 goals in 2015-16 were second on the team, but fewest since his rookie season in 1996-97. “I had a good start last year, a tough middle and a good last quarter. At times, I got away from being gritty or aggressive enough. I’d like to get back to that. I’m not trying to save myself for anything. I want to come back and be physical, a net-front presence and I still enjoy playing a lot. I still feel good. I feel strong. I want to be a part of, first of all, the playoffs, and I feel that we can do that. And once you get there, you never know, but with this group, it’s getting better and better.”

During Iginla’s magnificent career, he became the 16th player to reach 600 all-time goals last year and he’s just 14 shy of tying Sakic (625) for 15th. But Iginla appears to be losing speed when the NHL continues to get faster, and that was evidenced by his career-worst, minus-22 rating last season. Iginla led the Avs with 13 power-play goals, but his ice time at even-strength decreased. He could become a third- or fourth-line forward and power-play specialist this season under Bednar – but most recently he was playing right wing on a line with center Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

“It’s not about getting a certain amount of goals or any of that,” said Iginla. “I want to be part of the playoffs and ultimately, win it.”

Iginla has never hoisted the Stanley Cup. And no matter what anyone says about the Avalanche’s chances, Iginla appreciates the opportunity to again shoot for the stars.

Photo/Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

— Mike Chambers