Over the course of a relatively quiet four-game night, rumors circulated throughout the NHL that there was an impending announcement of a trade sending Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla to the Boston Bruins in exchange for two prospects and a draft pick. With Iginla listed as a healthy scratch for Calgary's game against the Colorado Avalanche, it appeared a foregone conclusion Calgary's all-time leading scorer was on his way to Beantown.
Instead, many players, coaches and fans awoke Thursday morning to the news that the likely Hall of Famer known as Iggy was on his way to the Pittsburgh Penguins instead. In a trade that also involved two prospects and a first-round draft pick, the Penguins may have swung the balance in the Eastern Conference in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
In the hours after the deal was officially announced, the League was abuzz about it.
"I was thinking it was Boston when I was watching games last night," Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said during his team's morning skate.
Quenneville's star player, Patrick Kane, agreed with his coach's assessment. And the potential contributions of Iginla to a Penguins team expected to contend for the Cup wasn't lost on the young forward.
"I went to sleep last night hearing it was Boston, then you wake up and you hear it's Pittsburgh," Kane said. "Obviously they [Pittsburgh] are making a big push at it with some of the trades they're making. I'm sure Calgary fans are sad to see him go. It's definitely a big thing that has happened."
Even Kane's teammate, Marian Hossa, who lost in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Penguins before winning the Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, couldn't help but marvel at the Penguins' recent additions. Along with Iginla, Pittsburgh recently acquired wing Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars and defenseman Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks.
"They're one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to go all the way. And they improved," Hossa said. "It was a huge change in their lineup. When you look at their lineup, it's so strong."
For longtime players and coaches in the NHL, the Iginla trade wasn't just another example of the Penguins bolstering their roster as the playoffs approach. It marked the end of an era in Calgary, as the Flames parted with their franchise leader in games (1,219), goals (525), points (1,095) and shots (3,992).
"I'm pretty sure if he could have it his way, it would be the Flames on top of the standings in the West," said Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who entered the NHL one year before Iginla's rookie season and has played his entire career with one franchise.
Even Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, who has engaged in the Battle of Alberta against Iginla and the Flames for more than a decade, was sad to see his longtime adversary go.
"It's going to be different," Horcoff said. "He really brought the spirit out of the Battle of Alberta whenever we played."
For one of the League's most-respected players, the trade also represented an opportunity to secure the one honor that has so far eluded Iginla in his 16 NHL seasons: the Stanley Cup. With gold-medal wins at the Olympics (2002, 2010), World Championship (1997), World Cup (2004) and World Junior Championship (1996), a Stanley Cup victory would put the finishing touch on a resume that should land Iginla in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday.
"Jarome's a good fit [in Pittsburgh] because he's a post-up player. He's a good fit because we searched high and low in the Olympics and ended up with [Eric] Staal, [Sidney] Crosby and Jarome, and Jarome played the exact same way that Bill Guerin did [with Pittsburgh]," said St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who was a coach on Canada's gold-medal 2010 Olympic team and also part of the Olympic staff on the 2002 team that featured Iginla.
"We looked at what worked in Pittsburgh, and it was the Guerin-Crosby combination. That's how Jarome plays when he plays best. He's going to be a dangerous player because there's three centers there that he can play with that all need the puck and he's just going to get open and load it."
Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators wasn't quite so reverential of Pittsburgh and its newest addition. As the coach of a team that could potentially meet the Penguins in the postseason, he was quick to point out that there remains plenty of hockey to be played. And the best team on paper isn't always the best team on the ice.
"I don't know why we're going to bother playing the playoffs," MacLean said with a laugh.