Calgary Flames

Mapping out a path for Jarome Iginla to coach the Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginla is a legend in Calgary and within the Calgary Flames organization. He holds nearly every record that can be held by a forward within the organization, many of which are unlikely to be broken any time soon. While he did not win the Stanley Cup (although he should have in 2004), he was honoured with the Art Ross Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, King Clancy Memorial Trophy, Mark Messier Leadership Award, and many more. For his impact on and off the ice, Iginla was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2020, and was inducted this past weekend.

Iginla’s coaching career

Despite his many accolades and awards, Iginla has remained engaged with the game. He has coached his sons in Boston for the last few years, and recently took a job with Rink Academy as the head coach of the U15 Prep team in Kelowna, where his son Joe plays as a forward. Iginla replaces former Flame and teammate Byron Ritchie as the head coach for the U15 Prep team as Ritchie now coaches the U18 team in the same organization.

Iginla seems to really enjoy the coaching side of the game. In conversation with the Calgary Sun about his role at Rink Academy, he noted: “I really enjoy… trying to help them get to the next level, help them learn what is the next step and prepare them to follow their dreams.” Iginla is also a minority owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, it is clear he has kept himself in the world of hockey.

So far, Iginla has already established a bit of a track record as a coach. In his time in Boston since retiring, he coached his sons with the Boston Jr Eagles for a number of seasons. Now for the 2021–22 season as head coach of the Rink Hockey Academy team in Kelowna, his team sits sixth in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League U15, boasting a 7–3 record. As mentioned, Iginla’s son Joe plays for the team and currently has nine points through the first ten games. Also, Iginla is joined by assistant coaches Zach McPhee and Bill Russell.

2021–22 team photo for the Rink Hockey Academy U15 Prep, where Jarome Iginla is the head coach.

Iginla could be doing just about anything with his time. Given his career earnings and the fame and prestige that came along with being among the best to ever play the game, it is clear he is coaching because he genuinely loves it. Could this passion drive him to one day coach at the NHL level, perhaps even with the Flames? Iginla won almost every major award with the Flames except for the biggest one of all: The Stanley Cup. Coaching might just be how his name gets engraved.

Let’s take a look at some other NHL greats who found their way from the ice to behind the bench.

NHL players turned head coaches

Derek King

The NHL’s newest coach, Derek King played over 800 NHL games—most of which were with the New York Islanders. In this time, he recorded 612 points and 417 penalty minutes. While not a superstar like Iginla, he was a steady point-producer, and had multiple 30-goal seasons. He is perhaps most well-known as the last Maple Leaf to score in the historic Maple Leaf Garden in 1999.

King’s coaching career started in Toronto, where he was an assistant coach before being promoted to associate coach of the Leaf’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. He would be with the team from 2009 to the end of the 2014–15 season. He then took on a job briefly with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL but quickly transitioned back to the AHL as the assistant coach of the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL club.

When Jeremy Colliton was promoted to coach the big club, King was promoted to head coach of the IceHogs. The Blackhawks have been in win-now mode for the last number of years, and as a result have not prioritized drafting until recently. Despite that, King posted two above 0.500 seasons of his four in charge prior to being named the head coach earlier this season.

Rod Brind’Amour

A veteran of over 1400 NHL games, Rod Brind’Amour captained the Carolina Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 2005. In his career, he played primarily with the Canes, but also had a long stint with the Philadelphia Flyers, and a short one with the St. Louis Blues, who drafted him ninth overall. He has played the 18th most games in NHL history, and recorded 1184 points and 1100 penalty minutes in that time.

One year after retiring, Brind’Amour was hired by the Carolina Hurricanes as an assistant coach and development coach, primarily responsible for helping the team’s young forwards in their development. He held this role for seven years before being promoted to head coach at the end of the 2017–18 season. Over his three years in charge, he has won the Jack Adams Trophy, as Coach of the Year, and has led the Canes to the playoffs over three straight seasons.

Patrick Roy

Arguably the greatest goalie to ever play the game, Patrick Roy featured in 1029 games, recording 551 wins and posting a 0.912 save percentage through his career. Over the course of his 19-year career, split between the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, Roy won the Stanley Cup four times, the Conn Smythe Trophy three times, and the Vezina Trophy three times.

After retiring at the end of the 2002–03 season, he became a part of the Quebec Remparts team in the QMJHL, taking over the role as general manager, co-owner, and also head coach in 2005. Despite numerous dust-ups on and off the ice, Roy led the team to win the Memorial Cup in his first season in charge. He subsequently led the Remparts to finishing first in the Q in four of his nine seasons in charge. The team also made the playoffs every year during his tenure.

In May of 2013, Roy was named the head coach and Vice President of Hockey Operations of the Colorado Avalanche. In his first season, he led the team to finish first in the Central Division, for which he won the Jack Adams Trophy. However, the team lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Wild. He then coached the team to finish sixth and seventh in the Central in the next two years before leaving the team and rejoining the Remparts, where he remains to this day.

Travis Green

A former first-round pick in 1989, Travis Green played 970 NHL games, split between the New York Islanders, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins. In this time he put up 455 points and 764 penalty minutes, including one 70-point season with the Islanders in 1995–96.

After retiring, Green was hired by the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL as an assistant coach in 2008. He would hold this position until early in the 2012–13 season, when he would take over as head coach following a scandal involving the head coach at the time. He would lead the team to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as the winners of the WHL, but would lose a heartbreaker to the Halifax Mooseheads in the final of the Memorial Cup.

In the ensuing offseason, he was hired as the head coach of the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate. In his time, he would lead the team to the Calder Cup final once, make the playoffs once, and miss the playoffs twice in his four year stint. He was then promoted to be the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks in 2017, a position he has held ever since.

Notable NHL players as Assistant NHL Coaches

Alexandre Burrows

The longtime Canuck played in over 900 NHL games, putting up over 400 points in that time. When Alexandre Burrows retired from the NHL, the undrafted forward took a job as an assistant coach for the Laval Rocket, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Midway through last year, he earned a promotion to the NHL club as an assistant coach, where he remains to this day.

Alex Tanguay

The former Flames played over 1000 games in the NHL, and put up over 800 points in his career. Transitioning out of playing hockey, Alex Tanguay took a position with the Iowa Wild of the AHL as an assistant coach. At the end of last season, he was brought on by the Detroit Red Wings as an assistant coach.

Mark Recchi

Mark Recchi holds the record as the oldest player to score in the Stanley Cup Finals, and featured in over 1600 games in the NHL, fourth most in history. When he retired, Recchi joined the Dallas Stars as a consultant before going into coaching as the player development coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was then promoted to assistant coach in 2017, but did not have his contract renewed in 2020. He is currently an assistant coach in New Jersey with the Devils.

Kirk Muller

A veteran of over 1300 NHL games, Kirk Muller put up 959 points in his career, and was a second-overall pick in 1984. Unlike most NHL coaches, Muller started his career in the OUAC with the Queen’s University Golden Gaels. He was also an assistant coach for Team Canada at the U18s, coaching under former Flames coach Greg Gilbert in 2006.

From there, Muller took on a role as an assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens, which he held for five years before being hired as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators. Two years later he got his shot as a head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes for two years, but was relieved of his duties.

He has bounced around as an assistant or associate coach across the NHL, including the Montreal Canadiens again, the St. Louis Blues, and most recently the Calgary Flames, where he currently serves as associate coach.

What could Iginla’s path forward look like?

Most NHL greats who go on to coach in the NHL have experience coaching in other leagues. Whether it is the WHL, AHL, OUAC or otherwise, coaching is an artform that takes time to perfect before managing the bench of an NHL club. For Iginla this is no exception. As great as Rink Academy is, Iginla will likely want to coach elsewhere in the world of hockey before making the jump to the NHL if that’s in his sights.

The easy option would be for him to join the coaching staff of the Kamloops Blazers. As a part-owner, this may be an easy way to get him behind the bench and be in a place where he could continue to inspire those around him. It is unlikely he coaches elsewhere in the CHL simply due to a conflict of interest with his ownership of the Blazers. Alternatively, having him join the coaching staff of the Stockton Heat to get himself back inside the Flames’ organization, but still growing his coaching toolkit in a smaller league.

From there the sky’s the limit. While there are not any openings in the Flames’ coaching staff, in time, one will certainly open up as the team’s current coaches look for new opportunities. Iginla could also begin his career with any of the other teams in the NHL, including coaching alongside former linemate Alex Tanguay in Detroit, but the hope would always be for him to come home and coach the Flames.

If the Flames did want to get him into the coaching rotation sooner rather than later, they could look to move around some of their coaching staff. That would mean repositioning one of Kirk Muller, Ryan Huska, or Cail MacLean into a new role wither within the organization or outside of it. Alternatively, the organization could opt to give him a different role, perhaps in player development like the Hurricanes did with Brind’Amour. He could then be segued into a coaching role down the road with the added benefit of having a deep understanding of the organizational culture outside of the dressing room as well as strong familiarity with the team’s prospects.

While this may feel like a distant dream, he current Flames’ coach Darryl Sutter seems to think Iginla would be a great coach, “He is an elite player… He doesn’t have to do that, so if he’s coaching, which he’s doing and aspires to go farther, that’s because he wants to do it and he loves to do it.”

Is it too early to dream of a future Flames’ team coached by Jarome Iginla winning the Stanley Cup? Probably. But given the trajectory Iginla is on, it is not out of the question to think about him as potentially coaching in the NHL sometime this decade.

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