There are just over two weeks until NHL Free Agency opens. This raises a lot of question marks for most teams who are asking the questions is it time to re-load? Or is it time to look to the future? Or maybe are we one signing away from pushing ourselves over the edge? Many times that starts by looking at your squad down the middle. With the futures unclear on certain players such as centerman Paul Stastny who is a UFA, or Joe Thornton/Jason Spezza who are on the trade block – it can take away from someone as solid as Olli Jokinen who quietly had another respectable NHL Season.
Olli Jokinen is represented by NHL Player Agent Ian Pulver. He told Gary Lawless last week that, “we haven’t heard anything from the Jets.” It suggests that the Jets are moving on. Ready to plug the hole with a younger player, or one that will be significantly cheaper than Jokinen’s annual $4.5 Million. Pulver went on to say, “I understood we would talk. But it hasn’t transpired. We’ll see where it goes. I don’t know Winnipeg’s plan.”
Winnipeg seems to be planning on a replacement from within: it could be 2013 draft pick Nic Petan, who put up solid numbers with the Portland Winterhawks this season, but is still only 19 years of age, and undersized at that. Eric O’Dell spent time with the Jets and the St. John’s Ice Caps this season, and is coming off an impressive Calder Cup Playoff performance. Another Ice Cap could be in the running in Patrice Cormier, but the gritty pivot has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career.
Last season, Jokinen put up a respectable 18 goals, and 43 points while moving up and down in the Winnipeg line up all season. More often than not, he was receiving third line minutes. Jokinen also started more than 400 shifts last season in his defensive zone. To put up offensive numbers like that, while starting in your own end that often, and being 35 years old is actually quite remarkable.7
Jokinen himself believes that he still has a solid five years left in him.
Back in April, Jokinen spoke about playing at his age:
“When you get to this age, you try to enjoy every day you come to the rink and are able to put your skates on and work. That gives you the drive to get better. And obviously, you want to win as well. This year I’ve been able to get my game where it needs to be. I’ve been able to move up and down in the lineup and do the things coach has asked me to do. I haven’t lost the passion. I still enjoy playing and I still enjoy working hard. You go day-by-day. That’s the way it should be, even if you have 10 years on your contract or no contract at all. Physically and mentally, I feel I can still play.”
I’m excited for the Jets to start looking to the future, but is this the spot that they’d like to do that? I don’t think there’s any possibility of the Jets paying Jokinen $4.5 Million again, but with a reduced salary and perhaps a two year deal I think he’s as good an option as we have. He’s molded into his role, and has found a soft spot in the hearts of the fans and his team mates. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get $4.5 Million on the open market but Jokinen does enjoy playing in Winnipeg.
In an interview with Ken Wiebe it was Mark Stuart who said, “You’ve got to have veteran guys like him, they don’t make as many as they used to. He’s a guy that takes care of himself, comes to work every day and knows how to be a pro. Hopefully that rubs off on some young guys. Everybody needs a guy like that on their team to mentor younger players.”
My opinion is that I’d really like to see Olli Jokinen back with the Jets next year for a reasonable price. There are issues that this team needs to work out. I don’t think Olli Jokinen is one of them. Solid veteran presence is not something that this team is known for. As we move towards Cheveldayoff’s ultimate vision with his young guns leading the way – these are the player-coaches we’ll want on our squad.
If Olli Jokinen hits the open market on July 1 with his quiet but solid year, also coming off a Bronze Medal in Sochi – he’ll be one of the highest profile UFA Centerman on the market. Either way, Jets fans should thank him for his years of service.