When Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy set their sights on signing free-agent forward Jarome Iginla in 2014, they immediately called someone who they knew could help convince the NHL legend to come to Denver.
The Hall of Famers didn't approach Alex Tanguay just because he was a veteran and former teammate who scored the Cup-winning goal on their 2001 title team in Colorado. An Avalanche draft pick who returned to the Avs in a 2013 trade, Tanguay was also one of Iginla's closest friends in hockey.
"I talked to him and it did play a role [in signing with Colorado], without a doubt," Iginla said. "He's a guy that I played with a couple of different times in my career, and I always enjoyed it. Our wives are friends. Having a friend already on the team makes it easier too. So, all those things definitely weighed into it."
Whatever Tanguay said, it was enough to convince Iginla to sign a three-year deal with the Avalanche, thereby reuniting old friends who excelled together on the ice after Tanguay went to the Calgary Flames in a 2006 draft-day trade.
"I had never met him before. I didn't know who he was. I knew him as a hockey player, but I didn't know him outside of the ice," Tanguay said of his first meeting with Iginla. "How calm he is, he's one of the nicest persons you can be around. He's always polite to everyone. With his personality on the ice, I was expecting someone who was a little different."
Placed on Calgary's top line alongside Iginla and Daymond Langkow, Tanguay enjoyed a career season immediately after joining the Flames. His 59 assists in 2006-07 tied him for ninth in the league, with many of them coming on goals by Iginla. The following season, Iginla was third in the league, with 50 goals. The duo clearly developed great chemistry on the ice, but their friendship away from the rink also flourished while raising their respective families.
"They're very close friends off the ice. That developed when Alex got to Calgary. It was instant chemistry," said Jamie McLennan, a Flames teammate during Tanguay's first season in Calgary and now a TV analyst. "Alex Tanguay is one of the most underrated passers in the league, and Jarome is a shooter. We used to bug Tangs that he would be on a breakaway, and he'd still be looking for Jarome to pass it to him."
After two seasons in Calgary, Tanguay spent successive seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning before he signed a one-year deal to return to the Flames, in 2010. Reunited with Iginla, he immediately enjoyed his best statistical season since his first go-around in Calgary. But on their way to missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the Flames dealt franchise icon Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.
It was the beginning of two nomadic seasons that saw Iginla play for three teams. Then he got the call from an old friend looking to rekindle their magic on a club boasting some of the NHL's best young talent.
The plan for Iginla and Tanguay to mentor young stars Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie didn't quite work out the past season. After the team finished atop the Central Division in 2013-14, Roy's first season behind the Colorado bench, the Avalanche struggled to a last-place finish last season. Even so, Colorado has appeared reinvigorated this season and is in the thick of the playoff picture in the ultracompetitive Central Division.
"This year, we had another tough start, but we were able to right the ship and be in the playoff race," said Iginla, 38. "The relationship with young guys like MacKinnon, it's fun, the energy they bring. It's fun to share stories both ways, seeing what they think, and sometimes they ask questions too."
Of course, Iginla is doing more than sharing stories and asking questions. He is also cementing his unimpeachable legacy along the way.
Already this season, Iginla has scored his 600th career goal while rocketing up the NHL's all-time list. After two goals (including the game winner) in a 3-2 win over the Canadiens on Feb. 17, he ranked 18th on the NHL's all-time list with 606 goals -- two behind Dino Ciccarelli and four short of Bobby Hull.
While Iginla has given his young teammates the opportunity to witness history with every goal he scores, Tanguay has been counted on as a veteran winger, most recently riding shotgun alongside 2014 Calder Trophy winner MacKinnon. It's a fascinating shift for Tanguay, who came into the league looking up to teammates such as Sakic and Roy, the same men who as management have tasked him with his current mentor role.
"When I was a young guy, I looked up to the older guys. I looked up to the way they did things, I listened to the things they said," said Tanguay, 36. "You make your own opinion for yourself, but still it's great to have great leadership to follow. And Jarome has definitely been in that category.
"The young guys have matured on their own over the last little while. That's the best growth. We've talked about certain things with different guys, and I don't know if it helps or not, but it puts a little perspective in their minds that allows them to gain that experience."
That combination of veteran wisdom and youthful energy is working for the Avalanche. The Avalanche hold the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but the true test will come if the team makes the playoffs. The Avalanche will be looking to earn their first series win since 2008, and if they can make their first extended playoff run in 14 years, it won't just be a milestone for the franchise. It will also be a special run for two longtime friends enjoying their mile-high reunion.
"Who he was in Calgary is the same person he is here," Tanguay said of Iginla. "As a friend of Jarome, you always like to have your friends around. I was just another player trying to bring his friend with him."