Well, where to begin? For those of you familiar with my time at Flames Nation, you’ll know that I’ve spent the last several years, uh,
enjoying, witnessing, tolerating, sufffering through, Olli Jokinen’s handiwork as a member of the Calgary Flames. With that in mind, tonight’s news that he’s joining the team I actually pay money to watch leaves me somewhat ambivalent.
Jokinen’s time in Calgary was largely spent acting as a sort of totem of fan discontent with the direction of a fading club. Acquired in the spring of ’09 as the final piece that would spring Calgary towards a deep run in the playoffs, Jokinen instead became another in the long line of unworthy centremen that couldn’t get Jarome Iginla over the finish line. His trade the next season and subsequent re-signing by the Flames that summer simply added to the general discontent of Flames’ fans with the hulking Finn, since both of those moves were seen as part of Darryl Sutter’s greater absence of imagination.
Jokinen’s own performance during those three years was hardly blameless in having fans turn a slightly jaundiced eye in his direction. His poor puck handling and defensive zone lapses were hard to ignore, and although Brent Sutter and Jokinen appeared to make strides in mitigating those flaws over time, trying to teach a player in his thirties a new way to play was met with the type of mixed results one might expect.
Last season ended up being Jokinen’s best offensive year in red, scoring 23 goals and adding 38 assists for 61 points. That total was his best since 07/08, his last season in Florida. He also ended the season as a minus player, and his 58GF/64GA 5v5 was fairly earned, since he was outshot by a hefty sum.
The caveat there is that the Flames used him against some very difficult competition. It might be fair to suggest that no centre in the league faced a heavier burden than Olli Jokinen did last season, and since he wasn’t exactly surrounded by a bunch of heavy lifters, his poor outshooting numbers should be seen in that context. If Olli Jokinen was legitimately capable of outplaying that sort of workload unaided, he’d be worth a lot more than 4.5M a year, obviously, so his performance against that slate was understandable. Despite Brent Sutter’s best efforts, Jokinen wasn’t meant to be an elite hard minutes guy, and at 33, he won’t become one in Winnipeg either.
The primary issue at hand for the Jets, then, is utilization. Winnipeg might be close to having a full roster of skaters at this juncture, give or take maybe one more forward and one more D, so Jokinen seems very likely to slot in at the 2C spot behind Bryan Little. That might suggest he’ll play alongside Evander Kane, but having watched him for these last few years, I’d advise caution before heading down that road.
It was clear from the repeated attempts to pair Jokinen with Iginla that putting Jokinen on a line with another shoot-first forward is not an approach worth taking. The man’s primary offensive skill is launching pucks, and his passing and general playmaking skills aren’t anything more than pedestrian on his good nights, so I’m not sold on any partnership with Kane bearing fruit. If the Jets really want to get the most out him at EV, placing him against middling opposition with players that can get him the puck in shooting spots would be the way to go. He’d probably look pretty good with Kyle Wellwood, so if his signing signifies Wellwood’s time in Winnipeg being over for financial reasons, that would be unfortunate.
The one area that the Jets might be poised to use their new man in superior fashion to the Flames is on the PP. Jokinen’s best seasons in Florida often featured him on the PP point, using his shot to good effect. Using him on the point also allowed him a bit more time when handling the puck, minimizing his errors. The Flames, with their best point guys being left shooters, refrained from that usage during his tenure in Calgary. Instead, Brent Sutter regularly opted to use him down low, where his iffy passing and handling skills under pressure often caused the play to die on his stick.
Winnipeg’s two primary PP shooters are righties, though, and any team that willingly used Tim Stapleton on the powerplay last year should be able to find a way to maximize Jokinen’s one plus-talent as a player. I’d be slightly nervous about pairing him with Byfuglien, of course, and since I suspect Claude Noel’s goals in life don’t include inducing his own death via a stroke, having that duo man the point probably won’t be in the cards, but getting Olli more shooting chances of any sort when up a man would be wise if the team hopes to fully recoup their investment.
I’m the first person to stipulate that his performance in Calgary leaves me uneasy with his hiring by the Jets, largely because I’ve seen him fail often enough that his flaws seem to stand out over any positives he might bring. That noted, he’s a big, durable, body at a position where the club is very small, so if the Jets don’t expect him to be their hard minutes center to the same degree Calgary did, and find him simpatico linemates, he might not be that terrible a signing. At any rate, he’s ultimately a transitional figure that the team will use to buy time until they find someone better, internally or otherwise. With the weakness of the South East division, there’s a chance he could serve the Jets decently for a couple of years.