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Flames Top-10 individual seasons: Number 3

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

Joe Nieuwendyk’s silky-soft set of mitts. Miikka Kiprusoff’s utter aplomb in the face of a tempest. Theo Fleury’s in-your-face indomitability.

From Kent Nilsson to Johnny Gaudreau, Lanny McDonald to Sean Monahan, Al MacInnis to T.J. Brodie, Joe Mullen to Jarome Iginla, over the course of over three and a half decades in this town, there have been no end of stellar turns in aid of the Flaming C cause.

So wrestling selection a Top-10 individual seasons is a chore. Many factors come into play.

Historical ramification. Sheer volume. Significance to the organization.

You’re spoiled for choice, naturally.

Some are non-negotiable.

Others calls are hellish.

The very fine Calder Trophy-calibre campaigns of Gary Suter and Sergei Makarov are absent, for instance. A sprinkling of stellar 50-goal and/or 100-point performances, as well.

More regrettable yet is the omission of the prolific yet edgy 53-goal (second highest seasonal total in franchise history), 207-PIM 1991-92 turn put in by truculent left winger Gary Roberts. A season as dynamic as this could’ve slipped in anywhere in the bottom half of the Top 10 without a word of complaint, and on many such lists would’ve.

But, well, competition being what it is …

Here, then, over the next 10 days, is one list of the 10 Calgary Flames’ seasons to most savour, that best stand the test of time, presented in descending order:

No. 3, Jarome Iginla, RW, 2001-2002

82 GP, 52 G, 96 PTS, First Team NHL All Star, Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award

Both men - the goalie and any goalie’s worst nightmare - had collected an identical 434 ballot points.

Meaning the tiebreak for the Hart Trophy, the brightest bauble on display each and every NHL Awards night, came down to first-place votes. Only adding to the drama that night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Once tabulated, those ballots calculated out at 26-23.

And, somehow, Jarome Iginla came out second best. Like crop circles or Area 51, something approaching beyond explanation.

Nearly two and half decades later, Iginla’s pal and sidekick Craig Conroy, now a Flames’ assistant GM, still has trouble wrapping his head around the outcome.

“I heard one reporter didn’t even put him on his ballot,’’ blurts Conroy, incredulous. “I mean … how? Art Ross Trophy. Maurice Richard Trophy. What more do you want? All Jarome needed was one more vote. One. And the guy didn’t even put him on his ballot - anywhere?

“That would’ve done it. Put him over the top. One vote.

“It seems … impossible, when you think about it.

“So I’m like: ‘Really?!’’’

It was then, during the sixth season of what is surely a Hall of Fame-worthy career, that the legend of Jarome Iginla began to take hold in the imagination. Here, and everywhere.

No one could’ve predicted then that when he’d finally leave Calgary, nine seasons later, he’d own every worthwhile franchise offensive stat, exit as its greatest-ever player.

But the signs were there, back in the fall and winter of 2001, the spring of 2002.

“There was a stretch,’’ recalls Conroy, “early on that season where he had 20 goals in 20 games. And just kinda took off from there. Some nights - a lot of nights, actually - he almost seemed unstoppable.

“Every game, two, three guys on him. And we weren’t a deep team yet, so it was easier to throw checkers out to shadow him. But night in and night out, he kept producing. With guys draped all over him.

“I don’t know how he did it, to be honest.

“What we were seeing was him becoming a dominant force.’’

In terms of volume of achievement, Iginla’s 2001-2002 remains unmatched in Flames’ history.

The franchise’s only Art Ross Trophy, as NHL scoring champ. Its first Rocket Richard Trophy recipient as leading goal-scoring. The Lester B. Pearson as the players’ own selection as MVP. A first All Star team nod on right wing.

There was league history involved, too. Only three men - Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr - had collected the Ross trophy as leading scorer over the preceding - wait for it - 21 years.

Iginla had managed to break an apparently unbreakable three-way dominance atop league’s scoring charts. Held by three of the game’s pre-eminent all-time players.

Yet it wasn’t enough to put him over the top.

Typically, even in such controversial circumstances, hiding what had to be acute disappointment, rather than gripe or moan he somehow managed to stayed above any pettiness and remain, well … Jarome Iginla.

“I would’ve loved to win,’’ he said that late June 2002 night. “It would mean a lot to win. Sure, it’s motivation.

“But I’m very happy for Jose. We roomed together at the (’96) World Junior Tournament. And what a season he had.”

Theodore - a 30-24-10 win-loss record, 3,864 minutes played, a miserly 2.11 GAA and gaudy .931 save percentage - did indeed enjoy an exceptional campaign that year - and, critically, his Canadiens reached the playoffs. Iginla’s Flames, meanwhile, did not.

But No. 12’s accomplishments spoke beyond collective success. He could hardly be held responsible for the supporting cast of a franchise mired in the throes of a seven-season absence from the playoffs.

His 52 goals and 96 points both led the league. His impact was beyond dispute.

“Jarome, as I recall, had a good season the year before,” - 31 goals, 71 points - recalls Conroy. “But that year was kind of his coming-out party.

“He did it all. Scored. Made plays. Fought. Led by example. That was a kind of statement, Here-Look-At-Me season.

“You could tell, playing with him that year, being around him, seeing him play every night … something special was happening.

“Like he had, you know, arrived.”

And only just begun his reign as the game’s most complete player.

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