CALGARY - With the 2013 NHL season finally in sight, Jarome Iginla wants to focus on winning back fans rather than on his impending status as an unrestricted free agent.
The captain of the Calgary Flames said he doesn't want to be a distraction once NHL teams get back to playing games for real.
"I definitely don't want there to be any distractions and I want us to be a very good team which I believe we will be," said Iginla, who's entering the final year of a five-year deal that pays him US$7 million per season. "It would be my preference to stay here for sure."
Iginla said that he hasn't even contemplated whether he and his agent Don Meehan would consider signing a new deal during the season or waiting until after it's over.
"I haven't thought about the different scenarios," he said. "Right now it's really just getting ready for training camp. Once the season comes, I'd like the focus definitely to be on just winning games."
In order to win fans back, Iginla acknowledged that he and his teammates have some tough work ahead of them.
"We hope we can be entertaining for the fans," he said. "I know it's going to take some time to win some fans back. The best thing we can do as a team is come out and be exciting and play hard and win. Hopefully they come and enjoy that.
"I definitely understand how ticked off fans have been over it and they have that right to be. It's totally understandable.
A day after the NHL and its players reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, Iginla practised at WinSport's Joan Snyder Arena with several of his teammates as well as players from other teams such as Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals and T.J. Galiardi of the San Jose Sharks.
"It felt like the first day of camp today," Iginla said in regards to the ramped up intensity during the practise session. "We've been fortunate skating at WinSport in Calgary here these last three months. We've had somewhere around 12 guys with some other NHLers and other pros that have kept a good group going with coaching and stuff to keep the tempo up. Hopefully that does pay off."
Flames' forward Michael Cammalleri was happy to be back in Calgary skating with his teammates just a week after losing a few teeth during an on-ice session in Toronto with some other locked-out NHLers.
"I took a puck in the face a few days ago," Cammalleri said. "I'm missing a few teeth. It's part of the gig."
The freak accident didn't stop him from taking part in Monday's intense practice.
"It's definitely as excited as everybody's been in a long, long time," Cammalleri said. "It was high paced today. Guys just can't wait to play hockey. For us it's a matter of trying to get together as a group and seeing how good of a team we can become and how quickly we can do that."
Like Iginla, Cammalleri wants to focus on helping the Flames ice a competitive squad for the fans who have waited so patiently for the start of the season.
"We understand that fans are frustrated and unhappy with the process," he said. "We're going to be back on the ice and we're going to put the best product we can and we're going to appreciate all the support we do get."
"We've got to do a lot in terms of knowing where we're going to be on the ice and what systems we're going to play and taking it from there," said forward Lee Stempniak, who's set to return for his second season with the Flames. "Aside from that everyone looks in good shape and will be ready to go."
Veteran Flames' defenceman Mark Giordano also noticed that there was a little bit more jump in everyone's step during Monday's skate.
"You could tell today the pace already picked up," Giordano said. "Guys are excited and getting ready for whenever camp starts. It's very important to get going as a team. Obviously with a new coaching staff and new players you have to get acquainted and hopefully we get off to a good start."
Entering his fifth season with the Flames, forward Curtis Glencross said he and his teammates will be ready for training camp whenever it starts.
"We're just excited to get going and can't wait for the first games," Glencross said. "It's going to be a grind right to the end. Games are going to be coming quick. We're excited for the new seasons and ready to get things going. Hopefully we can be one of the top couple teams."