The Calgary Flames finally began its overdue rebuilding program late last week by trading long-time captain Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a couple of college prospects and a first round pick.

While they’ve at least got something to show for it, rather than losing Iginla for nothing via free agency this summer, consensus around the league is this trade is about a year too late and the return too little.

Granted, Iginla’s in his mid-thirties and not the dominant offensive force he used to be, but he is still a marquee name. Had Flames management, led by GM Jay Feaster, capitalized upon that in either the summer of ’11 or ’12 (provided Iginla was willing to accept a trade),they would’ve reaped a better return. 

Of course, the return wouldn’t have been equal value, but could have landed one or two good young players capable of helping them now, along with either a first round pick or prospect.

Remember, there were several teams last year which lost out in the Rick Nash sweepstakes. If Iginla were willing to move back then, Feaster and company could have exploited that situation.

Instead, the move happened in his contract year, during a shortened season, with an ageing Iginla appearing noticeably slower, putting the Flames in a position of weakness in trade talks.

Had Iginla agreed to accept being dealt to the Boston Bruins, the Flames would have received a slightly better return than what they got from the Penguins .  Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli believed he, in fact, had a deal in place for Iginla hours before the winger was eventually dealt to the Penguins.

Unfortunately for Chiarelli, Iginla wanted some time to think about it, allowing Penguins GM Ray Shero (who had beaten Chiarelli to the punch earlier in the week by acquiring Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars) to snatch Iginla away.

Though Chiarelli was understandably upset, he handled it well. Still, that was the risk of targeting a player carrying a no-movement clause. When Chiarelli and Feaster may have agreed on the terms of a deal, it depended upon “Iggy” agreeing to waive his clause. He obviously wanted some time to think about it, as well as allow the Penguins – the team it now seems he truly wanted to join – an opportunity to make a pitch.

Feaster is being raked over the coals for his handling of this. Some pundits believe he should’ve rejected the Penguins offer and told Iginla he refused to make the deal. They believe he should have insisted the Penguins at least match what the Bruins were offering.

But was the Bruins offer really that much better than the Penguins? The former was offering a couple of prospects and a first rounder, only their prospects were a 24-year-old blueliner (Matt Bartkowski) yet to stick with the Bruins, a 19-year-old center (Alexander Khokhlachev) making his AHL debut this season, and a first round pick which won’t be much higher than the Penguins’ pick. The offer was better, but marginally so.

It’s also obvious Feaster has tremendous respect for Iginla, and wasn’t going to block his desire to go to the Penguins.

Though Feaster cannot bring himself to say the word “rebuild”, it seems to be finally underway in Calgary. Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kipusoff are the obvious choices to be moved next, either before the deadline or the off-season.

Rest assured, there’s plenty of interest in both players, but contract issues could adversely affect their market value. For Bouwmeester, it’s the remaining year at $6.68 million on his contract, which is tough to move with the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million for next season. Doesn’t mean the Flames won’t find any takers, but it would be easier if this was a summer with a rising cap.

As for Kiprusoff, there’s rumors he either won’t report if traded (which would lead to suspension) or could retire at the end of this season. His agent has told Feaster to refer any interesting offers directly to “Kipper”, which suggests the netminder hasn’t entirely dismissed the possibility of a trade.

The returns the Flames get for these guys probably won’t be much better than what they got for Iginla. Then again, the return the Flames got for Joe Nieuwendyk from the Dallas Stars was Corey Millen and some Edmonton-born prospect with a funny-sounding last name back in 1995, and that eventually turned out fine. It’s going to take several years before we know with certainty the true value of the return for Iginla.

Still,  the Flames front office put themselves in a bad situation, leading them to part with not just the face of their franchise, but its heart and soul. Iginla should have had the opportunity to finish his playing career with a competitive Flames team, but the club squandered it by failing to build properly around him. 

The rebuild is going to be a long and sometimes painful one for the Flames. If they do it right, they should return to perennial playoff contention within five years. If not, well, if you’re a Flames fan, you’d prefer not to dwell upon that.