"It's been quite the journey for him," Nieuwendyk said. "I mean, when I was part of the deal for him, I didn't know anything about him other than he was top prospect with the Dallas Stars.
"It didn't take long for him to play into the League that you knew there would be something special about him. And now he'll be a Hall of Famer and have his jersey hanging from the rafters in Calgary. I'd have to say it was a trade that worked out for both teams. I mean, he became the face of the Calgary Flames franchise for two decades."
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When Iginla announced on the Flames website last week that he would be officially retiring from the NHL at a press conference in Calgary on Monday, Nieuwendyk took time to reflect on Iginla's journey since the trade.
Iginla, a forward, was selected by the Stars in the first round (No. 11) of the 1995 NHL Draft before being acquired by the Flames, along with forward Corey Millen, for Nieuwendyk on Dec. 19, 1995. Nieuwendyk, one of the top centers in the NHL at the time, had been in a contract dispute and helped force the hand of former Flames general manager Al Coates.
"It was a great hockey deal," Coates said. "Joe helped the Stars go on to win a title, and we all know what Jarome did in Calgary for the next 16 years.
Video: Looking back on Jarome Iginla's stellar career
"Joe was a great guy and great player, so we knew we needed someone in return who would be a mainstay in Calgary the next decade or so. We'd done our homework on Jarome."
Coates' educated gamble paid off; Iginla played 16 of his 20 NHL seasons with the Flames. The 41-year-old is their all-time leader in goals (525), points (1,095), games played (1,219), power-play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83).
Nieuwendyk went on to help the Stars win the only Stanley Cup championship in their history in 1999 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011 after having 1,126 points (564 goals, 562 assists) during 20 NHL seasons with the Flames, Stars, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
"It's not often where you find a trade in which it helps both teams like that," Nieuwendyk said. "Certainly for the Flames franchise, to get a role model for future Flames in Jarome."
The combination of Iginla's trademark grin and offensive production made him the face of the Flames. But for Hall of Fame inductees Nieuwendyk, Chris Chelios and Igor Larionov, it was as much the competitive snarl that made him so effective.
Chelios, a defenseman who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, recalled how Iginla would not back down when the game became chippy, even initiating that style of play at times. It didn't make them friends by any means, but it did give Chelios respect for his longtime adversary.
"I don't think we like each other very much, but we do talk when we see each other and [say] congratulations on a great career," said Chelios, who played 1,651 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers. "I'm sure he's going to be a Hall of Famer.
"He's just a great competitor. A great career; one of the best power forwards I played against over the course of my career."
Larionov, a forward who was inducted in 2008 and had 644 points in 921 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Red Wings, Panthers and Devils, said it's a "no doubter" that Iginla is destined for the Hall of Fame.
"No matter if the team doing well or doing bad, he's always there," Larionov said. "He gives his best effort. That's what separates great players from average players. So he's always been consistent. Character and goal-scorer, and a good guy."
Iginla, who is eligible for induction in 2020, was named an NHL First Team All-Star three times with Calgary (2002, 2008, 2009), and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer twice (2001-02, 52 goals; 2003-04, 41 goals). He played in the NHL All-Star Game six times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2012) with the Flames.
Iginla's accomplishments while representing Canada in international play are also impressive. He helped win the gold medal at the 1996 IIHF World Junior Championship, the 1997 IIHF World Hockey Championship, 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.
Nieuwendyk understands Iginla's frustration at never winning the Stanley Cup, but believes it shouldn't tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.
"There are players like Jarome and (former NFL quarterback Dan) Marino in every sport who are great players and haven't won that elusive championship," Nieuwendyk said. "I think at the end of the day that will be the one disappointment for him, but that doesn't define him as a player or the legacy he leaves behind.
"He'll look back in a few years and put his head on his pillow being satisfied what he accomplished."