The start of free agency is not just a nerve-wracking time for teams and fans, but for players as well.
That was even the case for a likely future hall of famer who has 560 goals and 1,167 points in his back pocket after 17 NHL seasons.
"It's a unique day," Jarome Iginla said. "I was laughing with my family that one day we will probably look back and think, 'That was pretty cool,' but when you're going through it, it is a little bit stressful and exciting."
In the end, all parties came away happy. The Colorado Avalanche got its guy, and Iginla got the team he wanted to play for. The right wing signed a three-year contract on Tuesday with Colorado, the club he quietly was hoping would give him an offer when the free agency window began at 10 a.m. mountain time.
"The Avalanche were definitely right up there and probably over the last few days, you don’t want to ever admit before what your favorite team is because you don’t know who is going to come, but they were our favorites," Iginla said.
Iginla becomes the oldest player on the Avalanche roster at 37 years old, but he said age hasn't changed how he plays the game. The numbers seem to back him up, as he recorded 30 goals last year with Boston while also producing 31 assists. It was the 12th straight full season that Iginla had scored 30 or more goals.
His 560 goals are tied with Guy Lafleur for 24th place all-time in NHL history, while his 1,167 career points rank 50th on the league's all-time scoring list.
“Jarome’s track record speaks for itself," said Colorado executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic. "He is one of the top goal scorers of all time, as well as a great leader."
Known as a tough player that has never been afraid to fight, Iginla still dropped the gloves plenty last season. Of his 47 penalty minutes, 25 of them came from fighting majors.
"I’ve never believed in playing older," he said. "As I get older, to adjust my game, I don’t try to avoid fights. I don’t necessarily try to get in them, but I want to compete out there and if those things happen. I don’t think differently now that I turned 37 today. I plan on playing the same way, and I hope to play the same way until I’m done.”
With the new labor agreement signed by the league and the NHL Players Association in January 2013, a new twist was added to this year's free agency: a five-day interview period before where teams could reach out to prospective players and see if there was any interest.
The Avalanche was one of several teams that reached out to Iginla to see if the rugged-scoring forward would be interested in coming back west after spending the last season and a half in Pittsburgh and Boston.
Iginla played his first 16 seasons with the Calgary Flames, spending the last nine of them as their captain, before being traded to Pittsburgh on March 28, 2013, to help the Penguins in their playoff run. Pittsburgh lost in the Eastern Conference Final that year to Boston, the team Iginla signed with later that summer and played with in 2013-14.
Among the Avalanche figures that reached out to Iginla during the interview period was Sakic—a former linemate from their time together with Team Canada at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics—head coach/vice president of hockey Operations Patrick Roy, captain Gabriel Landeskog, and Alex Tanguay—a former teammate of his from Calgary.
While Iginla's previous relationships with Sakic and Tanguay might have helped him choose the Avs, it wasn't the deciding factor. Iginla said it was the direction the team is heading and the location being a great fit for his family that had the most pull in his decision
"I’ve heard wonderful things about Colorado being a wonderful family place," Iginla said. "There is minor hockey, minor baseball (youth sports), I heard Colorado has great stuff like that. We are excited that they do have minor hockey, our kids are really into it, but a big part of it is having the family be comfortable and like the destination and enjoy that while being on a team that can contend and have a chance to win.
"Colorado fit perfectly… and I believe the team is only getting better and is already a very, very good team. The guys, from playing against them and watching them, the different players that they have from the goaltender [Semyon] Varlamov to [Nathan] MacKinnon, Landeskog, [Ryan] O’Reilly and [Matt] Duchene, it’s a dynamic group. I think that they work hard, and they’re committed. They’re just going to keep getting better and better, and I look forward to getting to be a part of that."
And hopefully be a part of a Stanley Cup championship as well.
"I do believe they’re going to win it, and I’d love to be a part of it," Iginla said. "Whether that’s next year or the year after, I think they just keep getting better and better and have a great opportunity. I’m thrilled that I can be here and have a three-year deal to join them, and I won’t be taking it easy. I expect to be good for the guys and contributing.”