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Iginla celebrates birthday by signing with Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Jarome Iginla turned 37 on Tuesday and will be embarking on his 20th season in the NHL this fall, but the newest member of the Colorado Avalanche has no doubt he can still play at a high level.

"I don't want to be arrogant, but I do believe I can still be very good and continue to be able to contribute offensively as a good player and compete and be physical and skate," the forward said after signing a three-year, $16 million contract with the Avalanche as a free agent. "I love the game as much as ever and I work as hard as ever in the summer and I look forward to doing that."

The Avalanche went on quite a spree after losing free agent center Paul Stastny, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.

Colorado acquired defenseman Brad Stuart from the San Jose Sharks in a trade for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a fifth-round pick in 2017; signed defenseman Nick Holden to a three-year, $4.95 million contract extension through 2017-18; and signed four free agents before landing Iginla: forwards Jesse Winchester (two-year, $1.8 million contract) and Ben Street (one year, $650,000), and defensemen Zach Redmond (two-year, $1.5 million) and Bruno Gervais (one year).

Iginla was the big prize. He had 30 goals, 61 points and 47 penalty minutes in 78 games for the Boston Bruins last season and has scored 30 or more goals 12 times in his NHL career. He is tied with Guy Lafleur for 24th place on the all-time goals list with 560 and ranks 50th all-time with 1,167 points in 1,310 games with the Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins.

Iginla has 37 goals and 31 assists in 81 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"We are excited about Jarome Iginla becoming a member of the Avalanche,” executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic said in a statement. "Jarome’s track record speaks for itself. He is one of the top goal-scorers of all time, as well as a great leader. His addition will bolster our offense."

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound wing is expected to play on a line centered by either Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon, who likely will move from right wing back to center, his natural position, now that Stastny is gone.

Iginla said he enjoyed his one season in Boston. However, the Bruins' salary-cap issues didn't make a multiyear contract possible, and he said he was looking for some term in his final NHL contract.

"It was important for me and my family to have that stability, to be able to buy a house, to set some roots down again," he said. "I'm thrilled that I can have a three-year deal to join them. I won't be taking anything easy and I expect to be good for the guys and contributing."

Iginla said spoke with Sakic, coach Patrick Roy and captain Gabriel Landeskog during the five-day period during which teams were permitted to woo unrestricted free agents. Iginla also received text messages from Alex Tanguay, a former teammate in Calgary and a close friend, before putting the Avalanche "near or at the top" of the list in clubs that showed an interest in him.

Iginla said his respect for Sakic, a teammate on Canada's gold medal-winning team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, was a factor in his decision.

"I have a lot of respect for Joe, getting to know him and to play with him over the years and also for the career he's had," Iginla said. "He's a winner, but there were a lot of things that went into it. I think the team, being a great young team, playing against them, watching them and the players that they have and the goaltender (Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov) that they have, the direction that they're going ... all the good things that I heard but also from playing against the guys and seeing how good they are and the direction that they're going.

"Right away when I heard from Joe, and [Tanguay] reached out to me in a text that they were interested, I thought it was pretty intriguing because I was aware that going back to Boston, it didn't look like it was going to be an option."

The addition of Iginla gives Colorado more size up front, along with another offensive threat, a physical presence and veteran leadership on one of the youngest teams in the League. He joins Stuart, 34, and center Daniel Briere, 36, who was acquired Monday in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens.

"Briere, Stuart ... I'm excited to join them too," Iginla said. "It's kind of neat to join a new team, but you also have other guys in the same boat and you get to kind of come in together. That's pretty cool.

"I just plan on coming in and helping out when I can and trying to be another guy who leads by example. I just want to be myself and fit in and be part of the team. From the teams I've played on, it's nice to have a nice balance with some veteran guys around who've seen different things."

Iginla said he's looking forward to playing for Roy, who in his first season coached the Avalanche to a surprising first-place finish in the Central Division and won the Jack Adams Award.

"I have a ton of respect for him," Iginla said. "Playing against him and seeing how quickly he's come up and how much success he's had, you just know he's a winner. I talked to guys who've played for him now and how much they respect and like him and believe he's a really good coach."

Aside from joining a team he believes can compete for the Stanley Cup, family issues were extremely important for Iginla, his wife and three children.

"My kids are 10, 8 and 6 and they're excited to see what the future holds and we discussed different options," he said. "A big part of it is having the family being comfortable and like the destination and enjoy that while being on a team that can contend. Colorado fit perfectly.

"Being able to get term and some stability for my family, but also being able to be part of this team and have a chance as they grow ... I think they can contend and just get better and better. I'm really excited about it."

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